It was all basically an accident.
I arrived in Japan with the intention of living here in 2004. I had come in December of 2003 to see the PRIDE FC New Years eve event at the Saitama Super Arena. It rocked. Gary Goodridge knocked Don Fry out with a head kick in the first 30 seconds. The last cool thing Goodridge would ever do in his Fighting career.
I was really into MMA so I checked out the famous Takada Dojo in Meguro here in Tokyo. By checked out I mean I went and trained there a couple days. I left unimpressed. A friend recommended I go train at least once at the equally famous (in japan anyway) Ihara gym and this is where I still train, for the most part, to this day. It impressed me that much.
I am telling you all this because it should be clear that I did not come to Japan planning to teach English. Nor was I interested in temples or learning Japanese or Kimonos or Manga or whatever. I was just really into MMA and at the time PRIDE FC was THE show. UFC hadnt blown up yet. I did discover however that I liked Tokyo. It is such a dynamic city and has a vibration that I immediately connected with, so I up and moved here. I started Teaching English because I needed a Visa and the Owner of my gym said “Just go Teach English.”
At the time I thought this was absurd. I didn`t even know the Japanese were learning English, and why would I?Anyway I got a job with a company and I was going to be teaching Elementary school in Minato Ku. In 2004 this all meant very little to me, I was just happy that I could stay and train and could do this without being homeless or turning tricks in a dirty bathroom someplace.
First I think you should know that I am a natural Teacher. I have a lot of experience and I can give references.
- I was 7 when I taught this kid Roger Ganly that if you have braces it isnt a good idea to elbow me in the stomach and knock the wind out of me because I will probably walk up behind you after school and call your name and when you turn around I will crow hop your dumb ass.
- When I was 13 and my brother was 10 I taught him some really valuable stuff. He would look out while I shoplifted comic books and whatever else I wanted from the Book store. I taught him all about team work, planning and communication: verbal or otherwise. Not to mention that with the right attitude nothing is impossible. Really good stuff. He has never thanked me though.
- I was maybe 14 when I invented my own martial art. It was kind of like Karate and Judo mixed with Kung fu and wrestling. ..but it had a lot more spinning kicks and jumping around. This was a really big deal as far as teaching went because my friend Patrick and I had decided that he would coach my brother, I would coach his and then the next day the two of them would fight to the death and we were betting a lot of money, like 5 or 6 dollars so everyone was taking it really serious. I had to impart all my warrior knowledge on his brother Tyler (no easy task as he had no natural killer instinct to speak of) basically in 2 hours. I think I succeeded but sadly we never got to try it out because Tyler got grounded for something. Jerk.
- I was 17 when I taught my 15 year old girlfriend Melanie how to give head and have all kinds of sex. She was a quick study let me tell you but I think my natural instincts for imparting wisdom on others really made a difference. Melanie was a very cool girlfriend.
- After I left the Military for a while I was teaching Cops in California how to do CQB (Closed Quarters Battle) incase they had to clear a Nursing home in which a Meth Lab had been constructed. I also taught them how to kick the shit out of an unruly suspect if she refuses to sign a speeding ticket or whatever.
Look the list goes on and on but I think you get the point right?
Megumi “MAD DOG” Yamada
The first school I taught at was in Odaiba. It was an Elementary school. Very few foreign people live in Odaiba (a man-made island in the middle of Tokyo bay. Weird place.) so there were no mixed kids or foreign students. In fact there wasnt a single teacher that spoke any English at all. My boss from my company took me there and introduced me and then to my horror just left. The first few days are a blur as I had no idea what to do, when to do it or with whom. I resorted to teaching basic military drill movements my first several class under the guise of it being “learning your left and right”. “Snap and Pop”. “Sound Off!” Keep in mind I spoke no Japanese. None. It was all going so well.
I was trying to use the online translation software “Babbel Fish” to achieve some basic level of communication but it wasnt working. I am sure the teacher was trying to ask me “At lunch time, can you eat fish?” but Babbel fish came back with “Fish it consumes a supper of Ok time?” I was fucking lost.
In the 3rd grade class this little girl was just staring at me. She just sat there in her chair glaring at me. In the lunch room (this school had one oddly enough most Japanese elementary do not.) I saw her again across the room slowly eating while MAD DOGGING me the entire time. This went on for months. Finally one day this future super model (looking at her face was like looking at a puppy dog. a very cute puppy dog.) walked up to me outside the school when I was heading to the train station. I heard the little voice behind me “Eric Sensei!”
