Archive Page 2

07
Apr
10

Unintentional Preview

The day before yesterday, writing until the wee hours, I unintentionally pressed “Publish” instead of “Save draft.” I immediately unpublished the draft, but pressing publish sets in motion a whole number of things that couldn’t be undone.

Consequently, those of you who have a subscription to my RSS feed, or follow my blog via NetworkedBlogs, and even those of you who are Fans of Loco in Yokohama on my Facebook page have seen what amounts to a preview of my upcoming project; a trailer, if you will.

I’m sorry for any confusion this might have caused, finding yourself in the middle of a project still in pre-production.

But, being that the cat is out of the bag, feel free to fill me in on your thoughts.

I’d be much obliged.

Loco

04
Apr
10

Ambassador Extraordinaire

I was reading through my post from a year ago and came across a comment I wrote in response to a reader’s comment.  I had written the post in response to a Japanese reader’s advice as to how I should respond to Japanese people who avoid me out of fear of me. My response was about Shame. The shame I would feel pleading for common decency and the shame they should feel for not extending it in the first place.

Thought I’d share it with my readers just in case you missed it.

Here it is:

Living in Japan you come to learn that, in the Japanese world, there are two countries, two cultures, two types of people: Japanese and others. This perspective taints and paints all dialogues with nihonjin. When you arrive here you’ll see what I mean. As far as opening a dialogue with nihonjin is concerned, my WHOLE life is a dialogue with nihonjin. On a daily basis I am interacting with the people and the culture, at home and outdoors. Depending on my relationship with a particular person, like a nihonjin, they may see my hon’ne (real intent) or tatamae (public face). Most people see the latter, the Loco that goes about smiling and ignoring, pretending not to see, responding appropriately to incessant questioning about what Americans think and do and feel and what black people think and do and feel, etc…trust me, I am a model foreign citizen, an Ambassador extraordinaire. The handful that see my hon’ne have either entered my “circle of trust” (LOL- that’s from Meet the Parents) and thus I share my feelings with them, or have provoked me with some unacceptable assault on my good nature.

I wouldn’t give a damn about fueling flames at those times.

And I’m sure that some Japanese person has witnessed my hon’ne and said “Yappari” (just as I thought) and labeled me and anybody that looks even vaguely like me a bad person worthy of dehumanization. Sorry! A huge step back for gaijin / nihonjin relations I guess. But for every mile of good will I pave I might lose a step and to me, considering what I have to deal with, that’s an acceptable ratio.

I honestly don’t feel that people from the East should feel hard-pressed to acknowledge another race’s humanity. I’m not trying to shove “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” up their asses. I’m really not! I’m just saying let’s start the conversation from the foundation that we are both members of races capable of great wonders and great atrocities and everything in-between…you know, EQUALS.

Sora-san’s perspective is not so unique, JahC san. Most every thing most Japanese do is from a Japanese perspective. Most know no other (which is true of most countries.) which is the typical excuse for their behavior. Every other perspective has a…the Japanese call it Iwakan (違和感) Basically it’s a feeling of wrongness, incompatibility, not belonging, etc…This is the reason (I want to say excuse) given for their behavior. If a foreigner is in the vicinity then iwakan ensues like an instinct and they start acting all creepy uncontrollably.

Throughout my blog I have chronicled this behavior and my feelings about it, but I have arrived at a point where I see it for what it is. And it is something that no dialogue can really address. The only cure for Iwakan is probably experience. Japanese people need to talk with or interact with foreigners (and of course emerge unscathed) and maybe next time their iwakan will be diminished a bit.
ALL of my Japanese friends have had such experiences and thus that Iwakan Wall between us has been torn down, as it has with my kids at my job and some of the teachers and I suspect it has with Sora-san, as well.

