Recently, I had the pleasure of showing my visitors what it was that I actually do here in Japan. I presume that the average person thinks I do nothing here aside from playing with kids and travelling excessively, …and they would basically be correct. In the weeks preceding their arrival, I arranged with my smallest school to have my guests come for a couple hours to participate in a special English lesson, and also to partake in a Japanese school lunch. I decided to work with Kaminishi Elementary because there I have the most pull with the staff, and the students being so scant makes schedule reallocation not only painless but a possibility. I was also able to work the schedule a bit to allow for a pit stop at the kindergarten on the way there, so as to maximize exposure to the various educational environments in which I work.
After retrieving the others, our first stop was the kindergarten. I wasn’t sure what would be waiting at this stop, as the only thing decided was the time we would be showing up. Upon arriving, it started with some introductions with the administration, and then we were sent off to visit the classes as we pleased. This was fine, but it was also a little awkward since they were all in the process of doing something. We certainly couldn’t pass by any of the rooms and ignore some kids, but the younger groups were pretty non-responsive. I had to work hard to get them to say anything or even seem interested in us foreigners, which was annoying enough. But on top of that, it was the middle school field placement day, which had my older batch of students in each room as well. Now I had to manufacture an air of cool, something that is a constant among the younger crowds. We worked down the hallway, each increasing age group getting better and better. When we reached the elder Elephant room, my celebrity was at last made known to my guests. No longer was I left hanging on my high fives, or prancing for smiles, these kids were climbing all over us on their own accord. We managed a couple pictures before making our way back to the teacher’s room for interview time. This was one of the first times that I had to assume the role of real-time translator, relaying questions and answers between both parties. At first I thought it would be difficult, but then I realized any incompetency could be hidden behind the complete unknowing of the other’s language; even stating ”I don’t understand” appeared to be an intentioned clarification to a question asked. I would say that I managed well enough despite, and if anything boosted my own confidence in any future encounters with that role. After the usual snacks and parting words, we made our way deep into the mountainous heart of Shionoe.
I enjoyed the drive up a little more than usual, as the larger mountains set against the lake really portray a beauty of my environment that I would want anyone to see. After arriving, we were welcomed warmly by the staff and stationed in the principal’s office for tea and a little chat, just until lunchtime. In working through the arrangements with the school I knew there was to be a bit of fanfare for our visit, but I really didn’t know specifics. Being told to wait outside the lunch room until preparations were complete certainly suggested that something special would be waiting. After a few moments, we were beckoned in and met with applause from all students and staff until we all arrived at our seats. The Japanese are fantastic at hospitality, and even these small events receive the same considerations as something like my orientation last August.
The event consisted of a recited welcome speech delivered by one of the students after we sat down, and then another from the principal specifically about me to my guests. He mostly said things about me getting along with the kids well, and my try anything personality. I was again designated translator, but could usually escape by explaining things simply. At last it was time to watch my mom handle a Japanese lunch. While not overly exotic, I’ll give her credit for trying to eat the fish served to her whole, though, her ability to eat to completion was lacking (along with her chopstick skills…) Following lunch, the ceremony commenced and included the song Country Road, as performed and sung by all the students. (Included in the video) And lastly, was the presentation of student made gifts to the guests. Though I didn’t find myself on the receiving side of this, the various origami, hand drawn pictures, and other goodies seemed to be especially appreciated. The kids were equally proud to show off and explain their handiwork as well. After this fantastic time, we were ushered down to the principal’s room to enjoy the AC, and were then met by the students for some basic interview questions about our favorites and dimensions. Soon, the kids had to do their school cleaning, and I had to get ready for my English lesson.
The next hour was filled with an all school lesson that had a few various activities. First, if only to prove that I do actually teach something, I had the kids all do self introductions with my foreigner crew, and they performed fantastically – even our 6 year old Saki managed with the questions. Having proven that I can at least pass on knowledge, I then needed to show that I could have fun while doing it. The first activity is a staple and is known simply as Island Game. Basically larger mats are strewn about the gym floor, and each has a word assigned to them which when said by me calls for them to go to that island. In this case, I opted to label each as means of movement and required them to perform that action while going there. Running, jumping, backwards, sideways, walking etc. They always race to the squares, which when fired off in rapid succession is great for getting them tired and hot, especially in the stale heat of that gym. The next activity on the docket was a relay race. While my races tend to go well, this one was a bit confusing to explain and remember, since I had a different activity for each member. It lost all aspects of a race, but fortunately the kids were still happy to participate. The final activity was charades, and I was lucky enough to have a few guests to work for me. This was a great success, as not only were the teachers and students amused, but by playing MC to the activity I was able to entertain myself as well. Gestures included things basics things, occupations and references to Japanese pop culture. (these more so for their entertainment value). I had one other category, animals, that I perpetually assigned to my mom. The resulting actions were especially hilarious to me and undoubtedly others. I can confidently say I felt no remorse for the abuse of my power. Before our farewell, I had a special treat for each student, a Warhead candy. There is nothing like these little bombs of sour in Japan, and the reaction I captured of the students was priceless.
At that, the lesson was over, and I felt pretty good about what I had managed to show off about the nature of my work. After regrouping, it was time to take off. On the way out, we were met by all the teachers and students waving and thanking us energetically, good feelings abound. I was really appreciative of the staff accommodating my request, rearranging the schedule, and really making such an event of it. It was certainly an unforgettable experience for everyone. At that, we drove off, said hi to the staff of another school and retired to home after a full day.