The Extremely Handsome Banker

‘Twas a Thursday like any other. Except for half the school being out with the flu.

The flu stinks and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I can’t lie, I was enjoying my unexpected free period with a rare cup of coffee and some chocolates that a coworker had gifted upon the staff room.

I had just finished preparing my coffee when my friend, the school accountant, came into the break room. In a flurry of Japanese that I understood only the gist of, she asked me to help her bring some coffee in for a guest from the bank who had arrived for a meeting.

We prepared a cup of coffee and put it all nicely on a tray, which she handed to me and led the way into the front office where our guest was waiting.

The sight that greeted me as I rounded that corner struck me dumb. Not just quiet dumb, DUMB dumb.

Sitting there before me was one of the most attractive human beings I have ever seen. And that’s saying something. I am not easily shocked or shaken. I grew up in a house with 4 other kids, I’ve traveled solo, I’ve embarrassed myself in my life more times than I could ever hope to count. I don’t get flustered very easily.

But when I brought in that tray of coffee, I was lucky I didn’t drop it. Because holy cannoli, that man was gorgeous. No joke, this was me on the inside:

“Konnichiwa” was the only Japanese that didn’t promptly evacuate my brain. I delivered his coffee, smiled, and before my face could turn red as a beet I returned to the safety of the staff room. Now there was no question why my coworker had asked me to help her, that’s for sure.

After the meeting was over and the handsome banker left, the office ladies were tickled at my reaction.

“He’s handsome isn’t he??” “He has a good heart, too!” “He works at the bank just down the street *winkwink*.”

Of course I agreed, but then reminded them that my Japanese is complete crap and he doesn’t exactly speak English. Story of my life.

“Oh, nonsense!” they laughed. Then they gave me his business card. “Simple Japanese, simple English…you can talk face-to-face!”

Everyone had a good laugh over it, but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen. However, I am pretty sure I walked around school with a big grin on my face after that. It’s not every day that you encounter handsomeness of the caliber that maintains your happiness throughout the day. XD

And of course I kept the business card. Just for, you know…kicks. πŸ˜‰





Happy Friday

These are my favorite days.

The fall Fridays, when the sky is clear and the sun shining, but the air is fresh and cool and free of summer’s humidity.

All the windows and doors in the school stand open, inviting the breeze to sweep through the halls and classrooms. Papers fly everywhere, but nobody really minds. It’s just the kind of weather that puts you in good spirits regardless of whatever else is going on around you.

The end of the week used to be reserved for 3rd year classes. My students would shout “Happy Friday” at the beginning of class and whenever they saw me in the hallway. (And I try not to think about how bittersweet it is, that they’ll be graduating next March and will take with them all the little quirky sayings and traditions we share.)

Now all my 3rd year classes have been moved to Wednesday. While I try to implement the “Happy Friday” tradition with the 1st and 2nd year students, it hasn’t quite caught on yet.

However, the 3rd years, also disappointed that our Friday celebrations have been disrupted, have taken to filling the ever-dreaded hump day with shouts of “Happy Wednesday!!!” I find that works it’s magic just as well. πŸ™‚

Happy Friday (or Wednesday) to all!



Shlushed: A Toilet Rant

On my first day in Japan, when I accidentally pushed the “flush sound” button on the control panel in a public toilet, I was baffled. I heard the sound, but nothing flushed. I messed around with a few more buttons before finally hitting the right one. I shrugged and chalked it up to the many seemingly frivolous technological odds and ends Japan has to offer.

It wasn’t until I had been working at my school for a few days that the actual function of that silly little sound button became apparent.

The school is old. The building was built over 60 years ago. It’s a not a pretty place by any means, but it serves it’s purpose. The city could probably make extra money renting out space in the hallways as meat lockers during the winter, though.

Anyway, because it’s old, so are all the toilets. No fancy washlette, bum-rinsing contraptions here! We get the good old-fashioned squatty potties.

I must admit, although I’m still not fond of them, I have grown used to the squatties. But what I have not grown used to is that in the absence of the revolutionary “sound princess”, some people flush to cover the sound of their bodily excretions.

Not just once, either. They will continue to flush over the course of their entire time in that stall, because GOD FORBID you hear the sound of #1 or #2 being expelled into the hole in the ground located in a room designed specifically for that purpose.

And the waste! The water waste! I always made fun of my dad for not flushing the toilet in his bathroom at the back of our house. He would claim that he was saving water. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down!” I personally prefer to flush regardless of the color, but…only once. When it’s all said and done, not continuously throughout the deed.

I can tolerate a lot of things without even batting an eyelash. But my cultural sensitivity can only be stretched so far. This is one thing that I refuse to accept (aka I just inwardly scoff in indignation and brood over it until I inevitably get distracted).

And then one day, as I was innocently using the toilet…someone shushed me. Or should I say,Β shlushed me. Shush + flush. Someone in the bathroom decided I was being too rude or too noisy by not wasting gallons upon gallons of water at a time, and decided to do it for me.

I was appalled. My inner monologue went something like: HOW DARE YOU SHLUSH ME! This is a bathroom! A room full of toilets! A room designed for the specific purpose of emptying disgusting albeit totally normal bodily waste into these stupid holes in the ground. It’s no mystery what any of us are doing in here!

Now that I’ve had some distance from the slushing incident, I find it all kind of hilarious. Upon further reflection, I wonder if maybe it was just a coincidence of timing, and I just interpreted someone else’s own pee-shyness for shlushing. That’s totally possible. They say cultural frustration can result in paranoia and perceived slights. I suppose we’ll never know the truth.

