Sunday, February 22, 2009


Pennies. Pennies. I am SURE she meant pennies...

(...I hope she meant pennies?)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A 'concern'

Ok. So in writing this, I am taking a bit of a professional risk. What I am about to share, though, was funny enough for me to take the chance. So, I'm going to write it anyway, and keep names completely anonymous. If this turns out to backfire, I'll erase it, quick as snot, and pretend it never happened.

Background story:
Japanese mothers are unlike any mothers in the world. They are often of the wealthy, non-working variety, and like nothing more than to sit around our school (cafeteria, hallways, playground), chatting, talking, and (gasp!) gossiping. Usually about us. Being young and (even though I am not, they don't know it) single makes me, and my similarly-fated friends, large and juicy targets. I have a couple of moms this year, who, under no circumstances, will believe that Ricco and I are not dating. No matter how many times (8) they've asked and how many different people (4) they've sent to ask it, nor how many times (8) we've said that we aren't. They just keep coming back to ask again and again. It is possible that a few of them are fully, fully, fully enamored with Ricco and his good looks (hardly to be blamed, really), and are thus interested in ever personal dealing in both of our lives.

Now, as opposed to mothers in America, who are talking to you and working with you and sometimes bothering you about their child all day long (and when I say 'bother' I truly mean 'taking up a bit more of your time than you would like' - I mean that in the nicest way...), Japanese mothers want nothing to do with you. Not because they really don't want to, but because it is not their culture to come and talk to you about their child. It is a HUGE switch from what we are used to in our Western system, but is a switch I like, as talking to parents is my LEAST favorite part of teaching (just leave me alone and let me teach your precious cherubs, will you?!).

An unfortunate side-effect of the non-confrontational approach is that it is common for Japanese mothers to let you know they have a problem with you through one of two similar means:
1. She will tell one mom, or two, their problem and hope that it somehow trickles back to you,
2. She will tell you the problem directly, but will word it as if it were coming from a group of them, instead of from her alone.
Myself, being a person who doesn't like to talk to parents in the first place, and as a person who annoys easily, find it a bit offensive, but ridiculously hilarious, when they do this.

And so, to prove my point, I have an example to share. My hope is that you will find it as ridiculously hilarious as I did.

This particular infraction on my part happened when I, during an assembly, touched a child with my foot in order to urge him/her to move. In America, this would have been a no-biggie. In Japan, I have realized, it is a bit of a no-no. Mildly worth mentioning, if at all. Also mildly worth pondering, was the fact that I know, if it had been Ricco doing it, nothing at all would have been said.

Please enjoy the following, non-edited excerpt from a recent parent e-mail. The combination of the complaint and the way it was worded is, well, worth a glance:

"I was thinking I will talk with you tomorrow about one things.
But It's kind of hard to tell I will tell you on this Email.
Last time, Assembly. (5th Grade)
we were seeing with some mothers.
before start assembly. you were using foot when children have to move....
some mother was seeing that. And they were little shock and disappointing.
maybe It's no mean for you.
Because I know you are usually very care about children. I know you like children very much.
and also [insert name of child here] like you very very much.
but I think you had better use hand or voice when you ask to children something.
because I don't want people misunderstanding about you.( you are such a nice teacher so....)
Did you understand what do I talking?? (I hope you can understand my terrible English)"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ode to the Onsen

Onsens. Quite possibly the bane of the Japanese existence. I write this blog for those who have never been to Japan, and who, like I did at first, would really drop a jaw at the idea of bathing openly and publicly with others.

For some, it's a form of leisure (where the definition of leisure is 'just because'), for others, relaxation, and for even others, a necessary act. I have experienced onsens in all of these different ways, in many different places, and after 19 months, finally feel: a) comfortable being naked around total strangers, and b) comfortable talking about it.

But first, for those non-Japanese residents/visitors, the answer to 'what is an onsen?' might make for a good start.

An onsen is a public bath. Within separate rooms, men and women enjoy bathing and washing and soaking within the company of friends, family, neighbors, small children, the cleaning lady, and most often, complete strangers. Onsens vary in complexity, from basic stools and pools, to waterfalls and rockslides. They are mostly indoors, but often outdoors, and the nicest ones have pools in both. For less than $10, a person can enter an onsen, strip down to nothing, stare and be stared at, take a seat at a mirrored faucet, stare and be stared at, clean themselves silly, and then soak in the hottest water on the planet with 100 of their fellow countrymen (women) while staring or being stared at.

My first trip to an onsen was with three colleagues. My second, with one. My third, with two friends, and my last, most recent, as a necessary trip alone.

Onsens are known for their healing power and are often visited by whole families at a time. At the door, mother and daughter will enter together, sending father and son the other way. Often, small boys are allowed to enter with their mothers (and from personal experience, up to the age of 6 or 7, I'd say), and girls with their fathers (so I hear), making it not uncommon (yet a bit creepy) for you to dress and undress within the company of small children.

It is a cardinal rule to be squeaky clean before entering the sauna pools, so a scrub down at the communal sinks is a must. Women enter with baskets of shampoos, lotions, creams, towels, and soaps, and scrub themselves silly for minutes and minutes. It is fairly often (and quite comforting-bordering-cute) to see mothers scrubbing daughters and visa versa, or to see the elderly being scrubbed by their own children/grandchildren.

I used to find onsens quite uncomfortable, embarrassing, and so completely out of my conceptual ability, certainly nothing resembling what I was used to in the privacy of my own bath in America. Now, though, I am more comfortable in my skin, and do not mind the occasional revelry found with 100 naked women. But, I've decided that, although I am now more willing to go, I prefer it as a functional trip on my own accords. In fact, on my most recent trip alone, I went for the shower only, out of necessity of wanting to be clean and finding no other place to do so. Because it was completely anonymous, I was able to walk around as I pleased, had nobody to have to talk to, and finally found it to be completely comfortable, and practical.

Onsen, I finally think you and I are going to get along just fine.

The most romantic Valentine's Day ever...

...was supposed to be spent at the wedding of two friends. I mean, what more could you ask for on such a day? Love, laughter, revelry, wine, good-heartedness...

Instead, though, my Valentine landed himself in the hospital, which is where we were. And not just for the day, but for the whole weekend.

Now, for many reasons, this turned out to be more trouble than we would have ever imagined, as the walls of the hospital evidently have eyes and ears. But aside from that, which is a whole different story for a whole different day, the weekend was pretty much a blow.

Please hope for your very good sake that you never land yourself in a hospital like this one, which, by a friend, was called 'the hostel of hospitals'. Next to us within three feet, as well as in four other beds in the same room were the farts, coughs, and retches of older and ailing men.

Other than that, though, the food was really good*, and the matching pajama sets were comfortable. The company (Jono) and entertainment (movies, books, and nana naps) were unmatched.

And really, for Valentine's Day, what more could you ask for?


(*where 'good' = crap; it was liquid and bland for patients and Cup Noodle from the hospital store for me).