Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween, (Much Too) Liberally Speaking

“Trick or Treat!”

I hold the shopping bag full of candy open, and the smiling horde immediately goes into a feeding frenzy. It’s Halloween at Seishin Gakuen, and the new tradition I started by accident year before last has gone into maximum overdrive.

Two years ago a couple of high school girls, actually problem students, made it a habit to skip their two-hour music elective class across the hall every Friday and hang out in the English department office. They were actually encouraged to continue doing so by our school’s resident narcissistic left-wing radical with a hero complex, Mr. O (who is also my closest co-worker). Any disapproval expressed by me or anyone else was met with a barrage of smugly self-righteous rhetoric (Mr. O’s specialty), and the girls continued to make themselves at home in our office. Most of the time they were content to plunder Mr. O’s lunch (and I made no attempt to discourage them), but one day they suddenly came over to my desk and said, “Trick or treat?” It was then that I realized it was Halloween.

I hadn’t forgotten that Halloween was coming, but I hadn’t made any real preparation of any kind. Since the holiday simply doesn’t exist in Japan, I didn’t see much point in observing it at school beyond the little explanation of it I’ve always given in my 7th grade classes. As it turned out, however, the two problem girls weren’t going to let me get away with it. Mr. O promptly offered them candy from his own ever-present stock, but the girls insisted that they wanted something from me.

Sensei,” said the more outgoing of the two, “we said, ‘Trick or treat.’ That means if we don’t get a treat, we’ll have to play a trick on you. That’s the American way, right?”

They had me there, but alas, I was treatless. The fact of it being Friday, however, gave me a way out.

“I’ve been too busy to do any shopping,” I said, “but I’ll have some time over the weekend. How about we postpone Halloween till Monday?”

The girls scolded me, but they acquiesced. I had already planned to do some shopping anyway, so I just grabbed a couple of bags of candy along the way. On Monday, the girls showed up as promised, said their “Trick or treat,” and I delivered. They left happy, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

And then their classmates began showing up.

That first year, fortunately, the number was small, since word reached only very few. The next year, expecting more or less the same thing to happen, I gave a subtle hint to my 7th and 9th grade students that “Trick or treating” at my office might get them something. That brought an even larger number than before, but I was more or less prepared. This year I decided to really go for it, so I went crazy and bought a whole bunch of candy, almost a whole supermarket bagful when removed from the packages, just in case. As it turned out, I’m very glad I did so. In fact, I seriously wish I got even more.

I don’t know who has been spreading the rumors around, but since lunchbreak started I’ve been getting mobbed…mainly by 8th graders (who I don’t teach!). As the break progresses, the bloated mass of smiley, giggly adolescents just keeps growing with no end in sight. I’ll be lucky if they don’t wipe out my supply by the time the final bell rings.

Mr. O, as it turns out, is conspicuous by his absence. He is always eager to curry favor with the students (often at the expense of other teachers, particularly me), and Halloween in the past has always been a good opportunity for him to kiss posterior. This time he has bolted, and no one knows where he’s gone. I have to deal with the whole mass by myself, but oh, well. I think it’s worth it. Good vibes are almost always a good thing.

I even have a nicely portable Jack o’ lantern this year. A former coworker of mine, a fellow English teacher who remarried and moved southwest to Mie prefecture (near Nagoya), remembered that I always have trouble finding a good Halloween pumpkin. She apparently found several, and she was thoughtful enough to mail me one. It’s a cute, little thing, but it has a good shape and color ([nasal] Awwwww… [/nasal]). I carved it, put a candle in it, and now I’ve been porting it with me to all my classes. I’ve never done that before, and the kids love it…even if I am using a pungent aromatherapy candle (that is melting very quickly).

Good grief (if there is such a thing), look at all those smiley, happy faces! You’d think it were Christmas or something! Why do I almost hear R.E.M. playing in the background? Even so, the kids’ naughty side is rearing its spiky head. Some of them are sneakily planting themselves into different groups in order to get second or third helpings. When I refuse to give in to one boy, he actually gets down on his knees and begs, getting a laugh out of the crowd (and the desired extra helping). I’m only giving them out one at a time, but I keep catching kids trying to dash away with a whole handful. There actually seems to be a sort of competition going on to see who can get away with what.

