On any given day a foreigner’s opinion of Japan can fall squarely into the “love it” camp or the “hate it” camp. Several months ago I began to slowly drift into the latter of the two. A deluge of questions from colleagues, neighbors, and complete strangers about whether or not I can eat rice, use chop sticks, or use Japanese money—because it’s somehow different from money in other countries?— has left me with a near-constant urge to choke the life out of someone. And the shitty weather we’ve been having lately doesn’t help. Neither does the fact that I live in the ass end of nowhere. Throw in in the fact that I’m being paid in a currency that seems to plummet for no apparent reason, and you have a recipe for one disgruntled foreigner in Japan. I really need to stop ranting; this was supposed to be about the utter coolness of Japanese kids. And so it is!



One day at a shougakko (elementary school) can make you forget about everything that’s irritating about Japan. From the moment you set foot on the school grounds you are a rock star. The children, screaming as loudly as their little lungs will allow, assault you with a barrage of hugs, high-fives, and nearly incomprehensible chatter about what they’ve been up to since the last time you visited. In other words, it’s fantastic! I suppose Dick Cheney receives a similar reception at an NRA meeting.


This week I had three days of chougakkou. That might not sound like a lot—especially to people with real jobs—but trust me, it is. The kids have an endless supply of energy, and they expect you to match it. No excuses. They want results. If you can’t deliver because you’ve been eating Tim Tams and drinking cup after cup of Twining’s Prince of Wales tea, then expect to have some unhappy kids. And unhappy kids means an exponential increase in the amount of kanchos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kancho) you have to fend off. So although I was knackered, I gave em 100%. That meant five classes (five!) of vocab drills, fruit basket, musical chairs, piggy-back rides, Dragon Ball GT/Naruto/Anpanman/Street Fighter schoolyard showdowns; a soccer match that turned into rugby; a brutal game of dodge ball (played with a soccer ball); attempting (and failing miserably) to ride a unicycle; plenty of picture-taking; fending off kancho ninjas; and, to my great amusement, watching students have to clean up the staff room while I sipped tea and inhaled chocolate cookies. All in all, not a bad day.