Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Scenes We Like to Have Seen

Part One: In the Country
The Flying Eggheads jazz ensemble received a surprise invitation to perform at a cultural festival. It was held in one of those cities recently stitched together out of multiple rural villages during the Prime Minister Koizumi era. Although we'd participated in prefectural music events at that concert hall before, it was the first time we'd ever been invited directly by the local government. It was obvious from the start that the people in charge had never done anything like it before; they weren't familiar with the business of bringing in an act from outside, and there was a lot of confusion. Still, changing from villagers to city dwellers hadn't robbed them of one iota of their country hospitality, and they were all very kind to us. The relaxed, informal nature of it all, even in the presence of some of their top officials, was also kind of refreshing.

It wasn't a bad concert hall at all, especially considering its remote location.

We were asked to play two sets, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. We hadn't had much time to prepare a program at all. The band is relatively strong this year, so I was able to push the kids a little bit. Even so, the best we could do (without compromising anything) was five tunes, with the addition of me performing a solo number in the middle and gabbing a lot in between. That was enough to fill just under half an hour. It was sad that we couldn't do any more than that, but everyone seemed very appreciative.

The 1200-seat hall was fairly full when we played the first set. It was mostly empty during the second one, but the audience was no less hospitable. We were told that a lot of people had come because they had read about us in the newspaper before. (The Ibaraki Shinbun, our prefecture's local paper, ran a feature on the music department of Ye Olde Academy not so long ago.) A warm atmosphere always helps a performance, and the kids gave a very good accounting of themselves. They also seemed to be having a lot of fun even despite all the frustrating mix-ups at the start. They came away exhausted but feeling very good about it.

One of the high points, as far as I was concerned, was the group of ladies that came backstage while we were eating our supermarket box-lunches and gave us bowls of homemade pickles, apparently of a type that's a longtime local specialty in that area. I was a bit worried about how the kids would react, considering the backgrounds they tend to come from, but they tore into the pickles eagerly and thanked the ladies very politely. I guess kindness and hospitality still go a long way, even in this insensitive age.

Part Two: In the Gym
Yesterday the 7th grade had its first inter-class competition. This time it was what they call "dodge ball". (Japanese "dodge ball" is more like what we called "prison ball" in my school days. Our own "dodge ball" was a little different.) There are five classes, and the boys and girls had separate competitions. I was asked to be one of the supervisors for the girls' matches.

The girls of Room Four started a custom of forming into a circle and giving a group holler before a match. When they did it the first time, their homeroom teacher was on the scene, so she helped get them together. The second time, however, something interesting happened. One of the girls with a bit more initiative started trying to gather her classmates together. They were pressed for time, so they wound up forming the circle in a bit of a mad rush. Unfortunately, when they quickly closed ranks and gave the holler, the slowest and shyest girl in their class wound up being left out. She just stood off to the side with a look of resignation on her face. After the holler was done and the circle split up, however, one of the other girls immediately ran over to the shy girl and gave her a big hug. Other girls came by and gave her pats of reassurance while the hug was still in process. Then they called her over to join the class for the match. In the end, no one was left out.

Part Three: In the Classroom
My 9th grade classes last year were definitely something of an ordeal. It was a notorious, problem-filled bunch. As a combined whole (with many notable individual exceptions), they were noisy, they were rowdy, they were sometimes as caustic as they were quick in the expression of their opinions, they were stubborn, they tended to do things in a half-assed manner, and they basically wore me out physically and psychologically. Still, for the most part, the kids were friendly. Even more importantly, they were communicative. If I asked a question, I damned well got an answer, even if it was something like, "How should I know?"

Cut to my 9th grade classes this year. This bunch has a very good reputation. Since their 7th grade year, they've been described as quiet, attentive, serious, earnest, and easy to work with. Actually, I'd be more inclined to describe them as "f***ing frosty". Not only are these kids quiet, they just don't respond. I ask a student a question, or ask one to read or do something, and the overwhelming majority of the time the person I called on just sits there mute. No reaction. I ask another student to help him or her. No reaction. I give the students something to work on, and when I walk around to help them, it seems like more than half the time my existence isn't even acknowledged. Even simple greetings before and after class quite often invoke no reaction at all, not even an acknowledging glance. The bookwork and quizzes get done without any trouble, but otherwise there seems to be an uncanny lack of common sense, let alone basic manners, in this so-called "earnest class".

I guess "earnestness" isn't everything.
I can also say that I'm really starting to miss last year's noisy, troublesome gang.


  • Glad the concert went well - must be stressful at times.

    I like that dodge ball story. Too often in sports you are either "in" or "out". "Sprot For All"? Not likely!

    Funny how different classes are - we see differences in our groups. Give me loud any day!

    By Blogger Rock Chef, at 9:19 PM  

  • Nice to know that empathy and encouragement stills exists. Congrats on the show. If anyone can bring the serious bunch out of their shell, it is you.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:50 PM  

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