August 1-3, 2016: The Rowdy Boys of Nishiyamato

I wake up around 7:15 to a feast of a breakfast. I’m not sure if Issei always eats this much for breakfast or if someone told them that Americans eat a lot for breakfast. I don’t usually eat much for breakfast. You get lots of small plates in Japan unlike the one big one we eat off of in New York. I imagine it makes doing dishes a bigger chore, but I think they use the dish washer. I was never allowed to help with dishes. The table is also set with these cute little chopstick holders either in the shape of a pepper or an animal.

They do laundry every day. In the humidity of Japan, everything is gross and sweaty by the end of the day so they have plenty of laundry to fill the load. They use the bathwater from the previous night by using a tube to connect the bath to the washing machine. And the bathwater is hypothetically clean because you shower before you take a bath. I actually didn’t need to bring so many clothes.

My host mom drove me and Issei to the station. Issei plays Pokemon Go on his mom’s phone on the way to the station. My GPS isn’t working properly and my phone dies so quickly that I soon gave up playing Pokemon Go just as quickly as I became addicted. My host mom keeps apologizing to me for not making us a bento for lunch and I keep telling her not to apologize because she has no obligation to make me lunch. She keeps a little notebook where she wrote down some English phrases that she says to me, like asking me how I slept. She hands me the Japanese newspaper as if I can read it and then points out the pictures to me. Tokyo elected its first female governor Koike. And there was a famous sumo wrestler that died.

On the train, Issei and I talk a little, but we mostly stand in silence. He plays his new soccer game on his phone and I listen to music. I offered to show him my American music but he has no interest in American music. I try not to talk to him too much because we speak English all day at school and then at home he has to translate between me and his parents and I am sure it is exhausting for him. So our train ride is when he can relax a bit.

It is also worth noting that in Osaka, unlike Tokyo, you stand on the right side of the escalator to let people pass on the left. But on the street, people tend to stand on the left and Issei didn’t really give me a satisfying answer as to why. In Tokyo, it is always left, but Osaka is different? Kyoto seemed to be more like Tokyo but also a bit of a mix in terms of escalator etiquette.

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Earlier, I complained that there are these multiple different train systems in Tokyo, but I take back what I said. The Japanese rail system on a large scale actually makes a lot more sense than our own. I can use the same Suica card in Osaka and Kyoto as I use in Tokyo and Yokohama. The system connects throughout the whole country. It’s as if I could use my Metrocard in New York and Washington DC. And quite amazingly, the cities are linked by these commuter rails, unlike in America where you would have to rely on expensive Amtrak.

I forced Issei to let me buy him lunch at the convenience store. He wasn’t going to let me, but I don’t feel bad pushing him around like a little brother. His parents have been so nice to me, it is really the least I could do. We got out of the station and heard a swarm of cicadas. They are everywhere during this season. One enormous bug landed on Issei’s leg and he didn’t freak out at all. He was so calm. He even kind of played with it trying to get it onto his finger to take it off. I stayed far away from it.

We arrived at school really early, like Japanese early. And from start to finish, teaching at Yamato was a nightmare. We teach in a very loud large room full of a hundred high school and middle school students—mostly boys. Yamato University is very new. Our building is just a year old and there is a bunch of new restaurants and cafes that opened in the last year. The school is run by the same person that founded Nishiyamato High School.  Nishiyamato used to be a boys’ school until recently, so most of our students are teenage boys. My group is Issei, Nachi, Mototsugu, Kai and Kyohei.

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A lot of the students are in junior high school and their English is simply not good enough for some of these activities that we do. Even with the high school students, I’ve found that their English isn’t quite as good as my previous students in Tokyo. But they are cocky. They go to a very famous high school in Nara that people come a far way to attend (some of them stay in dorms).

But the biggest problem is really that they are all friends since they go to the same school. They are chummy with each other. So they are rowdy boys. They are yelling and throwing things across the room. They speak to each other in Japanese and they already have their inside jokes that they laugh about. They have a little too much fun with each other. It’s not like in past weeks when the students are shy and alone and obedient.

I tried to get them to stop using Japanese by threatening them. I told them every time I heard Japanese, I’d make them read a paragraph of the Olympics pamphlet out loud in English. I didn’t think that punishment was that bad. And it worked at first. They started to police each other like it was a game. But I gave up after lunch because they transitioned into a lot of Japanese. And I was also informed by Issei that I was being mean so I stopped.

The worst was when we played the three lies and a truth game. One of the girls in the back of the room won the game. And everyone started chanting the name of her ex-boyfriend who was in Bri’s group. And they were throwing things at him and he threw ‘em right back. And of course, none of us knew what was going on at the time. It was kind of hilarious, but mostly terrible. It’s like we’re in middle school.

And is actually like we are in school. The principal of the school came to observe, and they made complaints to Chika all day. They are so passive aggressive telling her to tell Jason to make announcements to the room. Perhaps the most heinous is that they don’t want us to play games, but that’s what Americans do and that’s how we keep them interested. The real problem is that they expected us to be teachers. But we aren’t. We aren’t there to babysit these kids. We are their mentors. We are trying to be their friends, we don’t want to police them.  The kids know their school rules and they know that we don’t know them and so they kind of take advantage of us. But at the same time, we aren’t in school, so the school rules shouldn’t apply. And yet they somehow do… They’re stupid rules too. Like they’re not allowed to use the vending machines that are everywhere. Even after playing soccer and coming back all sweaty and dehydrated. They aren’t allowed to have cell phones, even the students that live in the dorms. They have to use pay phones to call their parents. How ridiculous is that?

