Sleepy students, calling crows, and no opinions whatsoever

I teach three classes at a hair and makeup academy once a week, and I can easily say it is my least favorite set of classes.  It’s filled with post-high school students whose ability to pick out adorable pencil cases is only matched by their total indifference toward learning English.  I entered a classroom of about 35 students this week and counted the number of them who were asleep: nine.  That’s a quarter of the class.  This is normal.

Today, at the hair and makeup school, I assigned a dialog for the students to practice. I modeled the dialog with a student in front of the class first. The student I chose is a clown, but totally harmless with a quick, easy sense of humor that I’ve come to enjoy. He was being a bit rambunctious, so I asked him to help me with the dialog, and gave him the woman’s part to mix things up. He did not disappoint: he cleared his throat, and without even a glance at the rest of the class, jumped into his best imitation of a high-pitched female attempting to make an appointment at a salon. The class cracked up, but he didn’t break character once, and everyone was suddenly paying attention. I wish we could communicate well enough to share our ideas instead of being trapped within the parameters of the lesson.
My father used to play these stories on tape for us in the car when we were kids. They were Western children’s stories told in Hawai’ian pidgeon. My sister and I would laugh and attempt to imitate my father as he imitated the storyteller’s rough, animated rendition of Goldy an’ da Tree Pua’as, or Rupledekineskin, or our favorite, Little Le Pua’hi. I can recite snippets of it to this day, and my father can reply with bits of the stories himself.  My student sounded exactly like one of the women in one of the Hawai’ian pigeon recordings which was voiced, in fact, by a man. He brought a childhood memory sailing across the sea into a classroom I usually dread entering. I wish I could thank him.

When Treehouse Friend went to Japan a couple years ago, everyone else was pretty jealous. We love anime, Japanese food, traditional dress, architecture and pretty much every part of Japanese culture that the world at large finds valuable and interesting.
In Japanese anime, whenever someone does something stupid, a crow can usually be heard (and seen) flying overhead, calling its distinctive cry, which, in anime sounds like “ohao,” which means “idiot” in Japanese. We all thought this was creative license until Treehouse Friend and blurted out “That’s what they freaking sound like!” over ramen dinner at his place a few days after he got back from his trip. I couldn’t believe it. I was looking forward to hearing that sound when I came to Japan, and indeed, the crows here are different. They look more sinister (actually, they look a lot like Maleficent’s bird, from Disney’s classic cartoon interpretation of the Sleeping Beauty fable), and their call is jarring and loud, but it doesn’t sound anything like how it does in anime. Imagine my disappointment.
I mentioned today, in a coffee house class, that I was shocked by how loud the crows are in Japan. One student said they live up to 70 years and are considered very wise. They also said it is a common occurance for them to attack people. When I said I thought they were beautiful, several students looked surprised. Crows, they made clear, are considered a menace. They steal food, go after children, and tear open trash bags and make a mess. One of the two men in the group put it bluntly: “I’m afraid of crows.”
I brought up Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” and inadequately expressed its echoed premonition: “Nevermore.”

On the topic of poetry, they recommended going to Iwayama Park, where ten stone monuments contain the poetry of Takumoku Ishiwaka, a poet from Morioka who also has a stone monument in Iwate Park.
They asked if I wrote poetry, so I shared my haiku with them:
Morioka bell,
calling high and sweet, even
dogs stop to listen.
They said it sounded American: “Fresh… young idea!” They didn’t think dogs think this way, and instead told me about a haiku about a sparrow moving off the path to make way for a horse.
They also pointed out that, in Japanese conversation, no opinions are typically given, just yes or no, which tickled me after hearing them be so vocal about my haiku.

One of my students teaches small business management as a profession, and went to a fashion show in Sendai. She said today, “One of my students… nice boy… nice face, good body, long leg. Model, kakkoi! Beautiful!” She used the term “kiroi koe” to describe a shrill voice (it also means “yellowish”).
The name of sounds then followed when one of the student’s stomachs growled. Their name for that sound is “harano mushi,” literally “stomach bug.” We came to the consensus that Japanese descriptive names tend to be gentler than English ones.


International festival!

We had an international festival at work that Ryann and I poured a ton of work into. She made loads of jewlery and coasters to sell, and I constructed a replica of the Hollywood sign, and a 1:7 scale replica of the Chinese theater, which no one (including Ryann) had ever heard of nor seen before. *sigh*
I also wrote a Los Angeles quiz for the students, and offered a prize if they got all the questions right (which Ryann couldn’t even do, so we didn’t bother figuring out a prize, lol). Ryann painted a stand-up woman in a fancy black dress for people to put their faces into and take silly photos, complete with a red “carpet” made of construction paper. Overall a success.

The Korean booth featured one of my Japanese students and a couple other women wearing beautiful hanbok that made me feel homesick.

For the presentation portion, our British coworker and friend, Annie, did some ridiculous dancing that involved clapping her hands and skipping in place with bells and ribbons and some handkerchiefs. She claimed it was the closest thing to a native dance she could come up with, but I think she was just making it up on the spot. Ryann then sang a song on guitar, and I read a few poems: one by Robert Frost, another by Jack Gilbert, and one of my own, which almost made me cry. It was very nerve-wracking and I don’t ever want to do it again please, thank you.


