Friday, March 23, 2007

The Departing

Yesterday at lunch I said to New Sensei, "Today the students will find out which teachers are leaving?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Why is it a secret?"
He thought a few moments before a lightbulb went on. "Ah. It's because if the students find out before then, maybe they will be confused, and ask the teachers many questions."
"That's a bad thing?"
"Mmm.... I don't know," he smiled uncertainly.
"I'm leaving in July. Should I keep it a secret from the students?"
He wasn't sure, and said he'd have to ask the principal. Okay.

This morning I attended the closing ceremony for the school year, and the farewell ceremony for the teachers at Nita Junior High School who will be leaving. Tonight I'll go to the farewell enkai for the Yokota Junior High School teachers. A list of all the teachers in the prefecture who are transfering has been published in the newspaper. The teachers here at Nita JHS keep returning to the coffee table to peruse the list.

I have a much shorter list.

Kawasumi-sensei: She's been the special ed. teacher at Nita JHS for six years, from the time her son was born. He just graduated from the kindergarten that I visit—he's tall just like his mom. She's being transfered to Akagi JHS, where she'll be a gym teacher (which she is also qualified to do). Signe told me about it first. Akagi is Kawasumi-sensei's hometown, which is convenient, cos she can crash at her parents' house if she goes to an enkai in town. She will continue to live in Nita, though, and make the two-hour round-trip commute each day to Akagi. I like her because she talks to me. (Seriously, that's all it takes.)

Tatebayashi-sensei: The home ec. teacher at Nita JHS, she got married a few months ago and changed her name from Ishihara-sensei. She's a few months older than Ms. Chipmunk, and popular with the students. (She was voted "Cutest female teacher" by the third-year students at last fall's culture festival. Ms. Chipmunk was second-cutest, and I came in third. The competition was stiff, and I feel no shame in placing after them.) She's being transfered to Yasugi First JHS, which is much closer to where she lives now with her husband in Yonago. I like her because she talks to me, too.

Yoshida-sensei: He's one of the gym teachers at Yokota JHS, and is being transfered to Kamo JHS. When I first started doing "Emily Corner" (my twice-monthly lunchtime music broadcast... thing), I had no feedback for a while, except from Toothpaste Maniac, saying that I oughtn't begin doing student interviews by interviewing the most popular girl in the school. ("I only asked her cos I knew she'd say yes!") But about three months into the routine, Yoshida-sensei caught me after Emily Corner. "Nice DJ," he said, and smiled. I was so relieved.
He also suggested that several teachers, myself included, get together at some beer garden in his hometown of Daito—he also said we should invite the junior high school ALT in Daito. Nothing ever became of that, to my knowledge, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Hamaoka-sensei: A kind, quiet fellow, the art teacher at Yokota JHS, he's being transfered to Daito JHS. When I returned to school after summer vacation in September 2005, I thought I saw a heavy cloud about him. I found out a few days later that his kindergarten-aged son had died that summer after a lengthy illness.
That winter I attended the year-end party with the Yokota JHS teachers. We played some games—mostly variations on Bingo—but the categories got too difficult for me to keep up. (Japanese War Generals?!) I was frustrated and feeling ignored. But Hamaoka-sensei spoke up and said, "These games are too difficult for Emily; she can't enjoy them with us." He talked them into changing the next category from "Japanese Prefectural Capitals" to "US States." In that moment, I loved him.
At the following year-end party (just a few months ago) he was in charge of preparing the games, and they were all games I could participate in. Well, not the beer-tasting one—I had to drive home—but I got to watch my teammates as they got every single beer wrong. I should write more about that enkai later; it was the best one I ever attended.

Moriyama-sensei: The other gym teacher at Yokota JHS, he's being transfered to Nichahara JHS in Tsuwano, which is about as far as you can get from Yokota and still be in Shimane. Also known as Kool-Aid Man, he has a gift for self-deprecating humor. He's one of those powerful personalities who can change the very air of the room just by being there. His desk was next to mine for my first two years, and he was a good neighbor. In the spring of my first year, he was absent from school one day. I recognized the kanji for his name on the chalkboard in the staff room (mori means forest, yama means mountain; they're both simple kanji). I asked one of the other teachers why he wasn't in school. "His wife is having a baby," she said.
"What? I didn't know his wife was pregnant."
That afternoon he stopped by the school. His wife had delivered a healthy baby boy, and Moriyama-sensei was the most peaced-out man on Earth. Sunshine and calm radiated from his face as he showed us the photos he'd taken with his cell phone. He returned to his old Kool-Aid Man self a couple weeks later, but I'll never forget seeing him that day.

Satoh-sensei: One of the science teachers at Yokota JHS, she's moving to Matsue Fourth JHS. She became my new staff room neighbor after the desks got shuffled around last April. I hadn't really talked with her much before then, but she struck me as being fun and down-to-earth. We used to live in the same apartment building, when I lived in Nita during my first year. By the time I left that apartment, her son (in sixth grade at the time) had learned to recognize the sound of my car, which I parked near their door. He'd often poke his head out the door when I arrived or left, and say "Konnichiwa." When I told Satoh-sensei, she laughed and laughed.
I'd learned enough Japanese by the time Satoh-sensei's desk got moved next to mine, that I could make simple conversation with her. I found out that her family had moved to Matsue, and her son (whom I'd expected to see at Nita JHS that spring) was going to school there instead. Sometimes I'd ask her questions about a kanji, or to remind me of the name of that teacher over there. The language barrier was still very present, but we talked about normal stuff, not "What Japanese food do you like?" or, "Do you own a gun?" She treated me not like a foreigner, but like a woman, like a human being. I'll never forget her kindness.

Ikeda-sensei: Toothpaste Maniac is being transfered to Izumo Second JHS. One of my JTEs at Yokota JHS, I thought she was kind of stiff and formal when I first met her. It wasn't three weeks later when she confessed to me that, when she was living in England, she accidentally bought a can of dog food in an effort to find some variety in her diet. (She hated her host mother's cooking.)
I really like her sense of humor. When I found out when her birthday was, I e-mailed her the day before to invite her to dinner the following evening. I knew she was always busy, so I said, "If you say, 'I don't have time,' I will say, 'Well, everyone needs to eat. We can have a short dinner.' If you say, 'I have a date with Johnny Depp,' I will say, 'Okay, that's a good excuse. When is a better time?'"
She replied, "My darling, Johnny Depp is waiting! I want to say it like that, but the reality is so severe." There was to be a PTA meeting the following evening, which made dinner out impossible. But she was very happy that I'd invited her to dinner, and we made a rain check for a couple of weeks later.
We had dinner at each other's homes a few times during those first two years. She encouraged me to stop thinking that everyone only thought the worst of me, and I really felt that I'd found in her someone who understood what I was going through, as a foreign woman in a foreign country. This last year she's been so busy with all the responsibilities of a homeroom teacher of a third-year class—supervising their internships around town, helping them apply to the senior high schools they want to go to, making sure they're prepared for the entrance exams (and I don't know what else, but it's universally accepted that third-year homeroom teachers have the hardest job)—we've not had a proper conversation in ages. I tried to be patient, to allow this year to finish so that she'd have more time again... but now she's leaving. And it's breaking my heart.


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