But with the VAST majority of nihonjin it hasn’t and probably never will. And I think perhaps because of the contrast in colors or because of the image many Japanese have of people of color, that Iwakan is a bit more intense for darker hued people. That’s a fact of life in Japan. Is Iwakan racism? No. Not really but kinda. Is it Xenophobia? No, not really but kinda. Is it prejudice? No, not really, but kinda… I mean, I’m provoked by willfulness…but Iwakan has an air of helplessness. Like how a deer might respond as you approach it in the woods, with or without a gun. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hunter or PETA, that deer is going to flee. Would you say that deer is prejudiced against people? Hell, he wouldn’t run if another deer was approaching, now would he? And, is his response to humans the same as when his nostrils encounter the scent of a lion or a hyena? Anyway, I won’t drag out that metaphor. I’m sure you get where I’m coming from…

Also, the necessity, for most nihonjin, to confront and deal with these feeling does not exist. Most will never come in contact with foreigners, so why be bothered about such things? Understanding this has made my experience here much easier to endure, and my understanding of Japanese people and culture more substantial.

I don’t know if Buddhism or Shintoism are related. Maybe they are. However I don’t believe humility is an exclusively Eastern thing no more than civic-mindedness or consciousness of equality are American or Western. I don’t even think they are second nature to us. These are things that are learned through one’s experience and education. Yes, reading a few books was a gross understatement but my point was that the information is available if you care to learn it. Just as you’re taking the time to study about the Japanese mindset and the language before you come here. Are you saying the desire to understand other cultures is a western thing? Perhaps. But why? Is that connected to Shinto / Buddhism too?

Man, this is turning into a post. Sorry. You caught me on vacation and I have time to kill (so to speak) (-;
I’m not done. This response is sort of scattered, I know. I’ll probably highlight your response in an upcoming post…
Thanks for taking the time, energy and effort to do so!
Loco

What do y’all think?

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

29
Mar
10

Conversation 3/28/10: Tell me something I don’t know…

This conversation took place with a Japanese friend at a cafe in Yokohama:

Me: …I thought it was a very interesting article! What do you think?

Yoko: Of what?

Me: His argument that both Gaikokujin and Gaijin essentially mean the same thing: Not so much foreigner, but not-Japanese.

Yoko: You think so?

Me: Well, yeah, actually, I agree totally.

Yoko: Why?

Me: Let me give you an example. I had an experience recently. I was in Hawaii, in Waikiki, and I overheard two Japanese guys talking about a party they’d gone to the night before. Both agreed that the party was ok but would have been better if there were less Japanese there and more Gaijin. It rubbed me the wrong way, being referred to as a foreigner in my own country. Hell, I’d taken the vacation to get away from that for a spell. So I took issue with it, and told them as much.

Yoko: Really? What did you say to them?

Me: I told them that this is America, and that they were the foreigners, not us!

Yoko: That was rude!

Me: A little, I guess, but I guess I am a little sensitive about that kind of thing, for obvious reasons. But, no more rude than they were. Presuming if they spoke in Japanese none of the Americans sitting in their vicinity would understand they were calling us foreigners.

Yoko: But, if you feel that Gaijin means not Japanese then why did you say anything?

Me: I hadn’t really thought it through until I read that article; which was after the fact. And even if I had, the way Japanese were behaving in Waikiki, I was already pissed anyway.

Yoko: How were they acting?

Me: Like they owned the place! Like they were in some Japanese resort, not guest in a foreign country, in my country. I feel like if I can be on my best behavior in their country they can certainly be on theirs in mine!

Yoko: I see. (Sad expression on her face)

Me: What? Was I wrong?

Yoko: ….

Me: Seriously! They were behaving the way many Japanese do in Japan. I mean, in Japan I have to accept the excuse that Japanese are not used to foreigners so they are shy around me, to put it nicely, but if you go to foreign country that excuse because invalid.

Yoko: I see…

Me: And I think I  know the reason why.

Yoko: Why?

Me: Because, some Japanese don’t even know Hawaii is America! Maybe they think it’s Japan.

Yoko: That’s ridiculous!

Me: Seriously, Yoko. I ask my students…and this has happened many times…I ask them, have you ever been to the US? And they say no, but they’ve been to Hawaii! Hawaii is America, I say. And they get this look like…”Oh yeah, that’s right.”

Yoko: You don’t understand Japanese people…

Me: Tell me something I don’t know…(said sarcastically)

Yoko: Eeee?

Me: Nothing. Listen, I don’t claim to understand Japanese. I don’t even understand Americans, sometimes.

Yoko: Of course we know Hawaii is in America. We’re just being humble.

Me: Humble??? You mean ignorant!

