Live from Locohama S1/E5: Protocol

When I was about 10 years old, and a student at a private school (I’ve touched on the nature of the school I attended a number of times in past posts) we had a protocol for answering questions. The teacher would pose a question like, “What is the product of 5 and 5?” (Yeah, they would word the question funny to try and trip you up…)  The student who wanted to answer the question would raise their hand. The teacher would call on the student, and that student would then, according to the protocal, hop up from his seat, stand at attention, and…say: “Hapa (here, in Swahili) I appreciate what’s been said, and if I understand correctly, the product is 25.”

Yeah, it was a mouthful for a 10 year old.

Here in a Japanese JHS, there’s a protocol, too.

The teacher’s office here is considered holy ground. At least the teahers feel so, and would like the students to respect that notion. So, there is a protocol students must follow in order to enter or speak with a teacher. A humbling one, of course. And depending on the anal retentiveness or slackness of the teachers there, does this sanctity depend. At one of my schools, for example, if a student comes to the office to speak with a teacher he must follow, “to a T”, the following  protocol: They must first knock, then beg forgiveness for having disturbed the honorable teachers within. Then announce themselves by name, year and class. Then, even if the teacher they want to speak with is standing before them or is in clear view, they must ask whether or not that teacher is currently in the office. And then they must wait for an official response.

It sounds something like this: knock knock! Shitsurei Shimasu (Please forgive my intrusion / rudeness). Ichi nen, ni kumi no Kawasaki Hideki desu kedo. (I am Hideki Kawasaki of the 1st year 2nd class, though) Takahashi Sensei Irrashaimasuka? (Is Takahashi sensei in the office?)

Some teacher would bark in response: “Inai! ” or “Imasen!” Or, if the teacher were there they’d go to the door to speak with the student. Once their business is completed, the student would then take their leave, but not before saying, “Shitsurei shimashita!” (Sorry to have disturbed you!)

This is a mouthful for Japanese students, as well. So, until they get it right, at one school, the teacher will stand at the door with the student having them repeat it over and over. This is usually done to the 1st year students in an effort to keep them in check and show them who’s running the show around here. By the time the kids are 3rd year students, the protocol is rote and they’ve injected their own personalities into the protocol. They might replace “Irrashaimasuka?” with the less formal “Imasu ka” or even with the informal “inai no?”  if they’re one of the knuckleheads / wiseguys. But everyone goes through this ritual and protocal…

Konami Yogioh Card

That is, unless you’re Matsui-kun…

In the 10 minute break between classes, the kids usually horse around, read manga, play cards (sometimes trump cards, sometimes Konami Yogioh cards or some other brand) or just stand around the old fashioned-looking kerosene stove heater in the classroom trying to stay warm (there’s no central heating in Junior High Schools) like it’s a camp fire. Sometimes the girls even sing songs.

However, there are two students from every classwhose responsibility it is to come to the teacher’s office and assist the teacher of the next class with whatever supplies they may have to tote. We often use a boom box, so the two students would carry the teacher’s bag with our lesson materials in it and the boom box up to the classroom (I think this duty rotates but it always seems to be the same students to me).

I guess this duty must have rotated around to Matsui-kun and Satou-kun.

I was sitting at my desk trying to not look like I was writing a book when a high-pitched voice, at the highest possible volume, screamed: “SHITSUREI SHIMASU!” Some teachers actually jumped out of their seats like a gun had gone off, while others whiplashed their necks turning for the door. I was accustomed to this yelling, and so were the 1st year teachers sitting over in their section near the door, Takahashi among them. But, the other teachers were totally alarmed. Which tickled Matsui senseless. He started laughing in the doorway.

When he saw me he screamed, walking into the office, “OI!  LOCO SENSEI, BABAA UZAI DESHOU? HA HA HA!!!” (Yo, Loco Sensei! Takahashi is an annoying bitch isn’t she?) This has become his greeting…this or some other insult of  Takahashi. Whenever he sees me he lets them fly.  “BABAA HA DOKO? INAI NO?”  (Where is that bitch, anyway? Aint she here?) Then he turned where he knew she was sitting and said. “BETSU NI, MITSUKECHATTA!!!(Nevermind, I found her…) KORA, TEME ISOGE!” Listen here, hurry the fuck up!”

