Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Report from the Desk of Comrade Elliot

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There are a number of standard greetings and rituals in a Japanese public school for which I can offer the students no Western equivalent. This makes it difficult for me to carry out my duty of convincing the local youth that the West is not a social anarchy devoid of standards of etiquette or of cultural symbols of healthy hierarchical respect. Here are a few sample expressions:

gokurousamaWhen encountering staff, teachers, or visitors in the hall, students do not use the Japanese equivalent of “hi.” They say “gokurousama,” which is often translated “Thank you for your work,” but which literally means something like “O thou who hast endured hardship.” It may be true that we are all suffering at school, but the expression is one used by superiors commending subordinates for their work or, at best, by workers of equal rank greeting one another. With students thus accosting adults in the hallways it makes me feel like we are all going around saying: “Carry on, comrade!” I have tried to think of appropriate English responses for when I am hailed in this manner (besides “hi,” which seems to fall short of people’s expectations), but “good work” rings hollow in my own ears. Ideally, I should be able to teach them to say “Hello, Mr. Elliot,” and thus reply to them with a smile, “Hello.” This is an unlikely dream. I have a feeling that my attempted move towards an international style English greeting is going to remain stuck somewhere around: “gokurousama!” (students stick to Japanese)/“Carry on!” (I insist on responding in wierd English).

“onegaishimasu”/”gokurousamadeshita”—When I was in elementary school, classes would begin thus:
Enter the teacher.
Class president says “Kiritsu!” (all rise in obedience) “We will now begin ______________________!”
Students bow as they respond “We will begin!”
Class president says “chakuseki!" (all seat themselves in obedience).
My junior high school performs the abridged, “comrade worker/sportsman” version. All rise on there own time when the teacher(s) enter(s), the duty-student says “onegaishimasu!” and bows. All the students echo “onegaishimasu!” and bow. The teacher(s) respond(s) “onegaishimasu!” and reciprocate(s) the bow. “Onegaishimasu” basically means “Please” or “Thank you for your consideration.” Class ends in a similar exchange, but with the “onegaishimasu” replaced by “gokurousamadeshita!” (a variation of “gokuraousama”). However, I am only involved in English classes, and my Japanese teaching partner has a system in English where she speaks first, saying “Good morning/afternoon everyone!” The students respond “Good morning Miss ____________.” Then I am expected to say “Good morning everyone!” and they respond “Good morning Mr. Luke” (I’ve finally trained the first years to say “Mr. Elliot,” but the older students are still resisting this recognition of my “adultivity” due to my gaijin ALT status). Then I am supposed to carry on with a little small talk in English before the majority of them get bored and sit down without permission. The students have no respect for this lame format and I want to end it. But what shall I replace it with? I am considering some sort of James Bond villain-style initiation sequence.
Teacher: “Activate primary brain cells!”
Students (repeat): “Activate primary brain cells!”
Teacher: “Launch English language lesson!”
Students (repeat): “Launch English language lesson!”
And then at the end . . .
Teacher: “Disengage main learning unit!”
Students (Repeat): “Disengage main learning unit!”

International understanding (国際理解) on terms of mutual respect is difficult to achieve, and when I feel overwhelmed I click on “My Photos” and open my North Korea album.

If I am equipped with a duty oriented military thought and method of rule, I will be able to win back the sovereignty of the classroom and be like Kim Il Sung. Click on My Poster for more Patriotic Paintings of The Great Leader and The Great Mother

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Today’s Patriotic Prayer:
“Please don’t let Luke-sensei be arrested by the FBI or the Japanese National Police Agency for visiting all those websites—or for having a beard when everybody knows that terrorists have beards . . . .”