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Apes Abroad

Traveling Jam e-mails Ape Culture about Pop Culture in Japan.

From: Traveling Jam
To: apemail@apeculture.com
Subject: Smokin' in the Classroom
Date: Sunday, February 22, 1998 2:10 AM

One day at lunch, Ms. N comes up to me and says, very conspiratorially, "Just between you and me, I have something very important to do at lunch." So, of course when she puts it that way, I'm thinking it's going to be pretty interesting. Not so. She continues to explain that a female student (we'll call her A) reported to one of the teachers that a few boys in her class were smoking during lunch .....oh, we need a little aside here ...in Japan the students are assigned to one class and they don't change classes during the day - the teachers go to the students. So these kids have class with the same people all day long and they eat lunch in the classroom - this particular classroom is two buildings away from the teacher's room, and the teachers generally leave the students to their own devices at lunch...anyway during lunch a few boys had been lighting up and it was bothering A and a few other students and they told Mr. K. Of course, smoking at school is verboten, but these kids are forbidden from smoking ANYWHERE. (this means that if a teacher catches a student smoking outside of school, 20 miles away, the students still get busted).

Well, Mr. K is not in charge of the first year students (10th grade), Mr. I is. So, Mr. K tells Mr. I about it. Together with Mr. H, Mr. I hatches a plan that apparently all of the first year teachers agreed to. This is what it was - right before lunchtime, three teachers go and HIDE in a room that's right next to the classroom with the offenders. When the evil ones started smoking, A was to leave the classroom and go to the bathroom. This was the signal to the three teachers to pounce. Not only did they have three teachers hiding, but there were two others waiting in a car outside, because apparently these spawns of the devil would smoke behind the bushes on the first floor. AND to top it off, in the next building over - two floors up, there was a teacher staring into the classroom with a portable phone to call the teachers hiding in the room next to the classroom. (This was because the boys would close the curtains to the classroom before they started puffing- so when they closed the curtains the teacher was to call the hiding teachers). I felt like I was in the Japanese version of Mission Impossible. I couldn't believe how complex they made this whole thing.

Someone must have tipped off the boys, because after all that, they didn't smoke that day. The teachers had to sit in their respective spots for 50 minutes! When I asked why didn't they just approach the boys and tell them to knock it off, a teacher told me that student A didn't want anyone to know that she had told. "Wouldn't it seem kind of obvious that they were set up, if you pounce on them three-fold from the next room over?" I queried. No, because after school one day they WENT THROUGH THE TRASH and found cigarette butts, so they were going to use that as the reason for the set-up. I was pretty much in shock - how would you feel if it were you? The kids are pretty stupid for smoking in the class, but gawd, was this a little overboard or what?

From: Traveling Jam
To: apemail@apeculture.com
Subject: Big City Conference
Date: Friday, June 5, 1998 3:23 AM

So, off I went to Kyoto and then to Kobe for a big ol' meeting. You should all know Kyoto as the ancient capital of Nippon and Kobe's where they had that big ol' earthquake about three years ago.

Anyhoo...I had to go to Kobe for the "renewers" conference....for those of us, you guessed it, coming back next year. There were about 2,000 of us English teachers. After a year of no more than 100 gaijin(Japanese for "foreigners) in my face at once, the senses were definately overloaded.

Well, we (my American buddy Carey and my English friend Ruth) decided to take advantage of the opportunity to go to one of the northern islands (for you geographically stoopit folks...I'm on Kyushu, which is the southernmost of the four main islands. Most of the large, more well known Janpanese cities(Tokyo etc.) are on Honshu - this is where we went) and went to Kyoto first for about four days. This was pretty cool - Kyoto's a beautiful city with loads to see and do. We saw a couple temples a day and a bunch of geishas-in-training. A little aside here...geisha girls are NOT prostitutes O.K.? The idea of a geisha is to be the perfect hostess - to make the guests feel incredibly at ease and tend to their every need. Only very well-off people can afford a geisha and only low class geishas stoop to prostitution. These women are trained from when they are ten years old...they leave their home and live in a geisha house until they are done w/ training. Crazy, eh?

At the temples there were a bunch of Jr. High kids on field trips and stuff. They all are assigned some project....the "Talk to a Foreigner and Make Their Trip to the Lovely Temple Miserable" project. I swear, these kids approach you from all angles and they all ask in broken English "Hello, my name is....and I am study English for three years. May I talk to you?" Then they interview you, take a picture with you and ask if you want them to mail you a copy! I don't mind talking to the tykes, cuz they're pretty cute and really sweet (Ruth even got a bag full of origami cranes for talking to a couple of girls), but I DO mind talking to 10 or 15 of them, ya know? Still, ya gotta love Japan.

On with the story...There was one night of debauchery in which Carey and I discovered a bar where they had tequila shots for a mere Y450 (about $3.50, it's usually at least twice that). The bartender there made Ruth a drink called the "Doraemon". Doraemon is a blue cat/robot cartoon that is incredibly popular here - like Hello Kitty, only cooler. He's born in the twenty second century and comes to the past to help out a really stupid boy that is always fucking up. He has a magic pocket (like a kangaroo) and he does all sorts of nifty stuff with it. All over Doraemon paraphanalia it says this -

"Doraemon is a cat-like robot from the twenty-second century."

