Monday, October 04, 2004

If at First You Don’t Succeed . . .

The truth is I failed miserably my first time through the Japanese education system. Since August I’ve been taking another run at it, only this time under the more agreeable arrangement of being on the payroll. To capitalize on this second chance of sorts I have made arrangements to sit in on first year 国語 (National Language) classes when it doesn’t interfere with my teaching schedule. The first year is currently engaged in an いろはかるたシリーズ。「いろは」(iroha) is the historic arrangement of the Japanese syllabary, and かるた(karuta) is too hard to explain, but it involves the recitation of traditional proverbs. For your edification I am offering up a “proverb of the day.” 「屁をひって尻つぼめる」(if you are well enough versed in Japanese to realize that 「ひって」doesn’t sound right, keep in mind that this is archaic Japanese). This basically translates as “Clenching your butt after you fart.” If I have ascertained the meaning correctly this proverb communicates the idea of “too little, too late.” This was the official 「へ」proverb in the Edo version of karuta.

These are the only two examples I could find of the actual picture cards themselves. The 「ぬ」proverb became the vehicle for the “outrage of the day.” It reads 「盗人の昼寝」which means “a thief’s nap . . .” the idea being that a thief taking a nap is a bad sign because he’s preparing for his night’s work. The National Language teacher (a well liked and respected personage) proceeded to comment that “nowadays many thieves steal in broad daylight . . . perhaps many of them are Chinese people.” If you are this minute setting out with your broadsword to have a word with him, you might want to pay my barber a visit as well on the way. He also found occasion in the course of a haircut to communicate to me that he doesn’t like Chinese people. So if you wonder what cultural values are being passed along in the institutions you work in, well . . . there’s one of them. It only takes one teacher . . . .