What can I say? They are all saying, “Trick of treat,” after all. Some of them are saying, “Trick AND treat.” At least they’re being honest.

Still no sign of Mr. O. That’s a funny way for him to show his gratitude.

I say that because, only yesterday, he managed to drag me and the Seishin Flying Eggheads into yet another political event. Although I can be quite vociferous regarding politics, I generally restrict my activism to the ballot box (if I’m allowed to vote). However, this is the second year in a row in which I’ve been asked by the Private Educators’ Union (motto: “Well, we should have our cake and eat it, too…” sung to a very tinny, poorly-tuned, early ‘60s guitar) to bring the Eggheads to a political rally to help drum up support against the government’s threat to slash if not eliminate education subsidies.

Japan already allocates a smaller percentage of its GNP for education than any other industrialized nation. Even so, as part of the baffling array of cost-reducing reforms being pushed through by the Koizumi administration (while at the same time preparing to raise taxes significantly…go figure…), there has been talk of reducing federal subsidies for public education by one-third and cutting those for private education altogether. Public schools already tend to be underfunded, understaffed, underequipped, undermaintained, and generally in sorry shape. If these cuts do go through, maintaining them at even their current, pathetic level would require local governments to raise property and poll taxes. Meanwhile, the cost of private education would skyrocket. (They are saying tuition and fees would wind up being seven times as much as public education on average.) That would be disastrous. Naturally, the Private Educators’ Union (somebody tune that &#%* guitar!) is not willing to take that sitting down. I don’t blame them. However, while I support their ideals in this matter in principle, I have a serious beef with them in practice.

To put it bluntly, the biggest problem with the Union is that its staff includes too many of what conservative columnists in my college newsletter would call “vacuous liberals”. In other words, they’ve gotten so hopelessly caught up in idealism that they live in an ideal world rather than the real one. Their hearts are often in the right place, but their feet just aren’t on the ground. They are so assured of the righteousness of their cause (and, in many cases, have such hyperinflated egos) that they believe reality will bend to accommodate them. That means that, while they are often very good thinkers, they are not very good doers. They are even worse planners. Therein lies the problem.

After all the time and energy I’ve spent flaming my more conservative friends for their irrational witch-hunt against liberals, I’m sure they’ll either faint or gloat at my saying this, but it’s a fact. (Besides, I’ve always maintained that I’m more of a centrist than a liberal, anyway.) (And before Pa’ve gets on his soapbox, allow me to point out that the majority of the teachers at my school, including myself, are NOT members of the Union [yes, it is optional] for the very reasons that I have described.) It’s upsetting to see perfectly respectable ideals wrecked by piss-poor planning and daft execution.

We were asked to put on a “short concert” as part of an hour program that was part of a much larger event. With last year’s disaster firmly in mind, I said I would do it only if I was given concrete information concerning transportation, logistics, and facilities well in advance. When that was assured, I suggested a twenty-minute performance. I was told that was sufficient. However, the information I’d requested didn’t appear until I threatened to pull out more than a month later. Then I was suddenly handed a list of details. However, the paper also said that our band would be sharing a single bus with two different dance groups from our school including the 11th grade girls from the music club. (Amazingly, the girls knew absolutely nothing about it, but they said they’d do it.) I wasn’t happy about it, because it complicated matters, but the student leader of the jazz band is also in that dance group, and she was really determined to see it through. We rehearsed as best we could with the little time available, and we had a pretty good twenty-minute show ready to go.

A few days before the event, we were told there was “a bit of a change”. Dance performances of any kind are strictly prohibited in Mito Station, where the event was to be taking place. The Union organizers, including Mr. O, had actually been well aware of the fact, but they’d been certain the police in Mito would change their minds once they realized the righteousness of their cause. I was then told that almost the entire event would consist of our performance, which now needed to fill the better part of an hour. Needless to say, I blew up. Mr. O and co. assured me that they would do everything in their power to try to convince the Mito police to change their minds, but I had no confidence whatsoever (which was a good thing). I got the Eggheads together, and we made a quick and rather risky revision to our set list. I figured I could fill in the remaining gaps with mindless banter.

