Thursday, August 18, 2005
Then she gets chikan-ed...
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I was "invited" to a 2-day English Seminar for a local high school, Konan (湖南=lake-west, not Conan the Barbarian / Destroyer / Governor, or of Late Night with _), invited being in quotations since this is what my supervisor said. Really, it is part of my contract, so this was one of those Japanese mandatory "invitations"; delivering an order but couching it in polite language.
The seminar was held at a hotel in the city and consisted of two days of English conversation classes, workshops and activities, the slogan of the camp being "Japanese is not allowed!" 10 ALTs and 40 something first year high school students - mainly girls, since they dominate the English department - from the Konan English program attended the voluntary seminar. I taught 10 50 minute classes with 5 students to a class, and then spent a few additional classes working with one group to develop a skit for the competition held at the end.
At first, adhering to the "no Japanese" policy, I spoke only English to all of the students. They, in return, rewarded me with blank stares and monosyllabic replies. The awkwardness of the situation was enhanced by the fact that each class was held in a large meeting room at this business hotel with a small table placed exactly at the center that served to make us feel more isolated from each other and the silences that much more devastating. I felt like my life was bleeding out of me right there in front of them, their silence swamping my enthusiasm and energy.
So afterwards, I decided to start speaking a little Japanese with the kids, and that made all the difference. Once they knew I could speak, they would come up to me outside of class to chat or ask me to explain certain words to them, rather then spending the class leafing through a dictionary. Kids also probably became more comfortable speaking to me in their poor English once they heard my own bastardized version of their language. Really, they started talking to me a little too much, especially after I had lunch with the students and happened to find myself sitting next to the popular clique with the two loudest, most outgoing girls. Afterwards, they followed me around for most of the seminar, giggling and taking pictures of me with their cell phones.
The best part of the seminar though, was writing the skit. My group was assigned the scenario: "Someone is being annoying on the train. Tell them to stop" So we brainstormed what would happen like that on a train, and for the students, the obvious response was chikan, or the perverts that grope women on trains. This is a bit of an epidemic in Japan, with trains being so crowded that men at night sometimes take advantage of the cramped trains to try to grope women. (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/International/story?id=803965&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312) It's amusing that the girls were making a skit about grabbing each other on a train, but it is doubly amusing to me that it is so commonplace in the culture and basically taken as a matter of course that it is something that can be joked about.
My group was four girls, Yurie, Yumi, Kumiko, and Kyoko, and a boy, Yuuki. Yurie (left) was an extremely shy girl, rather tall, who barely spoke at all, and never in English, and spent most of the time in class covering her face with her handkerchief. Yumi (right) was this tiny little nerdy girl with glasses and hair that came down over her face. Kumiko (middle) had lived abroad, was a bit more confident speaking than the others and the only one who could really speak English. Kyoko was one of the previously mentioned chatty popular girls (the one not wearing my sunglasses), really loud and hilarious, very cute. Yuuki was really a shy little boy basically, but tried to hide it by acting cool and nonchalant about everything. Like most Japanese boys, he bored the hell out of me with his lack of personality.
Try to keep a picture of these kids in mind when reading this, and keep in mind they are all wearing their school uniforms too, which makes this even more amusing. So the skit that they eventually produced ran as follows:
Yurie - Chikan victim
Yumi -Chikan #1
Kyoko - Chikan #2
Kumiko - Chikan #3
[Yurie walks into the train car and grabs the overhead handle]
Yurie: I am so glad I caught the last train
[Yumi is a few yards to the side of Yurie in the train and eyes her]
Yumi: Oooo! That girl is so pretty, and alone!
[Yumi shuffles to the side to get a little closer. Yurie notices and moves away. Yumi scuttles closer; Yurie inches away again.
They chase each other around the train until Yurie, trying to escape Yumi, unwittingly backs right into the waiting Kyoko, who then grabs her ass instead]
Kyoko: Ohhh yeah! And nobody is going to stop me!
[Kumiko walks on the train and arms raised, yells]
Kumiko: I will stop you! Me and my two guns here (poses, flexing biceps and then kisses each fist alternately) are going to take care of some business.
Kyoko: Bring it on then, punk!
[They circle each other, Kyoko looks ready to hit her but instead suddenly whips around and runs off]
Kumiko: I saved you. [Puts her arm around Yurie (who is actually maybe 5 inches taller than her, which is hilarious)] How about a drink?
Yurie: As IF! I didn't need your help anyway, you pervert!
[She walks off the train and Kumiko chases after her]
[Yumi is still standing in the train the whole time and after a few seconds sighs]
Yumi: ...I am so alone.
The skits were all supposed to have a moral or message at the end. I guess our's was "Everyone on the train is probably a pervert"? But God, I laughed so hard and was so proud of these kids for their guts. I couldn't believe that Kumiko actually stood in front of all her classmates and flexed and kissed her fists, and Yumi's downtrodden look and slumped shoulders when she delivered her final line just killed me.
Unfortunately, though our skit was by far the most amusing, we were having such a good time thinking of lines for the skit that we didn't finish writing it until 5 minutes before we had to perform, and so nobody had their lines properly memorized. So we didn't win this contest based on delivery and grammar, but we made everyone else competing look boring and lame, which in the end, is all that really matters.