Morning Greetings

Me: Good morning, everyone!

Class: Good morning, Ms. Rachel!

Me: How are you today?

Rogue student: It’s Thursday!





Ha o Hipparu

My translation/conjugation of the title may be not be entirely correct, but it’s all I know how to say regarding this subject. Ha (歯) is “tooth”, Hipparu (引っ張る) is “to pull”.

The sad saga of my bottom-right-first-molar, Borifimo (say it in your head with a bad Italian accent, like Bellissimo!, but not), began approximately 10 years ago. I was 15 and just had my braces taken off. Poor Borifimo had been imprisoned by that horrible metal band that supports the rest of your braces, which had apparently hidden a cavity for however many years those braces were on.

I had to have a root canal. As a 15 year old I had no idea what a root canal even was. But I endured the pain, got Borifimo fitted with a fancy porcelain crown, and went about my merry teenage life.

10 years, a high-school graduation, college graduation, and a move across the planet later, it was September of 2016 and I was in excruciating pain. The kind where you can’t sleep for 3 nights, and finally end up using a bag of frozen green beans as a pillow because that’s the only thing that helps. I fantasized about ripping Borifimo out myself with a pair of Daiso pliers.

The Japanese dentist I went to told me I’d probably have to get Borifimo taken out, but gave me some antibiotics to calm him down in the meantime while I made a decision. Borifimo shut up for the remainder of the year.

Alas, the pain went away but the problem did not. During my winter vacation in America, my family dentist determined that Borifimo had to be done away with, or I’d likely wind up in a hospital when the infection flared up again. So I bit the bullet and said Sayonara to Borifimo, and returned to Japan in the new year with a gaping hole in my mouth.

Truthfully the space once occupied by dearly departed Borifimo isn’t visible to anyone unless I purposely show it off. But feeling the emptiness and simply just knowing it’s there is distressing. Not to mention trying to take care of it during the healing process, which involves maintaining a mostly soft-foods diet.  Last week’s kyuushoku was more or less inedible…rice, no. Salad with sesame seeds, no. Soup with little pieces of egg that kept finding their way into the hole in my jaw, no. Each day gets little easier, but it’s a largely unpleasant experience.

Possibly the only thing worse than having the tooth extracted is the process of getting it replaced. Not only is it expensive, but it’s quite an involved procedure that could include bone-grafting, little titanium screws that have to fuse with the jaw, and many many months of waiting and healing. Oh, and it’s also time-sensitive, because Borifimo’s neighboring teeth might not be so keen on waiting for a replacement, and might start moving around in there to compensate for their missing comrade.

Image result for missing teeth

Now that the wound is healing nicely, the discomfort has lessened. However, the cultural difference in tooth care and appearance has become ever more apparent to me in the past few weeks. Western standards for what is considered a “nice smile”, at the most basic level, means 1) your teeth are reasonably white and 2)reasonably straight and 3)you have ALL YOUR TEETH. The most obvious problem with my lack thereof is difficulty eating (I really love food, and being restricted from it is probably more painful than actually getting the tooth pulled out). But when presented with the costs of having the tooth replaced, I find my cultural upbringing to play a more prominent role in my decisions than I expected. If I didn’t need Borifimo replaced, I still would replace him. The thought of having a hole there for any longer than the necessary healing time is not only unacceptable, but quite repulsive to me.

On the odd occasion that I have a dream, it usually involves some or all of my teeth crumbling out of my head. Most dream analysis would suggest that this represents a feeling of helplessness or lack of control in life…which, while often accurate in regards to me, is  less believable than the fact that after 10 years of putting up with Borifimo’s drama, the cursed cuspid continues to haunt me in my sleep from beyond the tooth grave.


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. 😉





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. 🙂

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, 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, (蒸し暑い; むしあつい; 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.