Jul 22 2016
I was reminiscing to a co-worker about my time in Japan, and told him a story that I’m not sure I’ve ever told anyone else. So, why not regale the internet with pointless personal anecdotes?
For those who don’t know, I taught ESL in Japan from the summer of 2004-2005. Somehow I had ended up connecting with the owner of a private school that was located in Utsunomiya. Definitely something of a backwater locale, even though it’s only 60 miles away from Tokyo. Most of my teaching was in the main office that was close to the center of the city, but I also had to regularly commute to a satellite office that was in nearby Tochigi (bizarrely, on a rail line operated by a department store). The school I worked for, being a small family-run business, had all ages of students: I sometimes “taught” preschool kids, and my oldest student was a guy in his 80s (whenever he missed a class I worried that he had died).
One of my students at this satellite office was a junior high student named Moe (pronounced moh-ay). She was actually one of my better students; since she was more fluent in English, our lessons were more high-level, and therefore less boring for me. Towards the end of the 2005 school year, my Japanese co-worker and I had finished a lesson with Moe, when she invited us both to a concert that her school band was giving. While my co-worker demurred, I thought, “Why not?” and told her I’d go (toward the end of my year-long contract, I’d determined that I was not going to stay in Japan, so attempted to have a “try anything” attitude during my remaining time).
The concert was on a Sunday, and the day before I was working in the Tochigi office as usual (yes, I had to work on Saturdays, and got Sunday/Monday off). Imagine my bemusement/concern when, at the end of the day, my co-worker suddenly pulls out a giant bouquet of flowers. “Here, you can give these to Moe.” she blathered. I worried about what people might think of a 20-something foreigner giving flowers to a young female student, but felt obligated at the same time. Cursing her under my breath, I took the bouquet, trying not to think about what I was going to do with it.
The next day, for the first time ever, I took the train to Tochigi for non-work-related purposes, and walked to the school. It felt pretty weird to be commuting on my day off. I ended up stuffing those damn flowers into my backpack, and figured I’d worry about them later. As I walked into the school auditorium’s foyer, I could almost hear people’s necks snapping as they turned to look at me. Of course, I was the only non-Japanese person there. And I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but of course it was an all girls school. The awkwardness of my presence had just increased exponentially. I brazened it out and found an inconspicuous seat near the back.
From what I remember, the concert itself was actually enjoyable. I didn’t go in expecting too much (remembering my own school-age band concerts), but as you might imagine, the Japanese always seem to take things to the next level. Not only was the music played impeccably, they also threw in some choreographed movement with their instruments.
After the thing ended, the students dispersed into the audience to receive congratulations from their various family members, and I had to deliver that albatross-like bouquet. Fortunately, I was able to hand it over pretty inconspicuously, thanks to the crowd.
After the meet ‘n greet, the students were called back up to the stage for a group photo. Imagine my chagrin when the photographer, seeing a white guy hanging around, yelled, “Who’s he with?” When it became known that I was Moe’s English teacher, he told me to get up on the stage for a photo, a suggestion that was enthusiastically received by the girls themselves. “Jeez, you’re tall!” I remember one remarking.
So, somewhere in Tochigi, there’s a photo of an all-girls junior high jazz band with a nerdy guy standing in the middle of the group, trying desperately not to look as awkward as he feels. Good times 😅.