Yoko: …

Me: I mean, come on, if a Japanese person on vacation, say, in NY, asked me had  I ever been to Japan and I answered, “No, but I’ve been to Okinawa,” would they think I was being humble or that I was an ignorant American?

Yoko: But, you’re not Japanese.

Me: I don’t get it.

Yoko: America, the mainland, is…expensive to visit. Plus, you have to know some English to get around. Hawaii is cheap to visit, and you don’t need much English.

Me: Ok…

Yoko: So, if we say we’ve gone to the US, then that’s just like boasting that we have money and we can speak English. We are humble so we don’t say such things.

Me: But, like you said, I’m not Japanese. And, presumably, I don’t know the rules of humble etiquette. So, why, at the risk of appearing painfully ignorant with no benefit, would Japanese be humble with me?

Yoko: Habit.

Me: I see…

Yoko: I don’t think you do. Because you are Gaijin. (Smiles) I mean, gaikokujin.

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

27
Mar
10

Yokohama, in living color pt.3: Osanbashi

The Port of Yokohama was opened in 1859 as a direct result of the Treaty of Kanagawa, signed by Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States and the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan. At the time, 2 wharfs were built in place of the present day Ōsanbashi. The wharfs were too shallow for the ships to dock, and so barges were used to carry passengers and freight to and from the ships. 

In 1889, during the Meiji Era, the City of Yokohama was incorporated. And a succession of construction projects was initiated in 1889 by the Japanese government, to transform the Port of Yokohama into the main doorway to Japan. Ōsanbashi Pier was completed in 1894, and was called Yokohama Harbor Pier at the time. 

In 1923, the port was badly damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake, and had to be rebuilt. 

During World War II, the port was again badly damaged, this time by air raids. After World War II, the U.S. Military occupied the Port of Yokohama, and the Ōsanbashi Pier was under their jurisdiction until 1949. 

In 1964, a reconstruction of Ōsanbashi Passenger Terminal was completed in time before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. 

Between 1987 and 2002, Ōsanbashi Pier was again reconstructed. This was done by the Port and City of Yokohama and the architecture firm Foreign Office Architects. The Port and City of Yokohama developed other renovation and construction projects in the waterfront area, such as the Minato Mirai 21 project, in this time frame. From Wikipedia 

I went to Osanbashi pier on two occasions last week. Once during the day and the other at night. Here are some of the  pictures I took while there. 

This ship is actually parked at Osanbashi

Blue Yokohama is a famous cafe/souvenir shop at the foot of Osanbashi

I need a break already

Osanbashi has this great design! This is the entrance to the Yokohama International Passenger Terminal

 

 

You get a nice view of the Yokohama Bay Bridge

...and the Yokohama Skyline. Love to see this at night!

Okay, time for a rest stop!

And then the next night! 

 

 

 

 

Well, that’s about it for Osanbashi. If you have a chance, check it out. And if you plan to take pics at night, don’t drink first, and bring a tripod (-;

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

24
Mar
10

Live from Locohama S1/E22: Loco was here!

As per my last conversation with the Silky one, I will be transferred to another school come April. School C. There was a follow-up phone call from him later that day instructing me not to discuss my pending transfer with any of my co-workers or students. I’ve worked three years side-by-side with these people. Some have even become my friends, in as much as we have good convos over coffee and a smoke in the shed out back sometimes. Tomorrow, as it happens every year, they will ask me if I’ll be returning in April with every expectation that I will. My answer the previous three times was “I don’t know. I think so. I certainly hope so.” This year I will have to look them in the eye and say the same…

Only, it’ll be a lie. I do know.

I don’t lie well. Not to people I care about, anyway. And especially not on someone else’s behest.

So, since monday, in addition to gearing up for the lie, emotionally that is, I’ve been kind of saying goodbye without actually saying goodbye.

Sugano-sensei is one of my smoking buddies, and one of the few teachers in the office that is actually totally comfortable around me. He studied abroad, and he’s married to a woman who studied abroad, and though he can’t speak English very well, he doesn’t see that as some kind of shortcoming or defect, like many here are led to believe it is. And though I’m pretty far from fluent in Japanese he doesn’t view communicating with me as a crucible to be avoided or alleviated at all costs.  He accepts our differences and acknowledges our similarities.

