I take the same train, the same time every day. Most mornings, I stand in line for the 4th door of the 2nd car for two reasons. One: It will put me right in front of the staircase at Yokohama station so I can avoid some of the rustling and tussling that goes on. Two: In that car there are anywhere from 15 to 25 English-speaking students, Elementary, Junior High and High School, and though I’m a teacher, I learn so much just by watching them.
One thing I like is that they are all bi-lingual; fluent in Japanese and English, and some even a third language like Spanish or French. They are mostly Americans, mostly the children of well-to do foreigners living in Japan for various reason, primarily business purposes. Some of them are haa-fu (Half Japanese/ Half something un-Japanese). Some of them have been living here their entire lives but their parents have made sure they were natural English speakers by sending them back home/abroad frequently, only speaking English in the home and enrolling them in this International school they all attend. The classes at this school, I’ve gathered, are mostly taught in English.
How have I done all this information gathering? How do I know even some of the intimate aspects of their lives? Well, they are loud. Very VERY loud.
They’re kids after all and…well, they don’t give a FUCK about the people freaking out around them. I really miss that not giving a fuck part of being a kid. I give too much of a fuck, sometimes. Always have, actually. But they don’t. That half the people in the car are trying to avoid them, or are staring at them like they are creatures from another planet, or shaking terrified in their iwakan boots, or haughtily condescending to them…it means NOTHING to them. They are teenagers and this is their world. Their attitude seems to be “you can hold on to your old school ideas if you want to…but we have no use for them. We are the New Power Generation. We’re gonna change the world. The only thing that’s in our way is you!”
There are different ways of NOT giving a fuck, though, so let me clarify. The kids spend the entire train ride either discussing or studying for exams, or they’re talking about music, movies, TV shows, books, games, etc, or they’re talking about relationships and people in their lives- The typical things people talk about. And, these things, they most certainly DO give a fuck about. Sometimes too much.
What they don’t give a fuck about is the ignorance and xenophobia and iwakan going on around them. They see it just like I see it. I watch them see it, curious to see how they’ll respond…more accurately I should say fail to respond. They don’t give a fuck! They see the people doing the same things that get under my skin from time to time, and it’s like if they’d seen a cat licking his own ass to clean it or dislodge a stubborn stool: albeit disgusting to us, that’s just how they do things. Cats don’t have toilet tissue and Ex-Lax. Cats don’t know that licking their asses while you’re eating, and then coming and licking your face, is disgusting to you. And Japanese don’t know, either.
That’s just the way this one boy looked this morning on the train. The train pulled into a station and the boarders rushed in. One man was rushing to a pole near me, saw my face and detoured sharply right, and right smack into this white boy all of sixteen. The man froze and looked behind him at the surging boarders, looked back at the boy and then at me, and stayed put, only turning his back so that it was to the boy and to me. The boy had been watching all this with keen eyes, knowing eyes…like he’d seen it a thousand times before. And, he hadn’t even paused his conversation with his buddy. When he spoke he had one of those high-pitched, mid-puberty transforming voices. And though they weren’t yelling he was practically in the man’s ear…the man suddenly turned and with a huff pushed through the crowd…actually the crowd, all pretending not to be totally absorbed with the two boys and I, opened instinctively, like an anticipating vagina, welcoming the man into the warm safe folds of familiar sights, sounds and smells, then snapped shut behind him like a mobile phone.
The boy, who had witnessed this, didn’t blink, didn’t flinch, but there was something in his face that made me think of the cat metaphor. Something made me think that he felt cats will be cats and Japanese will be Japanese, as he continued chatting with his friend about the NBA.
You gotta love that shit! It’s just the charge I need in the morning to get me through the day.
There are so many of thse students that sometimes I only catch a tidbit of a conversation and have to hypothesize the rest. At that moment I heard one of the elementary students tell another loudly and plainly, like if they were in a playground in China:
“It’s because the Japanese are afraid of us…”
I whipped my head around at the sound and caught a glimpse of the speaker, all of 9 or 10 years old, white and tiny and cute with dirty blond bangs in his hair. Totally oblivious to the hundreds of these “cowards” standing over and around him, he seemed, in that way kids appear to be living in their own universe when they play games with one another. “That’s what my father says. He said ‘don’t let them bother you…just ignore them.'”
And that’s exactly what he was doing. What an obedient son!
I envied him.
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