Originally written October 22, 2006
First, I feel I must clear something up-I am not, contrary to my grandparents’ belief, partying non-stop in Japan. I felt I made that perfectly clear last time with my disgust at the way the weekend turned out. I am here to learn and live, not to bring shame on my country or myself.
So, moving on, you may have wondered how classes are going. Well, I’ll tell you there is never a ho-hum day. My week begins by visiting one of my two elementary schools, either Nanyo or Koyagi. Elementary schools are extraordinarily fun and it mostly just involves screaming various vocabulary at the munchkins and having them scream back at you:
ex: Me: “RED!”
Me: (I look at the next word and mutter a quick prayer) “YELLOW!”
However, elementary school is about more than just trying in vain to teach kids the importance of the letter “L,” it is also about trying in vain to protect your nether region from unwarranted attacks. The kids can act very sweet at times, holding on to my arms, my legs, wanting to play, etc. But it’s all a guise, what they really want is to lull you into a false state of security before punching/kicking/grabbing your genitals and/or successfully completing the sacred Japanese rite of passage called Kancho. What is Kancho? I will leave it up to Nagasaki-ken’s own Wisconsin Thomas to explain (from his very own, brand spankin’ new website: kancho.org):
Kancho is the ancient Japanese art of playfully poking your friend or enemy,…in the rear.
Kancho is REAL, and it is growing in popularity every day. It’s probably happening at a school or playground near you right now. Kancho.org is dedicated to spreading the truth about Kancho.
Perhaps wikipedia is better:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kancho-Kancho (カンチョー , kanchō ?) is a prank often played in Japan by young school-aged children; it is performed by clasping the hands together so the index fingers are pointing out and attempting to insert them into someone’s anal region when the victim is not looking. It is similar in spirit to the wedgie or a goosing.
If you are in need of a good laugh, I suggest going to the FAQ page of kancho.org-http://www.kancho.org/id7.html . A) Leave it up to a Cheesehead to create a website based on kids sticking fingers up other people’s rectums and B) I’m a better person for having met the man who created this masterpiece of a website.
You may be wondering, “Has this cruel fate befallen our wonderful Zachary?” Sadly, yes, several times. It was one of those things that you hear about and think, “That can’t really happen? And certainly it won’t happen to me!” Well it does and it did. In fact, I do not know any male ALTs who teach elementary that have not been a kancho victim. I was amazed after surviving three consecutive renditions of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” without a single Koncho-ing. However, I will take a good kancho-ing any day of the week over the punch in the groin I received upon my first visit to Koyagi Elementary school. And the teachers wonder why I don’t play with the kids during recess anymore…
So elementary schools are an adventure; in most classes I must be extremely cautious to avoid turning my back to the students at any point and I usually have to flee the class by literally running back to the staff room to avoid being swamped by 3 dozen Japanese children.
On Tuesdays I go to Kogakura Junior High School, which is a very nice school in a very posh neighborhood but it is easily my least favorite school to visit. My day begins when I have to catch a bus at 6:50, I ride for about 15 minutes and get off to catch another bus. The second bus is usually full so I have to stand in the aisle, packed in like a sardine for the next 45 minutes. When I get to the second and final bus stop I still have a 20 minute up-mountain walk ahead of me, so I usually arrive drenched in sweat around 8:20 in the morning…or 5 minutes late. As a result, every other week I have my psychotic JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) freak out at me because she only has 20 minutes to go over the lesson plan-as if the previous 2 weeks were not sufficient. I have two JTEs at Kogakura, one is very cool the other might get tossed out of the 4th floor classroom window by the end of the year. In Japan, you always begin class with a greeting to the students in which they will reply in unison, “GOOD MORNING MR. MARK-US!” Then I will say, “How are you?” And they will say, “I’M FINE THANK YOU AND YOU?” I know this because Tyler Durden knows this. Actually, I know this because I’ve been doing it 3-5 times a day, 5 times a week for the past two months. However, my psychotic JTE (PJTE, henceforth) feels that it is still necessary to remind me, under-her-breath, in front of the class, EVERY class that we have together. I will be opening my mouth and just as the “G” in “Good morning!” is coming across my lips my PJTE mutters, “Say, ‘Good morning.'” I say, “Good morning,” and just as I begin to say, “How…” she cuts me off again to remind me of what I was about to say. This happens repeatedly throughout the day and several times during each class. She must think that I have brain damage or something. My other Kogakura JTE is really cool and usually begins each class with an English song and although her tastes leave a little something to be desired (last week it was the Monkee’s “Daydream Believer”) it is a much more relaxed environment and I never have any urges to shove a blackboard eraser into her mouth. Not only that, with a more relaxed teacher you have more relaxed students, and they actually seem to enjoy the lessons.
If nothing else can get me through the day with the PJTE, I always can look forward to my day at Koyagi Junior High School. It is easily my favorite school and my favorite JTE. It was the base school of one of my two predecessors and I definitely wish I had ended up with it as my base school as opposed to Sanwa JHS, where I ended up. Unlike my other JTEs, this one will actually give me advice on how to improve my lessons. It can be a tad frustrating at times because she ALWAYS has advice or criticisms but I would much rather have criticisms than be told it was a good lesson after an obvious bomb. It is also the only school where the kids actually pronounce my name correctly. Every time I hear “MARX” at the beginning of each class it is like music to the ears. I also got students from this school to help me sing “Rocky Top” after UT beat UGA (yes Dad, I included the “whoo!”)
Also on Wednesdays, I have an “under-the-table” class where I teach middle-aged housewives English for a good chunk of pocket change each week. It is easily my favorite class because my students actually want to be there.
On Thursdays and Fridays I have my base school. I rather like my base school and my teachers I’m just not sure if the feeling is mutual. I know the students adore me and love it when I play sports with them. I love playing sports with them too-I have never been able to step on a basketball court and be the biggest person around, but I can with my kids! I work with the first year students (seventh grade) on Thursdays and alternate second and third year students on Fridays. The first year JTE, Mrs. Yamada is fantastic and has been very helpful in coming up with great ideas for my lessons. I have become much better at adjusting my lesson plans to fit the students’ knowledge and ability. This was not easy at first, especially since the teachers were unwilling to tell me what they did and did not know. I’ve begun bringing my own music in for the students, along with the lyrics and the students have really taken to it. Last week I played “Santa Monica” by Everclear and it was a nice change of pace, both for them and me. I’ll keep it clean, despite the overwhelming desire to bring in something like NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton.”
Next week I will be giving several lessons on Halloween-here are somethings that maybe you didn’t know:
-The Irish are pretty much solely responsible for every major aspect of the holiday. 1)The holiday originated from the druids as a way of honoring the dead. 2)The jack-o-lantern originated in Ireland-they originally used turnips and potatoes before the American immigrants switched over to pumpkins. 3) The tradition of Trick-or-Treat also came from the Irish, it was a tradition to go around the neighborhood and collect for for the festival.
-Amazingly, it is the second most commercial holiday in the US behind Christmas, accounting for $2.5 billion annually. That’s a lot of miniature Reese’s cups.
I have one more class to survive and I will be Kancho-free for another week! Take care, and FIGHT!