I fuckin' LOVE Doraemon. So the bartender makes this blue colored girlie drink for Ruth and called it the Doraemon.

Very entertaining night - I think I have a lot of pictures of strange Japanese people that I met on the street. I vaguely remember one guy wearing a shirt that said "I remember the first time I met my mechanic..." or somesuch like that. I don't remember exact wording, but I did take a picture. At the time I was ready to strip and trade shirts with the guy in the middle of the street - that's how cool this shirt was.

After Kyoto we headed to Kobe for the meeting. Like I said, we were all reeling from the amount of foreigners around us at once. Supposedly this was a conference, but most people used it as an excuse to party in a big way. A majority of us are in the boonies and we don't often get to cities as big as Kobe. Of course I joined in the revelry. Most of it was your run-of-the-mill drinking stuff (which has become alarmingly commonplace among all of the teachers here - apparently there's a pretty high alcoholism rate in the program, I dunno if it's true, but that's what I heard - a lot of it is the Japanese culture and the way they drink - at most of the office parties, of which there are many, drinking and getting drunk seems to be the main idea - it's like the only way the Japanese can relax - plus drinking and being drunk is not seen as such a bad thing like it is back home).

Other than all the drinking going on, the conference was really good. The best thing was a Zen master guy who gave a talk. He's American and the only gaijin to be given the title of Master in his particular sect. He gave a very cool, very interesting talk about humans and the future, where we're going and all that. I really dug it. I think I could get into this Zen shit, ya know?

After wearing ourselves out in Kobe and eating enough fast food to last a lifetime - there was a Wendy's about two seconds from the hotel (not that I'm a big fast food eater, as you all know, but I live a half hour from the nearest "convenience restaurant" makes ya a little nutty sometimes), we went to Osaka for our final night. It was a Saturday night and I don't think I could have picked a better night to be in Osaka. There were SO MANY people! Even you New Yorkers can't even begin to fathom how many people there were milling around the streets. Plus, they were all YOUNG and hip and cool. Didn't seem like the Japan that I know and love, but it was GREAT. (Apparently Osaka's GDP or GNP or whatever - the amount of money that comes in to the city ALONE is bigger than Australia or something like that.) There were just rivers of people all over the place, hanging out, talking, doing whatever. We just walked around until 3 in the morning people watching and eating ramen at the ramen stands.

When I was in Kyoto I bought this zine from an American guy and it's all these interviews that he did with Korean and Japanese people. One of the articles is about the underground scene in Osaka and it just sounded so cool! I realized I'm missing out on a lot of the "scene" here by living so far from a big city - then again, if I lived in somewhere like Osaka I wouldn't have a penny to my name - but then again I'd have a social life.

So, that's about it guys - now I'm back in my country side home - can't say I'm sad to be back. All the potatoes are harvested, rice planting is just around the corner and I'm coming home in a month!

From: Traveling Jam
To: apemail@apeculture.com
Subject: Loose Sock Girls
Date: Sunday, June 6, 1998 4:13 AM

Well, I'm going to tell you one story that I just read in the Daily Yomiuri. The High School Baseball Association of Kagawa Prefecture (somewhere in Honshu) banned female baseball team managers (student managers of the team - usually girls - and their job is taking attendance, getting water etc. ..yer basic grunt work) from wearing the ever popular "loose socks" in the dugout.

I'll try to explain this fashion phenomenon to you. Anyway what this fashion consists of is HUGE socks.They basically look like leg warmers. The girls GLUE the top parts to a specific height on their calves (and believe me this is very important apparently, as it helps them achieve the "loose sock look") and the bottom part of the socks hang down. Sometimes these socks are so oversized they hang over the backs of their shoes. Remember scrunch socks? Sorta like that, but exaggerated (and flippin' glued to your leg - there's even special sock glue for this purpose). Anyway - usually only the "bad girls" wear these socks - and they even call them "loose sock girls" - to earn this title it usually means you are a defiant type since this fashion is against the uniform regulations of most of the schools (at least it is down here in the country - the city girls tend to be more flamboyant and risque). I get called a loose sock girl for wearing the standard white sports socks from home simply because they sorta "scrunch" at the bottom.

ANYWAY - these baseball manager girls are no longer allowed to wear their loose socks at the baseball games because "loose socks lead to shorter skirts and distract the concentraton of the adolescent male team members." (Don't forget all Japanese students wear uniforms...loose socks girls usually wear their uniform skirts very very very short - they are rebels after all, right?)

Read Traveling Jam's Other chronicles of life in Japan:
Ape's Abroad 1: Japanese TV, Karaoke, and Taiko
Ape's Abroad 3: Penis Shrines and Roadkill
Ape's Abroad 4: Top 13 Likes and 8 Dislikes

More Ape's Abroad articles?

Leave your comments about living in Japan.


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