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Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Caterpokey-aka why you should always have a camera in Japan!

Today, was the Rokunensei (6th grade) Graduation Meeting. At least that is what my English Activity Coordinator called it. I never trust anything he tells me about events. He always translates the name literally and it makes no sense in English.

Anyhow, I was supposed to be in the gym at 9.35, so I went to the gym at 9.35.
The whole school was there. The 6th grade was in front of and an stage. The stage has a step right across the front, so some were standing on the court, some were standing on the step and some on the stage. The other classes were sitting in to either side of the stage and directly in front of it. All of the kids formed a square and the space in the middle became the performance area.

The first performers were sannensei (3rd grade). (This isn’t a meeting, thinks Claire.) The 3年生did a little skit and then played the recorder (hideous bane of my school existence…ew). They also did a dance. Of course, it being Japan, it had to involve 10 girls doing cartwheels. That’s almost half the class. I don’t think half of my class could cartwheel when I was 9. I most certainly couldn’t.

Then came the (ni) 2年生. The kids lined up in their rows with skipping ropes hanging around their necks. Music starts to play. They can’t possibly… Of course they can. The entire class is skipping. Well most of the class… one boy can’t seem to get more that 2 skips before he knot up. Cue image of boy falling on head and bursting mouth. Giggles. And it all went downhill from there. Next 4 lines sat. The line closest to me started skipping backward. Burs-ya-face seemingly trying with all his might to burst his face. Claire trying with all her might not to cackle out. The next line did a running skip. The next a hopping skip. The next a crossover skip (which failed miserably). More giggles. Some of the 3年生 ( I am standing behind them are looking at me funny.) The music stops and they stop. Everyone claps.

But they’re not done. Nope. How could they be? They haven’t made the friendly neighbourhood ALT cackle out loud yet… So on run Akasaka 先生 (sensei- lit. before students) and the Ajisai spare teacher whose name no one ever bother to tell me, with a big skipping rope, and then the kids are running in, skipping and running out. There goes Hyuuga-kun falling on his head, the boy two behind him knocks over another boy. Tears! And they refuse to stop. When they get to the end. They line up on the other side and keep coming again. Dying. Guffawing. Gasping for breath. The teachers are laughing too at least. And the 3年生 are laughing at me.

Finally the song ends. Owari desu. (It’s over!) Of course not. They invite the 6年生to try. Only Matsuo先生’s class (6-1) comes. I must admit they are the more athletic looking class… They get the whole class through, and they are doing pretty good on the second run, until Kakeru –kun tries to do a double axle, and Yoshiki-kun crashes into him. Eruption of laughter from the gym…

It’s 1年生’s turn now. (go) 5年生 scampers from where they’ve been sitting to the back of the gym. I wonder what’s about to happen. I expect to be impressed. (ichi) 1年生 is great at whatever they do. Chiba先生got them on lock- all marching around, like the little 1年生 army. They give a speech in parts, i.e. everybody has a line. It’s very common in Japanese schools. And then they march out to the centre with THEIR skipping ropes. They all all skip for a minute. Then the go and put their ropes down. And come back to the centre. The 30 of them line up in about 6 lines, with their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them, and the music starts. Right foot, tap to right twice. Left foot tap to left twice. Jump forward, jump back, jump forward 3 times. Looks like a caterpillar doing the hokey pokey, I think. The caterpokey!!! Cackle. More strange looks from the 3年生. The music finishes and the invite the 6年生 to join. It’s hilarious. The 1年生(7 years old) are half the size of the 6年生 (12 years old) and just hanging on to them is interesting. And, since there are only 30 1年生 and there are 44 6年生, all of the lines have 6年生 at the front, so the caterpillars heads keep coming off. Lol. And the 6年生 at the back are doing all manner of antics not to jump on the 1年生 in front of them. Dying with laughter!

Next are the (yo)4年生. I already know that they will sing. They always sing. Both Tamayama先生 and Tomiyama先生 are musical. (Seriously?? What evil twist of fate caused them to put 2 teachers in the same year with ALMOST the same name. For 4 months I called them both mumble-Yama. But then Tomiyama 先生 got sick, and wasn’t at school, so now I remember who’s who.) After they sing, they do a bunch of skits about the clubs at the schools. I assume the kids in the clubs made up their own skits to imitate or praise the 6年生 who lead them.

