This is an oddity of Japanese society that really stinks. In February there is a holiday called “Foundation Day”, I can only assume that it is in celebration of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series, so you can imagine how excited I was to have the day off reflecting on the series. Here is the problem, it feel on a Saturday this year. I already don’t work on Saturdays! I was expecting a makeup holiday, but we didn’t get one. Unbelievable! It turns out that we only get makeup holidays if the holiday falls on a Sunday. This means that Foundation Day came and went and I still had school on Monday. What would Hari Seldon think about that? He probably wouldn’t like it, not one bit. I sure didn’t.
Today is a particularly dull day. The second graders are doing work study. Every year for about a week the second graders at the middle school level pick a job. They are then sent out to do it. They do not even come to school, they just go to work. It makes the school lonely. The school is even more so now because the first graders went skating. Only the third graders are in the building. I only have one class all day, and it is in the 5th period. This stinks because I have to stick around until after the 5th period! I just want to go home and go back to bed. There are some days that you should just be able to stay in bed all day. It is rainy, cold, grey, and I am exhausted. Today should really qualify as a stay home and sleep kinda day.
My dull day gave way to a great day. Maeda-先生 came and saved me. Due to the second graders being out working the teachers have to go check on them to make sure they are at work, not playing baseball with a ball of paper and a shirt, not listening to their cell phone mp3 players, not screaming at their friends, and are, in fact, behaving like normal human beings tend to behave. So I got recruited to ride shotgun with Mr. Maeda. We went to a bunch of elementary schools and one kindergarten. Kindergarten is different in Japan than it is in America. They are not attached to schools, they are separate entities. Also they last three years so that old joke “Kindergarten: the best three years of my life” doesn’t work here. The kindergarten was fun the kids were rehearsing a play about the むし キング (mushi kingu - insect king). They all wore masks, that were more like headbands. They wore them on their foreheads so you could see the mask and the kid’s face at the same time. They were not masks at all really, I just don’t know what else to call them. There were tigers (complete with stripped tails), bunnies, hamsters, a ton of beetles (with capes made out of shiny garbage bags), and bears. They were all adorable.
The elementary schools were just as fun. I gave a little speech and the Tanigawa student assigned to the room would act as my translator. I showed the kids that I could do the Champaign cork sound with my mouth – to great laughs. Then I showed them the trick that you put your hands like you are praying then wiggle your middle fingers, then turn your hands around so that they are flat but your middle fingers are sticking perpendicular to your hands and then you wiggle your middle fingers. You would know what I was talking about if you saw it, trust me. Well this “magic trick” went over really well with the young kids. They were yelling and going nuts. In the last class I was in I about started a riot. I was showing the kids and the bell rang so there were kids in the hallway. They were opening windows and doors to look at me. Some knew my name from earlier they were yelling my name. Even though I didn’t talk to them in Japanese, they were yelling it at me. One boy asked me if I was a boy or a girl! Most just screamed and jumped up and down and were generally near having convulsive seizures. It was like I was a rock star. A group of kids followed me all the way out of the school yelling things at me and talking to me. I showed them another trick where you make it look like you took your thumb off (again you would know what I am talking about if you saw it). This was baffling to them. Even when I showed them how it was done, I think that quite a few now believe that all foreigners can do this with their thumbs. One boy didn’t know my name, but knew I was from America so he kept calling me アメリカン人さん (American-jin-san: essentially Mr. American Person). As I was leaving he yelled, “アメリカン人さん バイバイ!” (American-jin-san bye-bye: Bye-bye Mr. American Person). I can see why people have trouble in Japan. In other countries it would be quite offensive if someone yelled “Goodbye Mr. (Country of Origin) Person”. If you are sensitive to such things Japan could be tough. Qualifying someone by their country of origin is fairly common in Japan (and it beats “gaijin” which just means “outsider” or the more polite form “gaikokujin”: “foreigner”. But I find it funny and how could it not be charming when it is being screamed at you by an 8 year old boy that is ecstatic simply because you have curly blonde hair. It really made my day.