Thursday, June 22, 2006

The "Sublime" of English

I went to Tokyo for a dreadful re-contracting conference - rife with all the inanity and frustration typical of the bureaucratic JET Program conferences and events - and then we had our school festival shortly afterwards. The school festival is a yearly event in which the all the students participate, both through their homerooms and in their club activities. Each homeroom or club is given a classroom or booth and decides on a theme and some activity. The theme of this year's festival was "The Sublime."

The English club was to translate the program for the festival into English. The program contained little descriptions written by students of what each club or homeroom was doing in their area. This simple translation taks became a chore since even in Japanese none of what the kids had written in the program made sense, and it was further complicated by the fact that most every sentence describing the different activities at the festival used the word "Sublime," rendering the entire thing nonsensical.

Some selections:

24HR "Sublime" Chocolate Bananas: Come taste the "sublime" in bananas!

(The two girls in the picture are advertising their bananas)
Calligraphy club: Has the calligraphy club reached the "sublime" of writing? The answer is...Takashi!
28HR Entrance of a large hall: Tokyo Friend Park! Enter the unknown world inhabited by a mysterious maid
30HR No Goblin!: Throw off your stress and destroy the goblins!

(and my favorite)
39HR Men's Paradise: A world-class paradise for men. We invite you to this world of both fear and laughter

As the program clearly completely fails to convey any idea of what one might find at the booths, the second year students in the English club were also to conduct tours of the festival in English for any foreign visitors. So they would have someone to actually give a tour to on the day, it fell upon me and my well-known contacts in the foreigner community to provide these foreigners who speak English. I brought Matt.

When he arrived, all the girls were busy so we had KMK - I believe I touted his greatness in a previous blog post - give us a solo tour. He took us around and gesticulated wildly at various exhibits.

Here is KMK and his harem. KMK actually has a girlfriend in the second year, but since I don't think she's good enough for him, Matt and I kept needling him about going after this first year girl on the right. As the girls here were in the cooking club, Matt played up that angle, while I convinced KMK that this girl had an elegant, rare "old Japan"- type of beauty. He went red and gesticulated in an even wilder fashion - if that can be believed.

Matt and I also enjoyed going to the biology club's exhibit, where a series of tanks housed various interesting fish and aquatic animals. After listening to the explanation given by the biology club students at each station, we would conduct this dialogue:

Student: This is a very rare fish.
Me: Hmm...that's very interesting. But let me ask this though, can we eat that fish, now?
Student: Oh oh! No no no no!
Matt: But I'm hungry (rubs stomach) and I want to eat the fish. C'mon buddy.
Student: No no no, I-we-ah ah, need the fish!
Me: Ah, okay okay, I totally understand. You can't give us the fish because you need them for the festival, right?
Student: (Visibly relieved) Yes, yes.
Matt: How about this then, we come back in a couple hours, when you close, and then we eat the fish?
Student: Oh oh no! (waving arms frantically as I reach my hand towards the tank)

We ran through this routine at every tank. Then we took turns distracting the students while we took pictures with our hands in the piranha tank. KMK was going into convulsions at this point.

We ended up back at the English club's room, where we had set up English karaoke. My laptop was hooked up to a TV and a stereo, playing music videos from a list of songs. The idea was that the first year kids would look up the lyrics for the songs on the internet and put together a booklet of English lyrics for visitors to our room to use. As it turns out though, none of the students were at all capable of doing anything with a computer, even typing the name of a song into Google, so in the end I had to set up the entire thing myself. The room also shut down for large amounts of the day as they would click on the wrong box and had to chase me down to fix the computer. This seemed to be pretty much par for the course though, with all the teachers involved in their homerooms and clubs doing enormously disproportionate amounts of work for something ostensibly to be run entirely by the students for the students.

Anyhow, our club event proved less than popular that day, so I also did a disproportionate amount of the singing - though I was less frustrated by that outcome - since even the kids in the club most enthusiastic about the karaoke balked about actually singing in front of others once the time came. In between bouts of my crooning though, KMK stepped up and delivered a surprisingly manly rendition of that O-Zone song, "Dragostea Din Tei"...And no one was left unmoved! I tried to counter by singing A-ha "Take on Me" as a duet with this quiet third-year kid (God knows why he knew all the lyrics), but we just couldn't match KMK's visceral power. It didn't help that my partner for the duet looked like a janitor in his outfit.

Most all of the kids were wearing their t-shirts for their respective homerooms, and those not in the shirts were all wearing costumes of a sort. The girls in the tea ceremony club wore yukata or kimono, the girls running the host club (more on that later) wore flashy dress shirts and skirts, others wore flowers in their hair.

While the girls seemed to be dressed up in adorable, graceful or (for school) almost indecent clothes, the boys had taken the occasion to voluntarily serve up their pride to the utmost derision, by me and Matt, at least.

Here is a prime suspect; a 17 year old guy wearing a monkey suit I assume he bought at some store selling little boy's Halloween costumes. Not only was he prancing around in the suit, but he also stopped to pose for this picture with Matt holding onto his tail. I suppose it could be fun for some to see kids taking themselves so lightly, but everyone should have their limits.

Though fortunately I don't have any pictures of this, there were also a disturbingly high number of boys dressed in drag of one kind or another. I suppose their lack of body hair and general possession of the physique of a prepubescent girl makes them particularly fit for this role, but I still found it rather baffling, aside from just unsettling. Boys wearing kimono, boys wearing girl's school uniforms, boys in tennis skirts, and - by far the most nauseating - a boy in a slit China dress. Ugh... (He danced up to me and asked, "Cute? Cute?" "No," I replied most emphatically, "Just disgusting.") Sorry dude, cross-dressing does not equal instant hilarity.

Later, I further fulfilled my bond by bringing a few more friends to get an English tour when Kevin, Joyce, and Yukari showed up. KMK, now joined by his friend, proved himself no more a master of verbal and no less a master of non-verbal communication on his second tour. After a few rounds of karaoke, we stopped by the tea ceremony club to have tea and a snack, and beckoned in by the girls outside, then decided to check out the room that was running a host club.

The fact that a host club had been allowed in the festival kind of confused me, since it seemed wildly inappropriate, even as a joke. Host or hostess clubs in Japan are bars where patrons pay to be waited on and surrounded by male or female hosts, respectively. Usually it's a place salarymen go after work to I guess pay to be fawned on and treated as the center of attention after a day of demeaning and humiliating servitude, though recently bars with young men catering to women are becoming popular as well.There is apparently nothing necessarily untoward about it - nothing is being bought except someone's company and time - but it still seems wildly inappropriate to field a mock one at the school festival. I've never gone to a hostess club because I have never had a conversation I would be willing to pay someone for. Let's just say the school's club didn't change my mind on that score.

No comments: