Things That Happened Today

1. It was 5 minutes after class was supposed to start and the students still hadn’t arrived to escort me to class.

Usually, at the beginning of every period, I hear a knock on the door of the teacher’s room. the door slides open and two or three shy faces peer inside expectantly. “Engu Sensei?” Sometimes they duck back out again. Usually another teacher or principal in the room will usher them towards my desk, the students giggling nervously and refusing to look at me directly, while the teacher makes them repeat “Good morning. I am from class 3. How are you? Please come to our class.” But they seemed to be running late this morning.

The principal walked over to my desk. He is an older man with salt and pepper hair, dark glasses and a kindly face. “Kaboom!” he said. He held his hands together and pulled them apart quickly.

I cocked my head like a golden retriever. He explained in Japanese. I smiled and repeated my life mantra, “gomen nasai, nihongo wakari masen.”

“etto…. Terr… Terror.” He mimed a bomb and made a noise again.

My eyes widened. Japan is a very safe country, but has experienced terror attacks before. Maybe the subway? Maybe it was in the US and he was coming over to tell me?

He mimed the bomb exploding again.

Another teacher came over on her phone, looking up a translation. “Mail threat. Mischief. A mischief.” She threw her hands in the air and rolled her eyes. “annoying.”

Someone called in a bomb threat to the school as a prank. I breathed a sigh of relief. The other teachers looked irritated at the interruption. the principal looked concerned that he had just given me a small heat attack. I felt badly  I wondered if that was a mark of being American, being constantly ready for The Worst Imaginable.

2. “Bad teacher!”

I turn around. A student in the front row is trying to get my attention. “Bad teacher!”

When I first started teaching, if I made a mistake and the kids looked confused, I would slap my wrist and say “bad teacher!” then roll my eyes to the heavens to illustrate that they were to ignore whatever I had just said. It seemed to clear things up for them, and also entertain them. I did this if I said the wrong symbol won in Janken (rock paper scissors) if I said the wrong word on a flashcard, if I held the flashcard upside down- whenever necessary to throw the heat off. I say it in the same tone you would use to scold a dog and then smack my wrist loud enough to make a noise.

But apparently I had said it once or twice too many times, because that was now my nickname according to this one student. He sees that he got my attention, which is probably the worst outcome that could have happened if I had wanted this to end quietly. He smiles happily. “Bad teacher!” Later, walking down the hallway to a 3rd grade classroom, I hear a small chorus from behind me. “Engu sensei! bad teacher!” I turn around and there is a small gaggle of different children waving and smiling at me. Nicknames travel fast.

3. My coworker made me tea and left it on my desk for me.

I think this is the school where I am being observed this week.


Two Extremes

At the best of times, living abroad feels like being a small child again. I notice small details, I live much more from moment to moment and focus on tiny thrilling satisfactions (I recognize that kanji!) and I am full of questions (what is that? why is it doing that? why is everyone walking in that direction, should I do that too? Is this chocolate or bean paste?) Sometimes, the small moments of satisfaction are given over to a larger sense of wonder and peace, that the world is so unbelievably vast and that I get to have a small place in it. Over and over I am amazed by the general kindness of people.

At the worst times, living abroad feels like being on a bad drug trip in public that won’t end (what is this? why is this little kid grabbing me? OK we’re running now- WHY IS THAT CHILD TAKING OFF HER CLOTHES okay no one else is reacting I won’t react should I react?)

Main difference between Japanese toilet and American bathroom etiquette In Japan, you do not take your pants off to use the toilet

Today, a group of girls knocked on the outside door of the teacher’s room and asked for “Engu-Sensei”. I changed into outdoor shoes and followed them outside. I got to run around, learn some Japanese children’s games (most involving being chased) show them yoga movements, and teach them a clapping game that I myself learned in college from a Korean exchange student. Overall, just remembering the joys of being 9 years old and running barefoot on grass, doing cartwheels and handstands on a sunny day.

I realized in the middle of writing this that tomorrow marks two months since coming to Japan.

Today I learned…

Instead of monthly astrological signs, the most popular personality indication in Japan is based on your blood type! Starting around when blood types were first discovered at the turn of the century, blood types grew in popularity as a predictor of personality. Blood type has been used from everything to dividing the workforce to finding a life partner.


From donating a few years ago, I remember that my blood is B+ (which I like to think of as a reminder to ‘be positive’ har har I have a dad sense of humor) so I decided to check a few websites and do a little soul searching. From

“B’s are free wheeling and unconventional.” (in Japan? Yes I am.)
“Less cooperative and follow their own ideas” (I thought that was only child syndrome, you mean I can blame my blood on that??)
“People with blood type B are the most practical of the blood groups.” (I’m offended already)
“When they are doing something, all of their attention is focused on it.”(Yeah, like this blog I tried to start once or seven times.)
“They tend to stick to a goal and follow it through to the end, even if it seems impossible.” (LOL)
They are individualists. B type people pay attention to their thoughts a little more than their feelings, and therefore can sometimes seem cold and serious. (I get the sense that this isn’t true, so much as I want it to be true)

“In anime, the genki, off-the-wall types are type B, along with any kind of well-intended character who’s ruled by their impulses.”

from Japan Today:

—Happy-go-lucky and masters of breaking rules
 I don’t wanna brag, but…

I saw the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign, I’m just illiterate in multiple languages

—Optimistic (this is why I have 3 Apocalypse scenario plans on the back burner)
—Friendly and open their heart to anybody (after two half a beer)
—Not pretentious (no comment)
—Afraid of being alone um yes. I live by two graveyards…)
—Get lonely easily ( As I am writing this, I have 4 chat windows open on 2 different apps)
—Quick to adapt
—Flexible thinkers
—Like to play
—Love festivals and parties
—Don’t get heart-broken over lost love (I’d like to take a moment to formally apologize to anyone who has gone to karaoke with me within 6 months of me going through a breakup)

I asked a colleague more about it and it sounds very similar to horoscopes in the U.S.- extremely popular, but mostly a bit of fun, and maybe a little disdained if you pay too much attention to it. One explanation offered for the popularity is that in a homogenous country like Japan, with a very homogenous make up, small differences can give a sense of identity.

As usual, looking at something and finding it odd is often the first step to seeing what is odd in your own life. The same colleague asked me what the American equivalent was.

“See, in the US, we don’t believe that your bloodtype has any expression over your personality- it’s actually defined by the stars that were visible in the sky! Not the ones there now, though- the ones that were in the sky when you are born….” A moment of frustration where she tried to retranslate what I said, and then realized that it wasn’t a translation error, that’s just actually the whole explanation. Most people know what their signs are, and most of us know at least one person who takes it pretty seriously.

At first glance, it seems odd that there are so many product tie-ins for blood type personalities in Japan: everything from soda to condoms can be catered to your blood type. I suppose that isn’t much different from most women’s magazines in the US having a zodiac page in the back of the issue.