Weed, Indie Music And My Japanese Skills: The Week That Was

October 9, 2009

– I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – marijuana is a huge no-no in Japan. People here would flip out if they found you smoking any pot. But they love grass-themed products! One girl in class this week had a pencil bag plastered in pot leaves and bizarre, Bob Marley-ish sticky-icky slogans. The main message the bag got across was “No Weed, No Life,” written all over it. Not to be outdone was “Puff Puff Pass,” which I don’t even think stoners say. And this kid was one of the quietest, shyest students I’ve taught yet. Just bizarre.

– The usual “do you have a girlfriend” question came up this week, but this time around the teacher volunteered herself to be my girlfriend. I played along. She’s 60-something years old. Yeah, I’m rollin.’

– My current computer wallpaper is the cover to the debut album by indie darlings the xx. The cover consists of nothing but an “X.” Since none of my coworkers spend their entire day reading Pitchfork, this choice in computer background has spurred a lot of discussions. In Japan, “X” is equivalent to “you wrong” (the teachers conveying this by making a sharp buzzing sound) while “O” equals “you right” (ding ding ding). So I’m often asked why I’d choose a picture of something declaring how incorrect I am. This week, this discussion led to an impromptu lesson by me on the letter “x” for a Japanese teacher. I wrote the word “fox” to demonstrate and she started saying quizzically “kitsune.” Most times I’d stare at her with a dumb grin on my face and wait for her to call another teacher over to translate, but not this time! Because I knew “kitsune” meant fox due to…wait for it…Kitsune Records, an obscure-ish electro-label out of France (and, uh, Majora’s Mask. I actually slightly impressed someone with my Japanese thanks to spending too many hours reading music blogs. See, I haven’t wasted my life!

– On the flip side, one group not remotely impressed by my Japaneses is my students. I returned self-introduction handouts this week and the teacher thought it would be a good idea to have me read the student’s name so they could come up and get the sheets. I drew bigger laughs than Eddie Murphy’s Raw. I butchered nearly name and the kids loved it. I think I used the Japanese word for “cell phone” for one kid’s family name. It was brutal. Even the terribly quiet classes burst out laughing at my lack of proper Japanese speaking. Good times.

– You remember in elementary school when you would sometimes have special assemblies to see cool performers like Yo-Yo All-Stars or some mimes? You remember how all of those were really cool but also watered down by learning? Except the extra special BMX Vert Superstar show you only got to see if you sold enough magazines, it had pizza and no redeeming educational value. Anyway, these things also exist in Japan. Tuesday saw a Taiko drumming troupe come to the junior high and perform for all the kids. It featured all the hallmarks of these types of shows – awesome action (loud drumming), dopey humor (bonk in the head!), educational moments (25 minutes spent talking about the material on top of the drum) and cuteness (the kids got to drum). Plus, I got to sit in the gym and watch a guy hit an obnoxiously huge drum with a big stick. Almost as good the BMX dudes.

(Japanese Fun Fact #24: I while back I said how I thought the Japanese were pretty good drivers and miles better than anyone in the city of Chicago. The latter definitely remains true, but I’d adjust the first part to say they are very “thorough” drivers. They look all around them to make sure nobody is coming…except, sometimes, in front of them when a person might be right in front of them. That person usually is me. Maybe they should be a little less safe so I don’t have to come to a near-stop at every parking lot entrance.)

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