Anyways, these school officials are pushing Chika around all day and they made her cry. But none of this is her fault. They definitely take advantage of her too because she is a woman. It is mostly the fault of a stupidly strict school and disobedient kids. She is under a lot of pressure being in charge all by herself. It is a big room and Toshin has a lot riding on this going well. It’s just very hard for us to control the kids and the officials are being extremely unreasonable. Talking to some of the kids, they really hate how strict their school is. Issei seems to like Nishiyamato, or he lies to me. I don’t know if the strictness is really out of the ordinary though. They love their rules in Japan.

After class, Issei and I took the train back in silence and we waited for his mom to get off work at the kindergarten. There is a waiting area on the train platform that is air conditioned. I’ve always seen the boxes, but I never realized that they are air conditioned. My host mom apologized profusely for being late and for not having dinner ready. So I took a shower/bath first before dinner.

Then we had dinner without my host dad. He works very late and doesn’t get home until around 10PM so he usually eats by himself. In the meantime, my host mom made fried chicken and French fries—a real American meal. It was exactly what I wanted and was craving after three weeks in Japan.

After dinner, I played Wii with Issei. We played Super Smash Bros. Brawl and he’s almost as bad as I am. But we had fun playing until he told me had to go up to his room to do homework. And I offered to help him with his math homework and I even told him just to straight up not do it if it was English Camp homework because it’s really not that important. He also likes magic, so I showed him some magic videos on Youtube from Britain’s Got Talent before he had to leave. Then it was just me and his mom and I showed her some of my GoPro vacation videos. And finally my host dad came home and he watched my videos too. I got lots of compliments on my videography skills and they loved the choice of music. I really got to bond with his parents that night, and I think from that point on I felt more like a part of the family.

The next day we had the first set of presentations. My boys were woefully underprepared and I was hoping they would be humbled and then try harder in the future but they didn’t really care. Four of them just up and left for a solid half hour while they left the fifth to make the poster by himself. And the poster was taking forever. They were trying to draw perfect circles with a compass to make the Olympic rings. And then they were trying to fix the spacing and they didn’t get into content until there were about 45 minutes left. We had to rush at the end to get their speeches written. With Kai and Mototsugu I would tell them exactly what to say and then they don’t even write it down. You always get at least one student who you just can’t be sure if they understand. They give you this blank look and an exclamation of surprise or wonderment.

The presentation was actually alright. And then we had the most active question and answer period ever. Well, active in terms of questions, not so many answers. They ask each other really tough questions because they like to see each other fail. I know we want them to ask questions, but do we want them to have that intention behind it? The interns were kind of split on that front. I thought all questions were good questions. Other people thought it was disrespectful that they were asking such tough questions that they knew would get no answers. And then it’s really awkward and embarrassing when they all look at each other for an answer.

Issei helped me change my Shinkansen ticket after work at Shin Osaka station. I don’t think we had to go all the way to Shin Osaka, but we did. And thank goodness I had Issei to help me translate. Now I can spend the weekend in Kyoto.

For dinner, we had okonomiyaki which has quickly become my favorite vegetable dish. It is a Kansai specialty and now I’ve had okonomiyaki in Kansai. We put pieces of mocha in his okonomiyaki and it gives it a nice chewy quality. And then they layer on a lot of sauce, just coating the whole thing. Issei also likes scallions a lot though his mother does not.

I also showed my host mom some pictures of my family back in America and some piano videos. She used to play piano and they used to have a piano in the house. They think I’m really amazing that I play piano and can make videos and get good grades. A lot more amazing than I actually am.

The next morning for breakfast I had an enormous bowl of somen dipping noodles. That alone was enough for lunch but then I got even more food. Then my host dad even made me a bento for lunch tied up in a bandana. He made me hot dogs! It’s like being in America.

We got a half day on Wednesday since we also had to work on Saturday. We left the kids to have a study hall with some of the Toshin staff that came down to Kansai from Tokyo. They have no idea what they’re in for. These kids will have free reign.

Some of the interns went to Dotonbori after work to see the famous Glico man billboard. Dotonbori is a cool place with a small disgusting green canal. Supposedly the winners of the baseball championship jump into the canal. It smells. We got some cute pictures and ate some takoyaki.

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And the most amazing part of the day was spa world. It is the gaudiest most over the top onsen in Osaka. There is a European themed floor and an Asian themed floor. This month, the men had the Europe floor, which was ridiculous. The pools have giant Greek and Roman statues hanging over them. There is a Spanish section where they sell beers and ice cream and you can sit nude at the table and soak your feet in a pool. The Spanish baths also go outside and there’s a waterfall. There is a Finnish section where there are ice cold baths and a chocolate scented sauna. There is an Italian section that looks like the Blue Grotto and there is a salt sauna where you spread the salt on your skin and sit in the hot sauna. It’s supposedly good for your skin. There is a bath that is painted in a regal gold color that is also cold. In short, this place is amazing.

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