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:
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.