So I am not gift-centric, like at all. It stresses me out when I feel like people expect things for Christmas and birthdays, and I want none of it myself, being much happier with the feasting and singing and smiles than I am with the accepting and thanking and wondering where the hell I’m going to put it. Grinchy, yes, but realistically, there are limited resources in this world. I would much rather eat them than wrap them in paper and styrofoam for the questionable sake of tradition.
That said, I didn’t see any way around avoiding it here. I was told in no uncertain terms that we are to give people stuff, and we are to accept things in return. Represent, yo. But oh, the sigh of relief when I unloaded the last of it today.
Our morning was a shuttle session: first to the superintendent’s office- a Shinagawa big shot- and then to the Friendship Society that works so hard to host us here. Since organization is my strong point in the same sense that hiking is a mackerel’s, I just threw every present I had into my arms and started passing them out willy-nilly. Everything went smoothly except when I accidentally threw ¥10,000 at the super’s feet, and then got awkward about the retrieval because I’ve never figured out how to bend over without being either squatty or provocative. Judging by all the crinkly-eyed smiling on both sides of the table, however, I think we did okay and now I don’t have to worry about presents anymore!
I was only allowed to check two suitcases on this trip, and one of them was reserved exclusively for this etiquette mandated crap. My eyes gleam now at the prospect of empty space. How shall I fill thee, o vacant valise?
A kimono, a conveyor, Kurt Baker.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was this morning when I woke up to the virtual social scene and saw that Kurt Baker, this Portland musician I don’t actually know but have nevertheless probably, at some point, spilled something on, has an album that’s selling in Tokyo right now. This is not solely because of the possibility of fault lines getting active, in which case I can be listening and then later refer to the experience as a “Shake and Baker”, although that prospect admittedly excites me. Mostly I’m just enjoying a contact high, this feeling that someone from my beloved hometown is making an unrelated appearance in the land of no blondeness. And because I’ve heard really good things about him, so I’m jazzed about the new music. And because Portland musicians are home to me. My symbolic Baker binkie.
I’m hittin’ that right after school.
I hate to admit this after previous rant, but I did get a loaner gift from a student today, and it has already advanced so far up the ranks of useful that I’ll probably end up buying one for everyone else, which should effectively cement my position in hypocrisy hell. It’s this book, and it is just bloody fabulous because it says everything in English, katakana (Japanese letters) and romanji (English pronunciation of Japanese letters) plus it has pictures. I took it to an eighth grade class today and told everyone I was takai (tall) before they could ask me yet again. And then I translated part of my introduction, which wound up being a mistake because they got comfortable enough with me to ask me to sing.
This one kid sang for me. It was gorgeous and joyful and soaring and spontaneous, just him leaping from his seat and belting, with the clearest voice coming from behind these perfect white teeth. Seriously, I remember the teeth. The moment is frozen for me because I was once again overcome with emotion and if the happiness wasn’t going to do it, the fear would because he wanted reciprocal favors.
What? If there’s not a steering wheel, a shower head, or a shot glass in front of me, I don’t really know how to do that. I statued myself, racking my brain for a song, any song, any song that wasn’t gangster rap, which is my usual go to. By the time I remembered Prince and was ready to “all seven and we’ll watch them fallllllll,” the moment was over and I felt like I’d failed.
Score another one for East Asian dominance.
I have to make a side note about the exuberance, too, before I mention the other gift I actually really love.
I cannot for the life of me reconcile the life and energy that is so apparent in this school with the restraint reported from every source I consulted before coming here. Where is the taciturnity? The quiet, reserved population that I was supposed to find so difficult to connect with? I do see that in adults’ treatment of me, but that could easily be chalked up to a simple inability to speak the same language, understandable and something I’m quite sure I’ve done myself (exception: cabdrivers). Further evidence is adults’ interaction with each other. Yes, they are respectful and deferential when appropriate, but I also see laughter and animation; I see joy.
Especially with the kids, I see so much joy.
When I walk down the hall, notably on the elementary floors, every single time I am enthusiastically greeted with shouts of “hellooooo!” The accent is on the first syllable but they draw out the last, and it’s both hilarious and gut-punching adorable. Since I’ve figured out that they’ve been learning English from a tape so their inflection and responses are uniform, I’ve started to engage them Groundhog’s Day-esque conversation. I’ve had this one dozens of times:
“Hello! How are YOU?”
“I’M fine thank you how are YOU?”
“I’M fine, too, thank you.”
And then we stare at each other, totally puzzled with how to go on because that’s where the tape ends. Sometimes they rapid fire some Japanese at me and for awhile, I would make my exaggerated “I Love Lucy” faces trying to indicate my ignorance before eventually walking away, waving and saying “BYE byeeeeeee” while everyone giggled happily at each other. It was my favorite part of the day even before our new ritual. The new one happened by accident, when a little bugger waved at me and I mistook it for a high five invitation and smacked him. His reaction was typical- a belly laugh- so we continued to high five until the inevitable moment he started to make motions about what a Jack and the Beanstalk character I am. For the record, I prefer the Taylor Swift comparisons, which are ridiculous until you remember that I might be the only towhead in Tokyo. Anyway, I said yes, I’m tall, and I raised my hand in the international mime gesture of “this high” (side note: not the same gesture for burnouts.) The kid got excited, did a little scootch before leaping, and smacked me right back. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by the giggle brigade, jumping and whacking and generally reinforcing the aforementioned notion that they are indeed the cutest children on the planet (byproducts of my sister’s DNA not included.)
One of ‘em even hit me in the boob. Go figure, a student actually does it instead of just shouting it in class…
So no, I don’t see the reserve I was expecting, and I’m looking for it. “Maybe I’m just seeing the extroverts,” I thought, and made a point to watch for all the children rather than just judge the ones predisposed to approaching me first. Unless they’re GI Joe-ing under desks or behind classmates- classroom walls facing the hallways are always made of all glass so they can’t be hiding in there- I don’t think that’s true.
There’s life, and there’s play, and there’s fun as a culture in this school, and it’s something I really, really love. It’s another note to self to improve back home.
I said before that I’d talk about a gift, but I’m honestly a little exhausted so I won’t go much further than to mention it: a bead. A little boy gave me a bead as he was walking home, and beamed when I thanked him and I smiled. It makes me really happy that I’m writing all of this down because life is playing fast and loose with the moment-having right now, and I want to be reminded of these feelings so I can help create a place for them in Portland.
Grinch or not, this one stays with me for life.