It's the first full week of class now at Hamamatsu Minami, and I'm already exhausted.
I had finally established a relationship with a lot of students and teachers at the school. Kids knew me and I knew them, and I was settling into a real place at school. But in Japan the school year starts in April, so all the older kids move on and I get to meet a whole new year of incoming students. All the older students had finally gotten used to seeing me to the point where they would no longer cry out when I walked around a corner in front of them, but would actually smile and say hello - or in this case, pose for a picture. Really, most of the kids I taught are unbelievably sweet (like the two in the picture) and I loved my classes with them, so much of this is just missing the old kids. Now I get to go back to square one again with 400 new faces. Faces made up of all gaping eyes and jaws hanging open, slack and dumbstruck. I was beginning to get tired of not being gawked at like some anthropomorphic panda all day, so this comes just in time.
With the new students have come a lot of new teachers as well, since teachers in Japan are rotated from school to school on a fairly regular basis. Although they hide it a bit - only a bit - better than the students, the new teachers are just as bad, really. It's especially annoying as these students and teachers are all new to the school, while I've been working here for more than 8 months. By all rights they should be the ones feeling out of place, not me. Of course, this is an unrealistic expectation, since I'm always going to be an oddity here, but it's still a little trying.
Not that the attention really bothers me; I think it's more that is just kind of bores me now. People here are always trying to talk to me, asking me questions about where I'm from, what I think of Japan, which Japanese food I like the best, etc. And, there was a time when I eagerly responded to these questions and had many of my own because there was a time when I was really interested and excited about meeting anyone I could here. But, one thing I've come to realize is that the time has long past where I was fascinated by the "exotic" Japanese people. No more, "WOW IT'S A REAL LIVE JAPANESE!" They're just people, and just like all other people, there are bad ones, good ones, and a whole hell of a lot of mediocrity in between.
However accustomed I am to them though, they are still interested in me. Interest I understand and appreciate; interest in another person because of their different viewpoints, experiences, or just general good qualities. But most interest in me is not really in me, but in my big, lanky white ass. And this is boring. I'm just not so pumped about talking about how tall I am, how well I use chopsticks, or whether I can eat sushi.
(Side note, this is really one of the most irritating things Japanese people will ask you regularly. Irritating because they ask, not "Do you like sushi?" which is a fair question, but "Can you eat sushi?" This is different as it seemingly implies that it's only the Japanese that are really capable of eating raw fish. First, I might point out that there are like six sushi restaurants in my home town alone, aside from how many there are in most any other metropolitan city anywhere in the world. But this question gets asked for all kinds of Japanese food, not just sushi. Often, it's regarding some sort of disgusting boiled, cold vegetable dish, because Japanese and vegetables seem to be like American Indians and buffalo; they eat every damn part. Take a look at the picture of a course at a dinner in Kyoto. Beautiful yes, but a beautiful arrangement of things that are mostly not fit for human consumption. This is why whenever I'm cooking with Maiko I always have to keep an eye on her because I'm suspicious she's going to try to slip the onion peel or discarded shavings of carrots into the meal.
When I get one of these weird vegetable parts planted in front of me I will balk, to the endless fascination of the others present. "Can you eat it?" they wonder. So, I usually say, sure, I could eat that thing that looks like lawn clippings that accidentally fell into the pot. But then again, I could eat anything. I could just as easily eat plastic, a piece of cardboard, or some wood chips - and usually that would be more palatable. But I'm not going to, buddy. This isn't Fear Factor, and I only eat things that taste good.)
Perhaps I'm being a snob about this, but I think about it more in terms of just cultural acclimation. I wouldn't expect a Japanese person living in the US to be fascinated by me because I'm so white, nor would I expect anything more than a roll of the eyes from a Chinese person if I asked them, "Can you eat hamburgers!?!?"
So I'm putting you on notice now, Japanese. Sorry, Japanese people, but you're going to have to do something now, because your mere existence is just not cutting it anymore. And get some new talking points, because the ones you have now are weak sauce.