When we were on the bus on our way to Mito, we were told that they had designed their program around our set list (i.e. a whole battery of dull propaganda speeches between numbers, i.e. any and all audience would be chased away), but for some reason they expected one more tune than we had written on the program. I asked the kids to perform one tune we hadn’t rehearsed in months (and since a couple of them didn’t have the music for it, they had to play it from memory or ad lib). We arrived at the event location to find nothing. No preparations had been made whatsoever, and the people there had no idea what was going on. It was even worse than last year.

Fortunately, everything got thrown together well enough at the last minute, and we pulled off a pretty good performance. It took the kids a while to get into it, because they’d been numbed by all the lackadaisical preparation, but by our third number (after the first round of speeches) they started to gel. Between our playing, my bilingual yammering, and all those speeches, the event wound up being almost exactly an hour long. Ironically, the best tune was probably the encore, the tune we hadn’t rehearsed. The kids were really getting into it, and it rocked (bossa novaed?). “Audience” was a relative term, since we were playing at a station with lots of people listening as they hurried by but few stopping (and those that did kept getting chased away by the speeches), but a lot of people heard us. Still, we were eager to get out of there and thankful that we were able to get back early. It was in the middle of a very busy period, after all, and we were all wiped out.

That was yesterday, and I STILL feel wiped out…just as the kids are quickly wiping out my candy supply. Oh, well…as long as it makes people happy…and no one gets hurt…I guess it’s worth it. I seriously doubt my candy stock will hold out, though, and the kids are definitely in the Halloween spirit. I just hope I don’t wake up to a mass of toilet paper tomorrow morning…


  • I am almost afraid to mar this post by being the first to comment. I mean, this is CLASSIC Moody. What a great post! I am still holding my sides.

    I am grateful you did not sic your students on the only other person in Kashima "City" with any celebration of Halloween at all. I would have had to depend on my little "Momo, The Outer Limits-esque Negative-Photo Wonder Dog" to protect me from the ravaging hords.

    Would that you could get the students to play a trick or two on Mr. O in his absence.

    The political bit in Mito reminds me of Tom Lehrer's song "folksong army". (Yes, I am that old, and the rest of you will just have to look it up, so there). One stanza is -sung out of tune mind you- "We are the folksong army, guitars are the weapons we bring, we're here to fight poverty, war and injustice, ready.... aim ... sing!"

    Just wait year!

    Happy Halloween!

    ymutu: Damn it trombones, you forgot ymutu!

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 6:26 PM  

  • Centrist? (malicious grin)


    Actually I'm not going to get on my soap box because you seem to have seen the light on how typical liberalism is its own downfall. It realy is that way right up to the point where attorneys start suing for big bucks. IE the ACLU trying to stop Christmas, something all ready in full throws over here!

    By Blogger Pa've, at 12:24 PM  

  • Turn your smugness level down a notch or two, Pa've. I haven't seen any light because there really isn't any to see; at least none that I haven't already seen many times before.

    There are agnostics, closet Christians, Christians, born-again Christians, born-yesterday Christians, Christian fundamentalists, evangelical Christians, Christian dominionists, and Christian fascists. Similarly, there are left-leaning centrists, closet liberals, liberals, strong liberals, vacuous liberals, radical liberals, radical leftists, Maoists/Marxists, and anarchists.

    As I mentioned in the article, most of the teachers at my school DON'T belong to the Union (even though you would probably consider many if not most of them liberal) because we're fed up with its more radical members (read "egomaniacs with hero complexes") running around screaming with their heads up their aft shafts. And guess which members are ambitious and driven enough to grab all the leadership posts? Yep. The Union does not represent the majority, so the majority have long since bolted from it.

    I have always known that this sort of thing tends to happen among left-leaning circles. That's one of the chief reasons I am not a Democrat. I openly claimed to be in the liberal camp in my university days, but many if not most of the more vocal liberals around me kept pissing me off with their persistent naivete (or just plain blindness), and I kept pissing them off (and getting accused of being a conservative plant) with my trying to get them to see some reason. That's why I now claim to lean more to the center.

