Thursday, September 16, 2004

What is in a Name . . . ?


This is my self-introduction in the village newsletter. Since I am functional in Japanese the content is undiluted by third party translation. The headline, however, was assigned by the editors. It says: “Welcome, Luke-san.” A kindly sentiment, to be sure, but Luke is my first name. Mr. Luke? It is true that in Japanese this is a grammatical and social possibility. The first name is often used with a title when addressing children—or English teachers. I knew before I came that I would be the only teacher at my schools to be addressed by my first name. I thought that I was psychologically prepared for this, but I was wrong. It grates on my nerves continually. There is, I suppose, an argument for a legitimate rational behind the practice of addressing JET Programme participants in this way. We are contracted to be “friends” to the students; to give the students the warm fuzzies towards things foreign, whether they be vegetable, animal, or mineral. Also, it would appear that the Western world is imagined to be a social free-for-all where everyone is on a first name basis. I do not think most people here realize that I would tear into any North American student who dared even to address a school custodian or lunch-lady by his or her first name. From what I can tell, most JETs don’t seem to mind this first name treatment. Perhaps this is not an issue. Many JETs are significantly younger even than the youngest of the Japanese teachers, and for the most part they only have a one or two year stake in Japan. My investment in this country is for considerably longer than that, and next year I will be living here with a Japanese wife. It is vital that I earn my adulthood in the local community. It is not my intention to complain, or to make accusations of discrimination. The sins of my birth-country against people of Japanese decent have not been adequately atoned for anymore than have the injustices this land is guilty of. Also Japanese people who temporarily reside in the West often face the same attitudes of condescension that gaijin face here. It is my desire, however, to make an end of the grammatically incorrect “Engrish” term “Mr. Luke” as soon as possible and, over time, to earn the right in this village to be addressed as エリオット先生 (Elliot-sensei) instead of “Luke-san” or “Luke-sensei.” It is imperative that I earn that dignity for the sake of my future family.