I can’t tell you how much of an aberration this is from the norm. He might as well had pulled a Columbine and started spraying the faculty with an automatic weapon.

The teachers were sitting around in various stages of shock. At the head of the office, the principal and Vice principal were witnesses, too. The principal came from behind the front desk and all heads turned. This was to be a moment.

He walked towards Matsui. Matsui turned and saw the principal approaching him. I almost thought I saw something in his eyes that might have been intimidation, but it was only there for a micro-second, and I think it had more to do with the principal’s height (he’s actually taller than me, at about  185 cm) than any threat he actually posed.

Joker and Bob the Goon

“Daijoubu???” (Are you ok?) The principal asked, in a way that conveyed the question, ‘what’s your problem??’ or ‘Are you outta your mind?’

“Daiiiijoubu da yo ne!”  (I’m ok) Matsui responded with a tone that was more at “I don’t have problems, Mr. Man- I MAKE problems! You looking for problems?) All of this as Satou-kun came creeping into the scene, sliding up beside him, as if he’d sensed trouble brewing and if something was going to go down and someone was going to get hurt, he wasn’t going to let Matsui be the first one. He’d make a great secret service agent…if Matsui were Prime Minister.

The principal noticed the arrival of Satou-kun sidling up next to Matsui, too. But he really didn’t know what to make of it. But, I could. In NY we’d call that gangster. Straight Gangster. Like Joker and Bob the Goon in the first Batman movie. Joker was a crazy, ruthless, genius, but Bob the Goon got shit done, and was ever-ready to bust a cap in someone’s ass. Joker didn’t even have to reach for his gun, and in one scene in the movie he had actually been unprepared for an assault; but Bob the Goon…he never slept.

Takahashi was standing there like she had been hoping  and praying that the principal would do something on her behalf, maybe expel the boy, or at least scold the boy for blatantly disregarding the protocol in the office; something no other student in the school, other than the mentally challenged cases in the special class, has done. Something which if not aggresively discouraged could certainly undermine discipline and bring chaos.

But, he didn’t.

The principal turned to Takahashi, and, without words or even body language, said, ‘You heard him: get a move on, Missy! Get this little menace outta my office. Can’t you see he’s embarrassing me in front of my staff?!’

It was all in his eyes.

“ISOGE BABAA!” (Move your ass, bitch!) He yelled, again, as if to amplify the sound in the prinicipal’s eyes. Then he spun on his heels and headed for the door. At that door he spun back around, like he’d forgotten something, and scremed, “SHITSUREI SHIMASHITA!!!”

And then Matsui-kun left. Satou-kun walking out behind him, covering his rear.

He never said a word.



20 Responses to “Live from Locohama S1/E5: Protocol”

  1. February 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Good heavens, so much to unpack here! I’m actually about to hop into bed so I can’t really do my thoughts justice here. Given your description of events however I’m thinking of the actions of the headteacher as those of a guy who does not want to risk his political and social capital going to bat for a colleague he does not particularly care for, and is largely powerless to make him pay for his decision – at least directly. More on this later.

    P.S. I’m knee-deep in cover letter writing, and feeble attempts at networking so be sure to give me a nudge if you’re interested, and I don’t get back in a timely fashion.

  2. February 17, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Wow, you took me back to my days of working in rural Spain. We had a couple of kids who could get away with anything. I never imagined such a scene in Japan. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am learning so much through your stories.

  3. 3 WC
    February 17, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I’ve got tears in my eyes and I”m trying really hard not to laugh out loud, since I’m at work.

    That is absolutely hilarious. I’m amazed that he knows how to play people so well.

  4. February 17, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    I think that kid is my favorite student. You should teach him to say it in English with a Too Short East Oakland accent. Beeeitch don’t make me take off my shoe.

  5. February 17, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    I’ve never heard such language in my time here. Don’t know if I should feel happy or like I’m missing out on the fun.

    • February 21, 2010 at 11:07 am

      hey Chris! You’re defintely missing out on the fun!

  6. 7 Tyler
    February 17, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Man, I love stories about that Matsui guy. Granted he’s pretty harsh (or at least it seems it from the outside looking in) but he seems to have so much character, he just needs a good boot in the ass to straighten him out a touch.