He’s truly a rarity.

Yesterday, when I ran into him in the smoke shed at our usual time after lunch I handed him a lighter I’ve had for years. It wasn’t much. I just wanted to give him something. Something that made me feel real.

One of the things about living in Japan that has significant side effects for me is a feeling of invisibility. I know that sounds strange considering that I’ve written extensively of  the annoying reactions people have to me, and the resulting behaviors. But, that’s just it: It’s not really me they are reacting to. It’s just their perception of me. Some hodge-podge of stereotypes and rumors, misrepresentations and misconceptions. Not me. Not Loco. Most of my life here I spend as a canvas Japanese delineate as they please, or in the only ways they know how, while the real me lies beneath their muck essentially invisible. The side effect being a certain sense of not being. Thus, sometimes I behave as if I am invisible here. Even when some people have given me every indication that they can see me or are at least trying to see me, the preponderance of the muck-slinging predisposes me, at times, to believe that even their efforts will ultimately be in vain. 

And something as simple as the giving of something personal addresses this for me. I envision my hand, reaching from beneath this muck, from this solitary place where I exist, out into the land of the Rising Sun…I want to thank him, yes. But, it’s really a selfish act. I simply want to feel alive. Sometimes, I need to be seen.

The only problem is I can’t tell him any of this. Cuz, actually, I don’t trust him, or any of them, enough to say “between you and me, I won’t be back next year, but I’ve been instructed by my company not to say anything so this has to remain on the QT, lips sealed, hush-hush. And, I wanted to say good-bye and thank you for being as close to a friend as I have in this office. So, here’s a little something to remember me by.”

Nope, couldn’t bring myself to do that. Been burnt a couple of times before and though I have a hard head, it’s not impenetrable. I eventually get shit!

So, instead… 

“What’s this?” Sugano-sensei asked.

“It’s a lighter…you never seem to be able to find yours so I wanted to give you this.”

“Oh, no, no, no, I can’t take it. It’s too…”

“No, take it. I want you to have it. I have plenty more. It’s nothing special. I used to use it back in America but I never use it anymore. Mottainai ne.”

He looked it over, then looked me over, and I thought for a second that some sort of recognition of its significance crossed his face. But, in an instant, it was gone, replaced by a solemn smile and a deep bow.

“Hontou ni doumo arigato gozaimasu!”  (Thank you soooo much!)

“Dou itashimashite,” (you’re welcome) I caught myself saying. I rarely use that phrase. I usually respond to all thank yous with Iie (Not at all) but his solemnity almost made me show the gravity of what I felt.

I had similar sessions with a couple of the other teachers today, but I had to split them up. If they were to talk, as I knew they would, and all of them mentioned they’d received affectionate trinkets from me, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out what Loco was cooking.

Tomorrow is my last day. No classes. just a morning meeting, a fancy sushi lunch and a bunch of sayonaras.

I’ll try to hold it together and lie on my company’s behest. And I’ll try to avoid feeling like I’m going to disappear, like I’d never been here.

Maybe I’ll carve my name in my desk, or spray paint it in graffiti on the wall in the smoke shed:

Graffiti Creator - http://www.easygraffititext.com

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

21
Mar
10

Yokohama, in living color, pt.2: Akarenga 赤レンガ

I’m not big on touristy stuff on my blog, as you guys well know. But, as promised, I will try to give you guys a better picture of the environment I live in. This post is about Akarenga、an area a few minutes walk from the area I covered in part 1, Minato Mirai. Yesterday I was hanging out with a friend and just happened to find myself there, totally unplanned, and stumbled upon a car show and a flower show, as well as a cruise ship in port. It was a beautiful day, aside from the pollution, so I decided to shoot a few shots.  

First, a  little about Akarenga. Again, if you want to know more in depth information, the internet is replete with it.  

The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse (横浜赤レンガ倉庫, Yokohama Akarenga) is a historical building that is currently used as a complex that includes a shopping mall, banquet hall, and event venues. The complex, officially known as the Newport Pier Tax Keeping Warehouse (新港埠頭保税倉庫, Shinkō Futō Hozei), was originally used as customs buildings, and has two sections: Warehouse No.1 and No.2. It is operated by Yokohama Akarenga Co. Ltd., and located at the Port of Yokohama in Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan.  