Now come the 5年生. I know Taira先生 is a madman, so I am prepared for anything…They do a couple skits. Then the start to tap their feet and clap. Hmmm, I know this beat… We.Will. We. Will. Rock. You. Lol. I look around for Taira 先生. He’s grinning and giving me the thumbs up. I swear he does these things to make me laugh. No one else will get it. He was an English major in University. His English is excellent. Better than two of the English teachers at my Chuugakkou (JHS). But he refuses to be an English teacher, because he HATES grammar. So instead he teaches in Shougakkou (Elementary) and his kids speak better English than half the Junior High… Instead of we will rock you the kids are singing “Thank you, Thank you, Senpai.” Or really Sank you. Since Japanese never do ‘th’ right. And the next verse is Sugoi Senpai, followed by sutekina senpai. A senpai 先輩(lit. before group) is imported in the “honorific” nature of Japanese culture. If someone is older than you or they got somewhere before you, they’re your sempai. For example, if we both take judo classes but I start a week before you, I’m your senpai. Sugoi and suteki(na) both mean wonderful or something to that effect. After the song, they do an instrumental. Two girls are on upright organ and piano and a boy is on drums ( everybody in Japan plays and instrument) The rest pull out recorders or some weird instrument, you blow into it and play on a keyboard. Apparently it’s called a Kilimanjaro- yup- like the mountain in Africa. Taira先生says it’s a foreign invention. You learn something new every day.

The jou iinkai (learned that word today- there is a large likelihood it is spelled make an announcement and everybody files out. Just like that? It done?
I go back to the staff room. A while later the bell rings and I see everyone get up. I follow them back to the gym. The 6年生will now perform. The curtains on stage are closed, but now there only 2 rows of 6年生are there. I am trying to go across the line remembering their names. At Minami, I stop. I always mix up Minami and Shiho- simply because they’re tall. Come to think of it, I can’t see Shiho, or Yuri, or the girl that is always with Yuri and dresses like her and lives opposite PFC. They must be onstage. I know the 6年生 must have something up their sleeve. With teachers like Matsuo先生and Hayashida先生, how could they not. They make a little speech in pieces, and then the majority of them run off to stand in front of the sides of the square formed by 1 through 5 年生. 3 of them are standing on the court in front of the stage, 3 on the step, al of them are backing the audience. Yuri, Shiho and the other girl run out and join their classmates. The curtains draw back, there are 6 girls on stage in wigs. The front row of three is wearing sparkly silver. The far two have blond wigs, the middle two brown wigs, and the two closest have black afro wigs. Brows furrowed, I can’t see any of the girls missing. I like at the blond in the back. The dress cuts at mid thigh. I do a quick sweep of the auditorium again. The music starts. Noone’s missing. Unless… They wouldn’t… I turn to Taira 先生, who’s just materialised from backstage and is standing next to me. Otoko no ko desu ka? I whisper. He laughs. They spin around. And there, in wigs and dresses, are six of the boys in Hayashida先生’s class. The one in the brown wig and the fur lined coat, with the enormous boobs is definitely Ryouta, the class clown, and the defined legs that alerted me…definitely Yoshiya. I am dying with laughter again. And they’re dancing. Damn you, vile camera, with lost charger and no memory card. Tears.
Matsuo先生asks me if I got a picture. I tell her I don’t have my camera. She smiles, and takes me to the ‘girls’ and takes a pic of me with them. I must get my hands on that pic!!! Lol.

Afterwards they all got into 2 circles holding hands, 1-3年生 on the inside 4-6年生 on the outside. They turn on music and start doing a dance which involves clapping on either side, spinning around, lifting up your hands, putting them down, screaming Ich-ni-san-shi-go-rok-nan-hach (abbreviated Japanese counting 1-8) and then running around in the circle. I am standing near the stage quite happily until Tamayama先生 (yes, I’m sure it’s not Tomiyama-lol) reaches out and grabs me and drags me in the circle. Next thing I know I am screaming Ich-ni-san-shi-go-rok-nan-hach and running around having a ball.

Afterwards, the classes go back to where they were before. There is a big piñata looking ball tied to the basketball hoop (which is raised about 30 feet in the air). There are a bunch of strings coming from it. Shiho and Kakeru each pick a kid and take with them, they hold the strings and pull. In theory, they were supposed to pull the ball open and confetti was supposed to fall out along with a sign saying, At JHS, Fight! ( I kid you not. It said Fa-i-to- which is how the Japanese write what we pronounce as fight.) That was the theory though. In actuality, the top rope popped and the ball fell down. More laughter. Hayashida 先生 runs out and opens the ball, and holds it up high and lets the confetti fall out. Everyone cheers.
Of course it would not be Japan, if well enough had been left alone. One of the kids was sent for a ladder. They lowered the hoop down (it’s on an electronic pulley system) and kyouto-sensei (I don’t know his name, since everyone calls him and kouchou sensei-the principal- by their title. Ironically I do know the principal’s name- it happens to be one of the first names I could read) climbed up and reattached it. Then everyone lined up in pairs and the 6年生had to pass through while the rest of the school threw confetti. The boy’s wigs got the brunt of it. Lol

And I had to teach them the next period. Accidentally (on purpose) said girls instead of boys. Lol.

校長先生 (Principal) made a little speech and then Taira先生took the mike. He asked for a round of applause for the jou iinkai- these are the kids that run these ceremonies- the little MC's. Then he asked for a round for teachers. Half the 1 年生 turned to me, who had nothing to do with the production. I just smiled. Then he asked for one for the students. I walked between them giving them their applause.

So that was the send off party. Great fun. Never a dull moment in Japan! (Well,
that’s a lie, but there weren't any today!)
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