    Great writing Loco very entertaining 🙂

    • February 21, 2010 at 11:05 am

      Thanks Tyler!
      I don’t want to straighten him out at all…
      I just want him to put his energy to good use. if I can get that energy working for the class instead of against it, that would be ideal for me.

  7. February 18, 2010 at 2:26 am

    Wow… that is true Alpha male behavior to the nth degree. CEO or Yakuza crime boss, what do you think Loco?

    • February 21, 2010 at 11:03 am

      Hey Michael, yeah, he’s alpha…his future? i don’t know. If he stays in Japan, he’ll probably more likely be CEO than Yakuza. He smiles too much for a hoodlum. So I think politician, you know, one of them REAL fucking gangsters…who try to convince us we should be afraid of mafioso and terrorist. Maybe he’ll be Prime Minister. Japan should be so lucky. I love the kid!
      thanks Mike!

  8. 11 Produce Stand
    February 18, 2010 at 2:31 am

    That kid, is so fucking gangsta. I can’t wait till he grows up to be some sort of criminal master mind. I wonder how his parents deal with him.

    • February 21, 2010 at 10:58 am

      Hey produce…I wonder if they can deal with him at all…but he probably charms them the way he can charm any one with that smile of his. i wish i could show y’all a picture of him. if you see his smile you’d be like ” get the fuck outta here…that kid is a fucking angel” trust me!

  9. 13 Mythirdeye
    February 18, 2010 at 5:37 am

    I love how he greets you by calling Takahashi an annoying bitch, like you’re part of an inside joke! Knowing that she did you and prob. many others in a dirty two-faced kind of way, the word karma comes to mind. You have to admire Matsui for his ability to verbally disarm people at such an early age, but at the same time his parents should have beat his ass a LONG time ago IMHO.
    ‘“SHITSUREI SHIMASU!” Some teachers actually jumped out of their seats like a gun had gone off, while others whiplashed their necks turning for the door.’
    hahaha lmao I can picture it clear as day, TOO funny

    • February 21, 2010 at 10:56 am

      3rdEye, yeah I think he senses that i love it so he keeps it up….gotta be so careful around kids. They read you like a book. And i do admire him greatly. I think he has picked up on that too. I just have to used that to my advantage. just that that’s difficult with his nemisis around…maybe next year he’ll have different hhomeroom teacher and I’ll be able to manage him better.
      I’m glad you found it funny! I do too…I have to bite my lips and tongue everyday around here.

  10. 15 Kevin
    February 18, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Another great post! Really enjoying how you’ve amped-up the volume.

    WOW! Absolutely amazing that the teachers, especially principle, let that take place. If my children did anything even remotely of that nature the school would not only light their asses on fire but mine too.
    So the inmates are running the asylum there? What gives, man?

  11. 16 WH
    February 18, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Oh my god, that kid is out of control. Put him and everyone else out of their misery and let him drop out already. He seems extremely disrespectful of women and he sounds like a fricking future date rapist.

    You know, my ex-boyfriend went to high school for FIVE YEARS before finally getting expelled (this is Japan, where high school is only three years). School just isn’t for some people.

    • February 21, 2010 at 10:50 am

      hey WH…I love the kid and I don’t want him to go anywhere…my plan is to figure out a way to get him working with me instead of against me…Maybe in season 2 when he’s a 2nd year student i’ll have better luck!
      thanks for the shout!

  12. February 19, 2010 at 2:53 am

    Yo that boy is totally gangstah but I would love to know why they tolerate his shit. And you evoked crazy memories that I’ve lost due to the 80’s… The East Protocol!! I swear I think they did that to just you brothers. Wowzers! I’m gonna go read the prior post about our beloved school…

    • February 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

      Thanks Kat! And i can’t wait to see what you think of my description of our beloved alma mater. That is a whole book in itself! i think I will dig in and write it, but right now I’m more motivated to get this Japanese story out of my system and just touch on our experience.
      Matsui kun is indeed gansta…I hope i can answer the reason for the tolerance question soon. i wonder myself! I’d like to think it’s because he has put the fear of kamisama (god) in them but I dont think so, and it’s not a fear of litigation or assasination like in the US, so I’m really not sure…but I know fear is part of it.
      thanks for the shout!

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