I stopped and turned around and there she was with her little red bag pack and she was standing in a power position: feet a bit wider than normal, hands on her hips and a very serious expression on her face. Something you might call a conversation then ensued. I had learned about 10 words of Japanese in those few months and with that and gestures and more of this puppy dog face scowling at me I ascertained that she was inviting me to her house which was I also ascertained on the 40th floor of one of these big streaming steel and glasses high-rise apartment buildings which are the only domicile`s on the island. It was 3:30Pm and I declined. This did not go well. She was not happy. I was lost. This pattern continued for a long time. By the end of the year she had learned one English word real well: Stupid. She practiced it often with me when I would decline yet another invitation. To this day I have never been able to figure that little girl out.
The Kancho Incident
Kancho is this thing that Japanese kids do. I will walk you through it so put your coffee or crack pipe down and follow along.
Ok, keep the pipe, just read along.
- put both hands up in front of you palms facing each other.
- enter lace your fingers while extending together you right and left pointer fingers so your hands resemble a church steeple or a gun.
- Now sneak up behind someone.
- Now jam that church steeple up their ass.
That is Kancho. It’s like a prank…although the humor or enjoyment is frankly, lost on me. But its RAMPANT at elementary schools. The Muppet Puppet foreigner, English “ALT” (assistant language turd/teacher) is no exception…in fact often its just open season on your asshole.
The thing is…”what Kancho is” or “advice on how to handle kancho” was not included in the “Things you might need to know” handbook my Company never gave me. So when I felt a hard foreign object intruding into that restricted area I naturally whirled around at top speed and my eyes took in the situation just in time for me to see the back of my right hand impact this 8-year-old boys head.
SMASH/ CUT and he is on the floor basically conscious I guess with one eye going to 3 oclock the other to midnight. Only a little blood was trickling out of his nose. His partners in crime, about 12 kids boys and girls stood in a half circle across from me with jaws on the floor. Nobody spoke for what seemed like a long time but was actually 2 seconds untill my initial response of “Fuck.me.Hard.”
I dragged the kid to the nurses office where thanks to the cohorts, she was told what happened.
This became a whole “incident” and my boss had to come to the school and bow about a million times and I did my awkward foreigner bow about a million times and the Principal bowed about a million times and the kid never came near me again.
The second year I worked for that company they fired the “handler” who did a lot of the leg work going to schools and talking to people and helping us, the ignorant and troublesome teachers survive. I guess they fired him because in fact, he was incompetent. A nice guy but incompetent. Like when he failed to tell me at contract re-signing time that this year the company would NOT be paying the summer holidays. That was nice. A really nice surprise when I went to an ATM one day to pay my rent.
In his place they hired and American as a “head teacher”. I will call him “Bob”.
Bob had been in Japan for years. Had a Masters in Japanese linguistics or something and was basically destined to become the Companies English departments “Head Liar.” This he did well. I guess liars and lies are just part of the business here so I am giving him a free-be on that score. Head liar gets a pass.
No, it wasn’t the lying that bugged me but rather his continuous attempts to convince me to either appear in Homosexual pornography or to be a gay prostitute. Ole` Bob was 100% FLAME ON gay gay and lived with his Boyfriend in Tokyo. I remember the conversation pretty well.
Bob: Have you ever considered doing some acting?
Me: No that isnt my thing I dont think….why?
Bob: Oh nothing…just…I know some people who make videos. All types of videos and its an easy way to make extra cash. You should think about it.
Me: ….You mean Porn?
Me: ….You mean gay porn Bob?
Bob: Well yeah…but you can just masturbate on camera…alone.
Me: masturbate on cam in a gay porn flick. This is your advice….
Bob: You can totally wear sunglasses or a Mask…like a professional wrestling Mask.
Me: Wear a mask….that’s your advice….
The potty mouthed fucking butt pirate. Needless to say I never made my debut. If you have read some other posts on the website you would know I am not too into being videotaped, unless I am doing the videotaping.. Extravagant photo graphs…fine…video…no. Apparently Bob is doing this regularly. A friend came to me one day and I could tell he wasn’t in top form mentally and after I inquired as to why, he told me Bob had tried to recruit him for a “film role”. Yeah I bet.