In the late 19th century, the Yokohama city government worked on constructing new harbour facilities, and the first reclamation work was begun in 1899. The work, completed in 1905, was followed by expansion work which ended a year later. Planned by a Japanese architect and a government official, Yorinaka Tsumaki,[1] the current Building No. 2 was constructed in 1911, and the current Building No. 1 was erected in 1913. Both were to be used as customs houses.[2]  

When the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake struck Yokohama, the red brick buildings were damaged, but suffered less than other buildings due to their reinforced structure with iron implanted between the bricks. Repair work continued until 1930, and after World War II, the buildings were requisitioned by the American occupation troops between 1945 and 1956.[2] After the buildings were returned to Japan, their use decreased with the advent of containerization, and the buildings ended their role as customs houses in 1989.  

In 1992, Yokohama city acquired jurisdiction over the buildings,[2] and restoration work was carried out from 1994 to 1999. This work, in which the roof and structure of the buildings were strengthened, was conducted by Takenaka Corporation, a Japanese architectural company.[3] After the inside of the buildings was renovated, they were opened as the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse on April 12, 2002. From wikipedia.  

   

  

  

  

  

Tourism is tiring...

   

Ah, spring! And, look at the pretty flowers...

  

  

   

  

Beat again. How many flowers can you look at in a day anyway??

Lotus Race cars! Now that's more like it!

 

soooo choice!

So small...

Ohh! Look over there! A cruise ship!

And there's the Yokohama Bay Bridge!

Damn, all that water...(just joking)

Well that’s it for now…more to follow! 

 

Next stop: Osanbashi (大さん橋)de gozaimasu. 

Peace!

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

18
Mar
10

Live from Locohama S1/E21: I remain hopeful…

Season 1 of Live from Locohama is drawing to a close. The end of the school year is a week away. Five more episodes at best remain. 

And, today, it seemed like the students were on to me and my serial writing, and decided they were really going to  give me something to write about! 

Today I taught my last lessons for this school year with the two first-year classes at School A. Next time I see them they will be second year students and, ideally, each will  take on the mantle of role model for the incoming first year students (a class purported to be worst than this year’s,) for they will have matured a bit during the upcoming two-week spring holiday and realized their solemn responsibility to lead by example. 

 

Yeah, I know. Dream on, right? 

But, I hold on to this dream because I’ve seen it happen. Some of the kids do indeed feel an obligation to the grades below theirs. Granted, some feel nothing but, by virtue of the school’s culture and the social constructs in place here in Japan, are thrust into the role of  mentors. For example, for Sports Day, it’s not so much the responsibility of the teachers to help the lower grades prepare for the festivities, as it is the upper grades who’ve performed the dances and various other routines previously. And this dignified duty has successfully brought out the best in some causes I thought to be lost. So I hold high hopes for… 

Wait a minute! You’re wondering what that picture of a knife and a gun above has to do with this post, aren’t you? 

Well, that picture was taken while I was sitting here writing this post. Exhibits A & B above currently reside atop the stacks of shit on Takahashi-sensei’s desk. I had to wait (in a state of anxious zeal) until she and the other first-year teachers took their squabbling over how to best handle this situation into the conference room to surreptitiously snap that shot with my cellphone (and, yappari, the pervert-alert shutter sound reverberated around the teacher’s office for the longest thirty seconds on record.) 

If you read my blog then you probably think you know who these items belong to. Back in episode 1 (wow, has it really been 21 episodes…time sure flies when you’re chronicling your life!) that our favorite Bi-polar child-star, Mika, saw fit to bring a knife to school and brandish it before her classmates. 

But, you would be wrong on this occasion. 

While Mika did show her ass today (literally, sat in her chair in such a way as to expose her underwear…Takahashi had to rush over and plead with her to sit properly, receiving a sharp kick in her solar plexus for her efforts) she was relatively tame today. Nope, it was the other first year class (the one ruled by Matsui kun and his iron glove, and his henchman Satou) where all hell broke loose. 