    Just because proponents of a particular ideal are morons doesn't mean the ideal itself is bad. After all, I have met some pretty hopelessly idiotic Christians (hence the "born-yesterday" title), but Christianity itself is clearly not the problem. I will say point blank that I have seen a similar head-up-the-shaft mentality among conservative circles, pretty much the same as what I've seen among liberals, just with different labels attached. Crackpot idealists tend to be the most motivated defenders of any value system, so they quite often wind up being the mouthpieces and the leaders. It's probably just human nature. I think the recent Supreme Court nomination soap opera has done much to show just how determined both the left and the right are to wallow in shallow ideals and "political crusades du jour" instead of trying to be practical.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:22 PM  

  • I like the thought of the Moody Minstral, face covered by a high collar, jack o' lantern tucked under one arm, terrorizing the halls of Seishin gakuen like some latter day headless horseman!


    dscabsc: a union for scabs

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 4:28 PM  

  • And once agian Moody has turned a short paragraph into a full length article. TeeHee!


    What the Japanese call Pepsi.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 8:48 PM  

  • Halloween in Malaysia, though, was not that "huge". For many (including me, hehe), it's just a another party with fancy dressing, not really aim to scared off the ghost and evil spirit. Even then, that's before Christ, more to Pagan ritual thingy, no?

    My Italian friend (i just send him off this afternoon!) gave me other perspective : All Saints Day. Like chinese, we had a special day to actually pray and pay tributes to our ancestors, grave yard can be close to rural houses. We even burned hell-money, car, houses, watches, name it, we believe that they will receive it in their after-life.

    There is lame joke among us : Want a BMW? I'll burn it for you!

    Actually i've just attended a Halloween larty organized Malaysian Rotary club, that gave a presentation on different Halloween practise in different countries, seems like they all have their very own definition.

    But one thing we all know for sure : Halloween pumpkins!!!

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 1:46 AM  

  • Here I am in the heart of Western Oregon, and I had to carve a spagetti squash. I guess it's supermarket policy to get rid of pumpkins on the 30th. That squash sure looked cool though. Next year I'm gonna do an eggplant, or maybe a carrot.

    jvmkln-an oriental sprite firebombed into extinction during WWII.

    By Blogger Seymour, at 4:31 PM  

  • Next time don't save your pumpkin shopping till the last minute, right?

    I dunno...I actually like the idea of carving an eggplant. If you follow tradition and use your old Jack o' lantern to make pumpkin pie, would that make you a PURPLE PUMPKIN EATER?

    It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple pumpkin eater...

    pwiohu - Cthulhu's not-quite-so-evil twin.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:37 PM  

  • Hahaha... moody i WISHED i were there to see u being swarmed over by a bunch of kids! kudos to their spirit!

    Although there is a really serious preparation for halloween in Harrods and other west ends area, surprisingly, we did not see much celebration in the place we stayed. perhaps it is because we lived in a turkish area, :p.

    we did, however, saw quite a few groups of kids in our area extorting MONEY, not treats, from passerby like us. it was then we decided to head back before we get mobbed.. hehe.

    By Blogger YD, at 12:43 AM  

  • I have it on good authority that in previous generations in the US it was standard procedure to get money or anything from households. The phrase "trick or treat" meant just that, it was pure extortion. Hence the costumes, which made IDing at the local police dept more difficult.

    I participated in a few "tricks" in my earlier years. We took it seriously. I guess it depends the seriousness of your sugar habit.

    slwlrr-the final stage of an alcohol fueled blackout

    By Blogger Seymour, at 5:12 PM  

  • "Trick or treating" originated in Scotland. People were already dressing up as ghosts and demons because they believed the power of Evil (i.e. darkness/winter) became sufficiently strong enough on October 31st (November 1st in Wales) for ghosts and what-not to return to Earth. They dressed up so that the "dark powers" wouldn't recognize them as human beings. Crazy, drunk punks quickly realized that that gave them a wonderful opportunity to FSU (f*** stuff up). Then other people started bribing them to be good. Hence the tradition. It is extortion, pure and simple...or bribery, depending on your point of view.

    Them crazy Celts...

    bagrrpi - What a really drunk Scotsman calls that noisy musical instrument they play.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:33 PM  

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