Haiku and Nagasaki castella

I wrote a haiku recently, the first inspiration I’ve had to write since I arrived. It was about the furin, or wind bells that Morioka is well-known for crafting in Nambu-style iron (though they were originally made of copper, in China, and now in Japan, more commonly, glass). The idea is that the gentle sound of the bells tricks the mind into thinking it can feel the breeze that’s making the bell ring, so it serves as a psychosomatic cooling technique.

I shared the haiku with a couple of female students who are very friendly and enthusiastic. They said that all Japanese think in 5-7-5. One then attempted to demonstrate by creating a haiku on the spot, which roughly translated to “[tigerlilytoph]-san, with long black hair, like a horse tail.” The ladies then took turns creating haiku about each other and laughing.

This is the haiku she wrote about me (to be added later once I ask one of my coworkers to help me with a translation):

One of the ladies poured coffee while the other pulled out a bag and handed out some little cakes. “Nagasaki castella,” she said. “Let’s eat!” The woman pouring coffee took a moment to tell me about a small wooden Japanese fork used to delicately eat this type of cake, then unceremoniously took a huge, satisfying bite.


Organic Japanese

Here I will lay down a simple record of the words I learned from my students, and occasionally my coworkers, through their generosity and patience, roughly in the order in which I learned them.

“itekimas”- I’m leaving.
“matane”- See you later.
jinja- shrine
“otsukare sama deshita”- all done with work, leaving, good job [this actually means something closer to “Thank you for all the hard work.”]
“kaikeo”- asking for the bill (rough speech, men usually)
jidai- era (Edo jidai)
boin/shiim- vowel/consonant
asagao- morning glory [literally “morning face”]
shizuka- quiet
bijutsu reikishi- art history
shinrigaku- philosophy

[While I was in Tokyo with Ryann]
“gochisousama deshita”- thank you for the food (at the end of a meal)
karai- spicy
hitari/futari- one/two people
koko/soko- here/there
soto- outside
“omochi kaeridesu”- It’s to go.
“kore wa ikura desu ka?”- How much is this?
fukuro- owl
“watashi wa tskaremashita”- I’m tired.
“…ni suwaremasu ka?”- Could we sit…? (koko = here)
madogiwa- by the window
“…wa arimasu ka?”- do you have…?
kore/sore/are- this/that/that over there
tamago- egg
“issho ni onegaishimasu” – (pay together)
“betsubetsu ni”- (pay separately)
hachimitsu- honey
kaki- oyster [and persimmon]
samui- cold weather
tsumetai- cold food
kabocha- pumpkin
sakana- fish
chikai- close, near
omikuji- fortune

kyo- now/today
kumo- cloud/spider
funeko- boat
ohaka- grave
kirisame- drizzle
hanabi- fireworks (small)
uchiage- fireworks (big) [this actually means “launch”]
kingyo- goldfish
mainichi- everyday
nagareru- flow
“wakaranai”- I don’t know.
hachi- bee sting/8/planter
ago- chin
onaka- stomach
saihoso- rerun (sai = second/again)
kaminari- lightning bolt
shi shon- sewing/decomposing smell
kakoi- cool [and handsome]
gouka- beautiful and complex (like a meal)
maiko-san- pre-emptive rank to geisha
obenkyo- studying
kanazuchi- can’t swim (literally “like a hammer”)  “Watashi wa kanazuchi desu.”
buka- glub (sound effect)
daku- hug/hold (a baby)
tskamon- hold
nigiru- grip
mugicha- barley tea
Inari shrine- for harvest gods’ worship, to get money
itsutsubashi wine- apple wine, local and sweetest
yabiotsumeru- shorten a finger (yakuza style)
youhouka- beekeeper
mitsubashi- bee
tskareta- tired
donburi- ramen-sized bowl [and a dish of food on rice in a bowl]
tororo- yam
suribachi- like a mortar
surikogi- like a pestle
oroshigane- tool for grating daikon and wasabi
kanemono- metal tools
Nakanohashi- bridge over Nakatsu river
subarashi- wonderful, marvellous
homekotoba- compliment
wakuwakusuru- excited
keiyoushi- adjective
meishi- noun
doushi- verb
fukushi- adverb
isogashi- busy
kako/kyo/mirai- past/present/future
sabokasu- freckles
chikam- grope
yakikuri- chestnut
inori- prayer
kenzen- strong (soundly made)
otto- sound
reintadashii- polite
douguishiki- small items (paraphernalia)
mda- yes (Morioka dialect) [It’s actually the Northern Iwate dialect]
“totsugeki!”- Charge!
zutsuu- headache
byounin- sick
shika- basement
shikashi- however
mukashi- long ago
daiku- carpenter
kyudo- archery
jitomiru- watch
uttori- gaze
suama- chichi dongo (always pink)
kami- god
megami- goddess
“desione?”- Right?
ondoage- song from Autumn festival, asking for funds and giving thanks ($ for the shrine)
-ondo = kanji means “sound” and “head”
-age = fundraising
omedetai- “happy symbol” [omedetou- congratulations]
maane- almost?
tokidoki- sound of heart pounding, nervous
karasu- crow
koukai- regret
omoshiroi- fun and interesting
memai- dizzy