Regardless, I continue to go about my bathroom business unabashedly. Ain’t nobody got time to be worrying about that stuff anyway!


Things I see from the Window, Part 2

Again, school had just ended for the day. I was sitting at my desk preparing for a presentation the next day. It was a warm early-summer day, so the door and windows were wide open.

One of my 1st year boys runs up to the door and yells “Hello!”

I respond with “Hello!”

Then a few more run up.

“Ohhhh, Helloooo Teacher!”, someone cheers.

One of them starts winking.

“Teacher, I love you!”, someone shouts.

Another blows me a kiss.

“No, I love you!”, someone else tries to one-up him.

Pretty soon there’s a fan club-like gathering of 12 year-olds outside the door and I had to shoo them away…

Yep. That happened.


“I like air-conditioners.”

A retroactive post, because lately it’s been so absurdly hot and horrendously humid, (θ’Έγ—ζš‘γ„; むしあ぀い; mushiatsui) that this story has once again become relevant.

Back in April when the new school year started, a new batch of 1st year students rolled in. Most of that first week was spent introducing myself to them.

In addition to a slideshow containing pictures of my family, hobbies, and various things I like, I made the kids tell me about themselves.

The students all took turns introducing themselves to me. On the board we wrote a template:

My name is _________. I like __________. I can (play/do) ______. Thank you!

The usual answer sounded something like:

“My name is (insert name). I like sushi/games/books. I can pay soccer/baseball. TY!”

And then there was this kid.

“My name is (So and so)….I like AIR-CONDITIONERS.”

Wait a minute, back it up! What? You like air-conditioners? Hm.

The whole class, including the kid himself, got a good laugh out of it. He didn’t go into any further detail as to why he liked AC so much…when we asked him, he just shrugged and sat back down and insisted we move onto the next kid.

But now that it’s mid-July, I totally get it.

I like air-conditioners, too. I like them a lot. No elaboration necessary.






Things I see from the Window…

My desk faces a big sliding door/row of windows that look out over the schoolyard. Sometimes I see interesting things.

The other day, after school had ended and club activities were about the begin, I witnessed a student get stuck in the utility shed across the soccer field. They were taking out the equipment for their sports practice, and somehow, the sliding door had gotten stuck.

The rest of the students ran off, so he was left in there, fiddling with the door. It took me a few minutes to realize he was really stuck. I saw him banging on the door (the top half was a window).

No other teachers were in the room, so I just kinda looked around and waited to see if anyone else noticed.

Just as I was considering that I should probably get up off my butt and go help him, another student ran over to open the door, and all was well.

Almost two months later, I still chuckle when I think about it.

Awkward noodles.

In general I am a confident person. That’s something I achieved in early adulthood, learning to be a respectful and responsible, while not giving a flying f*@# about what anyone else thought of me.

A running theme in my life since moving to a foreign country has been the turning upside-down and inside-out of everything I thought I knew about myself. And my overall confidence is often challenged by things that I otherwise would consider completely ridiculous.

One such example can be exemplified by today’s school lunch: udon.

udon kusatsu
Tempura Udon in Kusatsu, Gunma. A yummy way to replenish yourself after a soak in the famous hot springs!


I freaking love udon.

But whenever I see udon or ramen or some other noodle-soup dish on the menu for school lunch, my initial elation is quickly overshadowed by pangs of insecurity.

Why would someone be insecure about one of their favorite dishes being served?

Because I don’t know how to eat it.

That sounds really stupid, and it honestly is. But the Japanese method of eating noodles is one of those little cultural differences that goes completely unnoticed. That is, until you are the only foreigner in room full of Japanese who are so skilled at getting those noodles into their mouths and tummies without making an absolute mess that I feel like an incompetent imbecile.

What is this miraculous skill, you ask?

The slurp.

Slurping is something that American kids tend to do with their food because it sounds funny. They’re usually told not to do so in public – it’s “impolite” after all! It seems that in the U.S. generating any kind of sound with your mouth while eating is considered impolite and unrefined. Of course, people do whatever they want at home. And some do whatever they want elsewhere, too. But in general, Americans are culturally “quiet” eaters. I guess we make up for it with being big talkers during meals instead.

shinpuku saikan
A Kyoto specialty, “black ramen, from a famous shop near Kyoto Station. I endured one of my worst peeves by waiting in line for over an hour on New Years Eve to try this stuff. It did not disappoint.

I try to explain to my friends and coworkers that I physically can’t slurp noodles properly. Growing up in a culture that simply doesn’t slurp seems to have rendered me unable to do so.Β I can maybe get a few strands, but I inevitably end up with soup all over my face and the table in front of me and probably anyone sitting in the vicinity.Β  Ramen and udon and long-noodled soups are not a regular part of the average American diet. The closest thing we eat is spaghetti noodles. And when we eat those, we usually just twirl them around a fork.

While I’ve most definitely improved my noodle-slurping game in the 10 months that I’ve been living and working and eating in Japan,Β  I still often find myself feeling like a bit of spectacle when I attempt to do so in the presence of my revered noodle-ninja-masters.

Though I suppose part of my job is providing insight into cultural differences, so maybe showcasing my awkward noodle techniques is all for a good cause. Yeah. Let’s just go with that. πŸ˜‰

The best ramen I have ever had in my entire life. I don’t remember the name of the shop, but it was located near the deer park in Nara. That pork was so tender it practically melted in your mouth…I still dream about this meal. Regardless of how stupid I might have looked trying to inhale it. πŸ™‚