The Kiss of Death
All of the new “teachers” or “clowns” or “Puppets” or “assholes” had to go to the City hall to meet the god of English education one day. It was my first time to do this. I was new in Tokyo and had no idea about the trains etc. My boss had just said “hey see you at Daimon at 1000AM.” Right. Daimon. 1000AM. See you. I arrived at 1020 after about 30 train changes, a series of sprints and a back flip. I saw the other teachers all looking bored standing in a line. Lots of kackies. Lots of sweater vests. Lots of ugly ties. I was wearing a pair of black slacks and a grey turtle neck sweater. I also hadnt shaved at all in about 3 months and my beard was a thing of Hemingway like pride. My boss, this little woman about 4 feet tall was wearing this quasi gothic black costume/outfit and black platform boots and she immediately started babbling incoherently as I emerged from the station sweaty and panting.
We went to the city hall where god lived and as we entered I apologized to everyone for being late and this one fellow wearing a really bad gray suit said in a booming baritone voice. “Its the kiss of Death. Being late is the Kiss of Death in Japan my friend. You had better understand that. Kiss of DEATH.” I actually nodded my head and as I was about to ask who invited Sean Connery’s character from “Rising Sun” here, but here he came again “And a beard…again Kiss of Death my friend. Beards are a no go. I have been here a long time and I know what the deal is and let me tell….Beard = Kiss of DEATH.” By this point I was dumbfounded and simply nodded numbly. The guy next to me spoke up “Beards are the Kiss of Death huh? You’re a fucking idiot. ” This was Brian. I would soon learn that both “Fuck” and “idiot” were words that he cherished dearly. A Black/Jewish expert on the Hebrew version of the Bible, married to a lovely Japanese woman and I would soon find out: essentially a Narcisstic psychopath. We immediately became fast friends and are to this day.
In the meeting with some of Gods minions from the Board of Education and Mind Control, essentially only Japanese was being spoken. Myself and another “boot cherry” could understand nothing so Sean Connery, a man I would from that day forward simply refer to as “THE VOICE” cowboyed up to perform translation services. Gods Minion would talk for a few minutes then The Voice said ” OK….essentially what she is saying is that at after lunch time you need to play with the kids outside during their Recess. You see it is a vital bonding time for us to connect with the children, our students, and really impress upon them that foreign people are just that…people.” Brian spoke up loudly in the somewhat high-pitched, on the verge of laughter voice that he always seems to have. “What the Fuck are you talking about? That’s not what she said. Fucking Idiot.” The whole meeting stopped and stared. The Voice spoke. “That is precisely what she said. Look…my Japanese language skills are…” Brian again “You’re a fucking Moron. She was telling us we are expected to EAT LUNCH with the students and the rooms we should eat in will alternate each day so we have a chance to visit every class. Fucking recess? She never said anything about that.”
Silence. Heavy and True. The voice left it alone after that.
Ironically a few months later The Voice would be fired for first stalking and then trying to solicit sex from two of his Junior High school students.
Like a new teacher would do at any school anywhere, on my first day with each class I usually introduced myself and gave a brief introduction followed by a little open Q&A with the help of the Japanese home room teacher.
It was 5th grade class at a public school in Shibuya Ku this time.
“OK…any questions?” The list was pretty basic. Do you have a girlfriend? Do you eat Sushi? Can you use chopsticks? What is your favorite color? Do you like dogs? How tall are you? Do you like Dogs? Can you eat Raw fish? Do you like Dogs? Like that.
Today would be a bit special though….the last question I took that day was from a boy. He stood up when I called on him and very clearly speaking asked in Japanese “Eric Sensei no chinchin ha nan centi gurai?” essentially “How big is your dick?” It was like a moment from BACKDRAFT as all the air in the air seemed to suck back for a split second as everyone, except me because I didn’t catch it immediately, sharply inhaled. The Home room Teacher, a 30-year-old lady who was very energetic and kind, well her face went through a serious of evolutions before become a fairly neutral mask despite the red color creepy up her neck and across her cheeks. Then when the reaction came from the “has asocial death wish” kids fellow students, it came big. “What the hell?!?!” “What kind of question is that?!” “God you are dirty!” “You are always asking dirty questions!” “You are such a pervert!” One boy turned around and punched him in the stomach and then a piece of balled up paper that came from where, I dont know, hit him in the side of the head.
I looked at the Home room teacher for Clarification. She opened her mouth, then she flinched then closed her mouth, then opened it again, then tilted her head and looked at me like I was a lost doggy. Finally she just shook her head over and over and when I asked “What?” she just shook her head and waved her hand at me. The international signal for “Uh no. no no no.”
Kids are so great. Full of curiosity.
I no longer teach Elementary school and I have branched out and am doing a few different jobs in Tokyo now including some writing. However I am sure the interesting events and stories will keep coming so there will probably be more of this. There is actually a lot left to tell.