The Shouting Contest and YOU ARE NOT JAPANESE

I went, I did my bit, I returned.
I went to the elementary school to do my annual compulsory volunteering for Waku Waku Kids.
I am always a little anxious when I go off to do these things, because, as anyone else who lives here will tell you, anything like this is frought with the potential of humiliation. Not that you are going to do anything wrong necessarily, it’s just that no one can let you just go and do your thing and not mention the fact or draw attention in some way to the fact, that you ARE NOT JAPANESE.
I know I am not. I have always been aware that I am somewhat lacking in that department, but I’m ‘okay’ with that, but there will always be a little ‘thing’, a little moment, where it has to come up.
Sunshine once asked me when she was younger if people thought I didn’t know.

So anyhoo, I went. The first gig went off without a hitch.
Here’s the deal at these things.
All the mothers, ( yes it’s always all women) are press-ganged into
turning up to do the work of one. It’s all organised in 20-25 minutes shifts, so at anyone time there’ll be about 10 of us.
So we dash around the classroom attempting to look busy, straighting a desk corner here, lining up a chair there.

At this particular event, WAKU WAKU, each class has an activity. The kids go to school at the usual time, have one lesson and then, in sweep the mothers, like a tidal wave, to set up the activities.
The kids go round from room to room with a little bag of glue, tape, scissors and magic markers and do the activity or play the game.

So in Kev’s room it was the snapping crocodile thing.
Forces beyond my control had obviously laboured into the night to make the actual base of the thing, a sort of snapping jaw effect created entirely from milk packs.
The kids came in, received a base and then decorated it with coloured paper, and drew their own original designs on it.
It was our job, to assist them in stapling on a hand strap which took all of four seconds per child, and then we ‘dashed’ about a bit, putting pen lids on and taping rubbish bags to the table, stopping kids from ‘biting’ each other with the snapping jaw effect, etc.
There really wasn’t a lot to it.
At no time did I get a feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer workload.
I was competing for ‘things to do to look busy’ with women who make and bring their own aprons. Aprons with huge magic pockets from which they could whip out their own scissors, a stapler,
yards of double sided tape, a spare chair.
I did remember my apron this year. (After 8 years I finally got it.). I did not, though have any pockets, or handy items.
I did have a packet of throat sweets and some fags in my jacket in the event a child was suddenly struck with tonsillitis or a precocious 6th grader was gasping for a ciggie.
Neither of those scenarios came to pass, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t prepared!
The time flew by….

Next stop Doris’ class.
Doris had told me that the event would be outside and that groups of kids would shout and we had to say who shouted the loudest. Not quite.
It was inside due to rain. A microphone was set up hooked to a machine. No idea what it’s called I know someone out there will know, I suppose it measures decibels.
Here is how the ‘game’ works.
Mother A opens door for kids to enter room.
Mother B hands child a slip of paper on which they write their name. At the bottom of the slip it has a piciture of three mountains. Ikoma Mt, Fuji san and Everest.
Child hands paper to Mother C and goes to microphone.
Mother D checks machine as child screams.
They are told which ‘mountain’ their scream translates to in decibels.
Mother E holds up one of three large mountain pictures corresponding to child’s score.
Mother F makes a small mark next to the appropriate mountain on child’s paper and passes paper to
Mother G who runs her highlighter pen over appropriate mountain. Then passes paper to
Mother H who records EACH CHILD”S NAME, YEAR and CLASS NUMBER on a sheet of paper. ( 700 kids in the school and some kids did this game ten times).

Okay so here it is , quick quiz…
If you were organising this event and it is important it goes smoothly, that an effecient system to process hundreds of children through the game is established, you have 40 mothers you can press into service and the variety of jobs include,

a) showing a picture
b) highlighting on a piece of paper
c) passing a pice of paper
d) opening a door for kids
e) writing childrens name in Japanese on a sheet of paper really quickly

Who would you choose for the writing job?
1) Someone who reads and writes the community language fluently?
2) The only foreigner in the room?

It’s a hard choice isn’t it, you really have to think about things, must have been quite a dilemma
for the powers that be to decide to put ME, Mrs T, on the writing squad, when I could so easily have highlighted, or passed paper, or showed mountain pictures as well as anyone else. Or OPENED THE DOOR for the love of it!

So the humiliation came, as I knew it would, as it always does.
I looked at the list outside the room and saw that I was in fact Mother H.

So I said to the head honcho, ‘uum sorry, but umm I am the village idiot, stupid freakin moron foreigner and I can’t really read and write in Japanese at the level and speed required for this monumentally important task. So sorry to cause so much fuss and trouble and inconvenience to everyone, but is there, could there possibly be a simpler, idiot proof task I could perform?”

Now, this woman, bless her, she is overloaded with responsibility here, she has been busy on the organising squad of this for some 6 months, she doesn’t need the headache, but I do think she could perhaps of handled the ‘problem’ a little better.
Could she not easily have said quietly to someone on the passing/highlighting/picture-showing squad,
‘excuse me but would you mind swapping with Mrs T?”

She could have done that ,but she chose instead to go with option B of looking crushed, like I had just fed her first born into the garbage disposal and then saying in a loud voice ‘ KOMARU KOMARU’ ( what trouble, what pain, how difficult, SHIT!!) causing everyone around us to believe the school was on fire.
Then at the top of her voice she said “MRS T CAN’T READ AND WRITE WHAT SHALL WE DO?”
There was a lot of sucking in of breath, shaking of heads, how to cope with a problem of such epic proportions at such short notice, how can we remedy the problem and keep the game flowing..?

Eventually a good soul, relinquished her cushy seat on the picture -showing squad and I was able to slink in with a thousand apologies for my uselessness.

I confess, 24 hours have passed and I am still a little bitter.

In comparison, the stone painting in Kev’s room thankfully, was a non humiliating event.

7 thoughts on “The Shouting Contest and YOU ARE NOT JAPANESE

  1. ya know. they get ya coming and going here.


    the silver liining….they expected you to be just like every one else and didn’t auto matically assume that you were illiterate.


    well, shit.

  2. I am going with a fourth choice:

    they are all idiots who never learn tact or to think on their feet because they are always told exactly what to do/say/think. When we crazy foreigners and our troublesome ways throw a wrench into the works they can’t keep their sh*t together.

  3. I am still trying to wrap my mind around WHY anyone would think having a screaming contest with 700 kids was a good idea. With microphones on top of it. If making decisions like that is what being Japanese means , I’ll just sit here and fester in my vile foreigness thank you very much.

  4. Man! I had no idea being a gaijin woman in the Land of Wa could be so much fun. “Very well written blog entry, tho a triifle heavy on the colloqualisms. Mustn’t try harder.” (Oops, teacher-mode kicked in.)

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