Friday, March 25, 2005


N'kay, where was I?

I'm glad the schools here have ceremonies to say goodbye to the teachers who are leaving. When I was in tenth grade, I made the audition for the next year's show choir at my school. Mr. Windheim was going to be our teacher, as he had been for the past, oh, twenty-something years. That September when I got my schedule there was no teacher listed next to Show Choir, only a line of asterisks. During math class on the morning of the first day of school, I asked Matt Pellow about it. "Mr. Windheim retired," he said.
"He what?!" Why hadn't he told us the June before? I never got to properly say goodbye.
The school had hired a new music teacher, but she couldn't leave her former school without giving them x weeks notice, so our class went through several substitute teachers during the first month, none of whom knew a thing about choir directing. One guy tried to make us write papers about some kind of music history. Took us to the library and everything. We decided we'd all do a bit of research for the same paper. I went home and typed it up, making the appropriate number of copies, and Aimie printed out different cover pages for each student in the class. I think it was on Native American music... I really don't remember a thing about it. On the due date we all handed in our identical papers. Never did get any feedback on it.

But I digress. Last night's enkai was one of the better ones I've been to, maybe the best so far. I hate to say it, but I think I prefer the enkais where everyone pays attention to me. I mean, of course no one likes to be perennially ignored, but if I am dining with other English-speaking foreigners, I can participate in conversations without being the subject of those conversations. I can listen in and add my own thoughts whenever I like. But my Japanese is still very poor, and when I dine with Japanese people, I'm usually the only native English speaker in the room, so in order for me to participate in conversations, everyone around me must deliberately speak in a way quite different from the way they would if I were not there. If I am to enjoy talking with others, they must be acutely aware of my presence and make changes accordingly. Consequently, these conversations tend to focus on me, what I like, what I think. If there's a JTE nearby, she's usually dragged in to translate from time to time, which sometimes is helpful and sometimes is annoying. At Yokota's graduation enkai last week, for instance, the fellow sitting to my immediate left called down to Ikeda-sensei, a few seats to my right, and asked her something. She replied with, "Nuu-yohku shuu" (New York State).
"Did he just ask where I'm from?" I called down to her. She nodded. "Oh come on," I said to nobody in particular, "I could have answered that." He certainly could have phrased his question, even in Japanese, so that I understood. And this fellow even speaks some English; he's said too much already, he can't fool me now.

But having Ikeda nearby was very helpful at the second party last night (oftentimes after enkais, a smaller group will continue on to another, less formal party, at a nearby late-night restaurant or karaoke bar). A couple of guys (one married and one not) and Kimachi-sensei (my JTE's wife) were sitting across from me, and the married guy tells me he has a question for me right about the time Ikeda gets up to use the bathroom. So he starts telling me about the single guy, how he's 26 years old and lives with his parents and plays tennis and is looking for a girlfriend between the ages of 26 and 36. All that took about three minutes to explain, and all the while I'm thinking, What do I have to do with this? Kimachi-sensei wondered the same thing. "Me too. Why?" she said, looking at them. When I knew that I didn't meet the age criteria, I relaxed a bit, but I still kept on guard for the possible set-up.
"Ikeda-sensei," I whimpered when she returned. "What are they talking about?!" They filled her in quickly and she started to explain everything that I already understood. "I get it," I said, "I only want to know why they're telling me this. Are they just making conversation?"
A few more words passed between them, and she said, "They want to know, do you think it can work? Ten years age difference. That is like if you marry a 14-year old. You are 24?"
"So, fifteen years old. San-nensei," she smiled.
"No." I chuckled. "No. No. But when people get older.... My mother is 50 and my stepfather is 41."
"Really?" she said, surprised, and started to tell the other three in Japanese.
"Wait, wait, lemme do it." So, with a bit of help, I managed to explain to them the age difference. "Good marriage," I said. That made the single guy happy. The married guy told us that his wife is six years older than he. I get the feeling that marriages between older men and younger women, sometimes with a significant age difference (more than ten years) are much more common in Japan than they are in the States... but I have no idea how common marriages between older women and younger men are.

If Mr. Single Guy (I swear, that's gonna be my nickname for him now) were living in the States, my first piece of advice would be, "Move out of your parents' house." But in Japan it is very common—and socially acceptable, it would seem—for single people to live with their parents. Even married people sometimes live with the parents of one spouse. Tane-sensei grew up in Nita, and lives with her folks in Fuse (that village in the north part of Nita) now that she is teaching here. Ikeda is from Matsue, and while Matsue is a little far to commute every day to Yokota, she goes up on the weekends and stays with her folks, even though she has an apartment here. I guess with all the shuffling around they do, it's nice to have a fixed point to call home.


Anonymous said...

Emily is getting hit on by haaaaaaaaa-ot Ja-po-nese guys! So are you going to go out with him or what? We want to know!

Emily Watkins said...

Like, no, dude.