Busy August

The Osaka language seminar was a lot of fun. The actual classes weren’t so challenging, but there were a lot of interesting JETs from all over the country, which made things much more enjoyable.


Group circle shot…

If July was a busy month, August is all that and a bag of chips (as the expression goes). I got back last week and right away had to head over to my new school to fill out a bunch of paperwork regarding my transfer, and unbeknownst to me – give a demonstration lesson to prospective students…! Talk about being put on the spot!


Kimmah and Jesus-is-my-homeboy

The difference between my new students and the ones at my previous high school are so marked as to be neigh unbelievable. I was shocked at the level of english which my current students demonstrated – and more so than that, their polite, respectful behavior and general genki-ness. If my previous assignment had been my personal slice of hell for the last 12 months, then this new job is like falling down and waking up in the middle of the glossy recruitment brochure they hand out to all the JETs in Tokyo – you know, the ones with row upon row of smiling, happy, enthusiastic children in immaculate uniforms and who have a command of english actually befitting individuals who have studied it for the past 7 years of their lives. The ones who run up excitedly to see you in the staff room and invite you to go singing or eat with them at lunch, what have you.


Keeping it real…

I had occasion, then, a few days later, to go meet my replacement for my previous job, a tall strapping australian fellow just off the plane less than a week ago. I decided to take him around downtown, and as we were walking through some of the more sleazy sections, all of a sudden I hear a squeal:

“oooh!!! Maikeru!!!”


Kimmah rocking out…

I turn, though I already knew by the voice who it was, to see two of my female students standing along the street handing out flyers for an establishment of moderately questionable repute (made more so by the fact that they are employing 15 year old girls to do their advertisement dressed in dodgy looking outfits).


Shooting off fireworks. Vanessa captured a great shot!

What makes this scene more unfortunate is that this brings to 7 the number of students whom I have personally run into downtown working for some of the shiftier members of the “entertainment industry” in one capacity or another – with another 15 or so whom I have heard about from the other teachers.

While I know that really, given the transitory nature of my stay in this city, I have no real right to feel indignant or even really concerned about what choice of employment my students decide to make for themselves, I still can’t help but feel a little sad when I see this sort of thing. I suppose it’s possible that they might just be doing this for a little while to make some dough on the side. But then again, how many 15 year old girls do you know that go from soliciting customers for a “men’s club” on the streets to successful, well-adjusted careers as salariwomen/etc.? The sad truth is that she will most likely work as a street tout for a few months, then, (perhaps after she turns 16) be invited to work as a “waitress” inside, then, perhaps jump ship to another, better paying job within the entertainment district – perhaps as a hostess proper, and then, surrounded by drunk salarimen with wallets bursting wtih yen to spend for certain things…


Panda attempting to pimp it, in his usual pathetically geeky manner

Perhaps it’s a little alarmist and over-reaching to presume to suggest the path her life will take over the next few years. However, there are more than a few 18 and 19 year old students in my previous school whom I can say without a doubt, have had much more “experience” – if you will pardon the strained euphamism – than most of the teachers. The chances are good then, that they will in a few short years be just like the burned out 24 year old hostess who used to sleep through my english I class – and that’s just one of the few who at least had the foresight to come back to school to get a high school diploma. In a school where fully 1/2 of the new student body drops out every year, it’s not difficult to imagine a less optimistic outcome for her as well.

Turning to my successor, all these thoughts jumbled around in my mind, all I could think of say is “This is so-and-so. She’s one of your students.”. I mean, after all, what could I say…?


Rinku town has the wierdest Outlet mall I’ve ever seen… It’s an uncannily eery replica of any midwestern outlet mall, right down to the faux Sears all-weather plastic siding and a Cinnabon!

My pessimistic nature was not helped much by the oppressive heat that seems omnipresent in Japan this time of year. The heat in Japan is unlike the heat in many other places – in many places “heat” is simply just another characteristic of the environment – an apt descriptor or appropriate adjective to be used in reference to one’s location, and one which ceases to have meaning when you move on to a different spot.

Rather, the summer in Japan is like a tireless, oppressive, heavy blacket that drops heavily on you one morning, grasping leadenly on your eyelids, forcing its way into your nostrils with every wet, humid breath, cramming its way down your throat as you open your mouth to gasp the thick, molten miasma, wrapping around your body then snapping shut in a skin tight coat of sweat and oil and dampness, glistening moisture off the sides of your nose serving as ever-present reminders of the extreme discomfiture that causes the very inside of your t-shirt or pants to stick, tear and rip at your raw skin as if it was torture personified – dull, leaden pain in the back of your neck and head as your brain struggles to focus on whatever now seemingly insurmountable task is at hand and through it all, the blinding, painful glare of the over-exposed sun beating down relentlessly on the concrete all around you – tin shack roofs reflecting glint and whiteness into your cowering pupils as yours eyelids strain to narrow and close against the onslaught and your view of the world narrows into two myopic circles of heat and light filtered through clenched eyelashes, and your tongue sticks against the roof of your tongue as the acrid, burning taste of summer chokes down and swirls around it with every pant and breath, washing down your throat until it invades your very gut and from that moment, all you can do is lay down and stare up at the cloudless yellow sky and wish desperately that autumn would just come and put you out of your misery.


The boys are angry about something…

Staring out my window at the barren, brown trees withering in the heat, I couldn’t help but try to shake a deep seated sense of longing to be back in university one last time – finishing up the last of my homework, heading down to state street with some friends for dinner, conversation, a few beers on the terrace – all that vibrant vitality, energy, enthusiasm… and most of all, youthful….. hope… the whispered expectation of great promise for the future that seems to echo and reverberate in every conversation, in the rustled passing of two people on the street, in the basement of every college building and off of every ivy-covered brick wall.


Richie Rich staring off at something in the distance…

Here, in this place, under this heat…. it seems like that promise of hope is nothing more than a cruelly faded memory on a weathered box somewhere in the recesses of my mind. I feel like a horse that has bolted out of the stock, only to be knocked back by the heat, din and shock of it all, and then, turning round and round under the glaring oppressive beating of the hot japan sun, desiring nothing more than to run back to the cool, swaddling comfort from where it came.

Listening to my complaints the other day, Rei tried to explain to me the “beauty” and “preciousness” of the Japanese summer, and how it speaks to a certain side of their sole, and blah blah blah… she’s a great friend, but I found my mind on auto-pilot right around the time she started breaking out the old Basho quotes.


The very cathedral-like R-apit-B express train…

The Japanese like to do things like this – extoll the virtues of just about every single aspect of their environment, personality, or culture – there remains hardly any mundane thing that hasn’t, at some point or another, been ranked, catalogued, praised or held up as a shining featured example of such-and-such region – be it something as elegant as a garden (“one of the top 3 most beautiful gardens in Japan”) or as utterly stupid as a pickled plum (“Wakayama umeboshi are the finest in Japan due to the air the plums grow in…”).


Representing our group, big hair style…

Listening to her go on and on about the exquisite merits of the quintessential Japanese summer – sweat rolling, beading, pouring down my face, eyes squinting to shut out the harsh glare of the sun, I couldn’t help but think of what C said to me on the phone on our last conversation before she got on the plane:

“Japan likes to think of itself as spectacularly unique in ways that it is actually spectacularly average.”

No truer words have been spoken, I think. Fuck the pithy adjectives and endlessly-nuanced haikus – summer in japan just plain blows.

Now listening to: “The Roots – Duck Down”

(Much thanks to “Froggah Style!” Kim for a much needed infusion of some new music! Hooray for the newly-minted 2004 Intra-Japan Super Hip Hop Exchange Circle!)

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