I arrived a minute before the bell. I’ve begun this practice of arriving just in time to their class because I don’t feel like wrestling the two of them off of my nuts for the whole 10-minute rest period. But…to no avail. The bell to begin class means absolutely nothing to these two. Satou’s leeriness about being kneed by me has subsided and he was once again full on. As was Matsui. They’ve been studying my defensive moves and have adapted like a couple of pint-sized velociraptors. Easily weaving my maneuvers and garnering hungry handfuls of my jewels. The bell had rung a full minute ago but still they were on me. Takahashi had her hands full with a couple of other disruptive students. One had a Rubik’s Cube out and three others circled him and cheered him on as he tried to solve the venerable puzzle. 

“Suwari nasai!” (Sit down!) I shouted at the two knuckleheads harassing my scrotum. And, abruptly, they stopped, turned and headed for their seats. I was as amazed as the other students. That was too easy.  What did I miss? I looked around for booby traps or maybe a “kick my ass!” sign stuck on my back. Nada. Then, I heard some of the well-behaved students in the class giggling. I looked for the source. It was Matsui, of course, with a brown leather wallet in his hands, going through the contents, pulling out money! I patted my back pocket. Empty. 

No the fuck he didn’t! 

“You motherfucker!” I yelled, and took off after him. He was laughing and evading my capture with the speed and agility of a chicken. Man, I’m lucky I didn’t get my hands on him on my initial effort  to do so. I definitely would be in custody now. I could have, but I would have had to make a total berserker of myself to catch him, jumping over students, tossing aside desks, and what not. Luckily I had the presence of mind to catch myself, take a deep breath, and remember that I was the teacher. 

But, my wallet… 

This kind of disregard for personal privacy and breach of the teacher-student covenant had to be addressed…and that right soon. 

Matsui was watching me and he must have seen the emotions playing out on my face because he came over to me, handed me my wallet, and said, so sweetly “Honto ni gomen nasai, Loco sensei,” (I’m so sorry) brandishing that slightly naive, slightly simple smile of his. Like this was all beyond him and he was just a kid having a little fun at his teacher’s expense. No harm, no foul. 

He strolled over to his seat, his eyes never leaving me (nor mine him) and sat down, Satou and his boys patting him on the head and congratulating him on this epic ruse; one that would go down in the history books. Total classic! And he couldn’t help himself but gloat a little, basking in the glow of their adoration and respect. 

But, he kept a wary eye on me through all this. He knew he’d, once again, crossed a line, and he had the awareness to be scared. 

Takahashi was oblivious to all of this, I noticed, when I could pull my eyes off of him. She was still trying to get the student in the back to put away his Rubik’s Cube. He had the top and two rows completed and was struggling with the final maneuvers. I used to be able to finish it in a minute when I was in high school. Fond memories of being popular due to this ability flooded me, and I smiled in the reminiscence. 

When I glanced back Matsui’s way I saw him closing the knife pictured above and putting it into his desk. The girl seated behind him, Saori-chan, one of the few remaining well-behaved students in the class, was watching him do this with about as much interest as one might have watching a carpenter put a hammer away in his tool belt. 

I was dumbfounded. 

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. Well, the picture pontificating in my head was/is not the glimpse of the knife but  the image of Saori’s reaction to the knife. It spoke to the normality of this act; to the utter un-newsworthiness of it. I mean, I’ve been here a while but I haven’t completely lost touch with the reality of the world outside of Japan. And a Swiss Army knife wouldn’t have even raised an eyebrow back in my school days. But, I was under the distinct impression that here, in Kawaiiland, in the land of all that is cute and small and safe and…you know what I’m saying…I thought that here this kind of thing would send shock waves of repulsion and fear racing at tsunami speed around the entire school, across the entire fucking community, in fact. 

Anyway, I was wrong. And that was an enlightening moment for me. A moment not to be outshone, at least in the next 15 minutes, I thought.

Wrong, yet again. 

When Takahashi finally got the student to put the Rubik’s away (I noticed that this coincided with him having finished it) and she came back to the front of the room to join me, I whispered in her air, “Matsui’s got a knife in his desk.” 

She reacted the way I had expected Saori to react, but the damage was done. The image had already been uploaded, saved and etched onto my mental Flickr page. 

“Honto ni?” (Really?) 

No, I’m kidding, bitch, I said with a look. 

