I haven’t been having the best few days. I am sleeping horribly, so I have been going though the general malaise that comes from seeing the world through bloodshot droopy eyes. My third graders are having a recitation contest. They have to memorized and recite one page out of four. They get to pick which page, but some pages have more text and are thus worth more points. The story they are doing (far form the dreadful first grade “We are Together”) is pretty funny, given that this is an intro book and the Japanese sense of humor is very different than mine. The story is called “Hikoichi’s Living Umbrella”. I assume it is a traditional story or joke. The tale goes that a Lord hears that a peasant, Hikoichi, has an umbrella which is alive. It opens in the rain and closes when it is sunny. The Lord sends retainers to get the umbrella. Hikoichi says he cannot sell his beloved umbrella. The men make him an offer he can’t refuse, so he begrudgedly sells it to them on the promise they will “take good care of it.” As the men are walking away Hikoichi smiles. The Lord has the umbrella and waits for ten days. It finally rains and the umbrella does not open. He is mad and demands that Hikoichi is brought to the palace. Hikoichi falls on the umbrella crying and says it is dead. He asks if the Lord fed it in the ten days. The Lord responds no, and everyone realize the umbrella “starved to death”. The last line of the text is classic! It reads, “Hikoichi holds the ‘dead’ umbrella and cries. Secretly he touches his money [from the sale of the umbrella].” Okay, so this story isn’t super highbrow satire, but it is as funny as our text book gets, and I chuckled at it. It is written rather humorously as well, if read correctly. There are lots of “Oh! What’s that sound? It’s raining! Oh! It’s raining!” moments.
Alas, nothing takes the fun out of the exclamation mark like a hundred third graders reciting the text with no enthusiasm, dubious memory, and katakana style pronunciation. Enter the hero of this story, Pablo Picasso. First, he is called Pablo Picasso because last year he simply announced in class “I am Pablo Picasso!” He continued to proclaim this throughout that and many other classes. So I call him that. He liked it and pronounced it so much that by the end of last year even his English teacher was calling him Pablo Picasso. Nicknames in Japan generally do not exist, so I considered this a victory for “English style”.
Each student had to go in front of the class and say “Hello” to which the class was to respond “Hello” but never did. Except for Pablo Picasso, he would yell “OHHH! HELLO!” By the end the class was all yelling “Hello!” The orator would than have to say “I will be reading page (32, 33, 34, or 35).” Page 34 was the hard page. If anyone read this page Pablo would yell, “Page 34? Ohh me too!” It is important to recall that Pablo does not talk much; most of his communication is done through yelling. But he does so with a huge grin on his face, it reshapes the sound and makes it good hearted and funny. It is the same principle as how you can tell when someone is smiling on the other end of the phone just by the way they sound.
When it was finally Pablo’s time to recite he tore the place down! He yelled his part, of course, and spoke quickly (which was so refreshing after the usual word… pause… word… pause… word… …). He also understands that you should raise the pitch of your voice for questions, which he does to absurd levels. The best part though was when he said, “Oh! It’s raining! Look, it’s raining!” He ran over to the window, threw back the curtain and pointed outside. Despite the fact that his pronunciation is not the strongest, he got top marks from me.
After all the members of the class were done, we had some time so Pablo wanted me to perform page 34 too. I did, making the kids laugh with my exaggerated gestures for LOOK! and LISTEN! Then they made my teacher do it too. He drew big laughs for his funny “Lady” voice. It was just a really fun way to spend the final period of my day. Pablo is probably a little too intense to take all the time, but he can brighten a day!