She went over to his desk, got down on her knees the way waiters and waitresses sometimes do here in restaurants, had a little exchange with him, and began rummaging through his desk. She came up empty-handed, came back over to me with a look like maybe you imagined it, and for a second I imagined I had. A micro fucking second. I know a knife when I see one. 

“Listen, he’s got a knife!” I snapped, trying to keep the urgency out of my voice for the sake of the students, watching all of this with the curiosity one might watch a street magician. 

“I’ll check for it later,” she said a little dismissively, and started going through the motions of teaching a lesson. We haven’t been able to get through a lesson in this class in weeks. So, I did the same, but I kept my peripherals trained on Matsui. After a few minutes I relaxed as much as a teacher can when you know that a wily student seated near you was playing with a knife after having had an altercation with you a few moments earlier. The most comforting thought being: he obviously has brought this thing to school and brandished it many times and he hasn’t stabbed me or anyone else yet, so chances are he has a little self-control. 

I walked around the room helping the manageable students with the lesson I had planned. I was helping a student near where Matsui was seated when I heard a loud pop from behind me. I wheeled around to see Matsui aiming the above-pictured gun aimed at a student seated across from him. 

Columbine, and a dozen other school shootings, raced though my head. But only for a second. The sound and look of the gun cried fake, but the image of Matsui aiming it intently at another student joined the image of Saori’s apathetic expression on my Flickr page. 

Sakura Tree

I swallowed my apprehension and walked towards Matsui-kun, and watched as his aim slowly adjusted from being leveled at the student’s head to being leveled at me. I sped up and just as it would have been aimed at my gut, grabbed his arm and wrenched the gun from his hand, his tiny index finger tight on the trigger. 

I looked around, armed with this toy, at the students in the vicinity to see their reactions to this. More apathy: the possession of toy guns and Swiss Army knives had entered the realm of the prosaic here in Junior High School A. At least in Matsui’s hand it had. 

So, I decided not to overreact. It was just a toy. And the knife was just a Boy Scout’s utility blade, good for cutting ropes and carving Matsui loves Saori in the bark of some hapless Sakura tree. 

I examined the gun closely to confirm without a doubt that it was indeed a toy and then I handed it back to him. “Put it away!” I said. He just looked at me with those guileless innocent eyes of his, and smiled that warm, enchanting smile, and complied. 

When I returned to the front of the room, I realized that Takahashi hadn’t seen any of that episode, either. 

“He has a toy gun, too,” I said, softly, so only she could hear. Again, she looked at me incredulously. Oh Geezus! “He was aiming it at students!” 

The bell began to ring and, half way through it, I watched as Matsui slid the gun out of his desk and was about to put it in his book bag.  

“Look!” I snapped at Takahashi. She turned in time to catch a glimpse of it before it disappeared into his bag. She was appropriately aghast. 

I grabbed my teaching material and headed for the door. I needed some air. Outside the door, Satou lay in ambush, and sprung at my crotch the moment I exited, shoutng for Matsui. Matsui came a-running, wrapped himself around my leg, and seated himself on my foot so that I would have to drag him in order to walk. The playful nature of this activity had taken a drastic turn for the worse, though. For them, by all appearances, nothing had changed, but for me, I felt like I’d been molested by a beloved Uncle, like my innocence was lost. I tried to go through the motions of fighting them off, but my heart wasn’t in it. I basically let them assault my balls. It took them a moment to notice I wasn’t putting up a fight, but once they did, they ceased hostilities and gave me very concerned looks. 

Satou, not one for speaking, asked me was I ok. 

I didn’t know what to say. I had started walking away from them when Takahashi came out of the classroom. On the down-low she showed me what she had hidden, wrapped in her teaching materials: It was Exhibits A & B. 

“While you had him distracted I got them!” she exclaimed very excitedly, like she was cleverest of them all. 

“That’s nice!” I replied as we headed for the staircase. As we descended I looked back. Matsui and Satou stood at the top of the staircase, watching me…looking as if they’d aged a year or two in the past few moments, prepubescent experience etched into their dour faces.

I thought, there stand the mentors for the incoming first-year students… 

And yet, somehow, I remain hopeful.

Loco

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Copyright © 2010 Loco in Yokohama / All Rights Reserved

Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

Words I love…

Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be
Ever catch a falling star
Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle going round and round

Words by: Sly Stone

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