Old Faces

I decided to make a trip out to Shizuoka to see the cherry blossom festival and catch one of this year’s performances of gaijin kabuki. The show was too late in the afternoon for me to get back to The Village on the same day, so I figured I could go out Saturday morning and spend the night in a capsule hotel somewhere before coming back on Sunday.


Earlier in the week, I’d contacted Grimm for the first time in nearly six months to find out the show times. We hadn’t really spoken for ages, so I’d just planned to drop in at his English school to return some of his books and head on my way.


We’d barely said hello before Grimm insisted that I give up on trying to see the Saturday performance—it was raining pretty heavily—and invited me to stay at his place so we could go see it together on Sunday. I called Socks to see if I could convince him to pick me up from P. Rock after the buses stopped running Sunday evening and, that done, went to see The Two Towers yet again to kill the four hours before the end of Grimm’s shift.


In the theatre, I ran into my trainer from Blight. Since I’d last seen him, he’d gotten a beard, a wife, and a big promotion, and he was looking forward to letting his brain relax for a few hours. To my complete lack of surprise, he said that, aside from two people, everyone I knew from the old days was gone.


After he got off work, Grimm and I were picked up by his girlfriend on our way to dinner. I’d once been instructed to save up for their wedding in New Zealand, but they’d unfortunately split up a few months before, although they still lived together for various complicated reasons. She had also had a falling out with Guile, who’d always seemed to be her closest co-conspirator, so he was not among the company we would meet that night.


We ended up going to a few different places with a rotating cast that always included the semi-notorious Aristotle and a few Japanese girls, most notably a woman named Gina.


Aristotle is the kind of person who seems to lack any sense of personal moral accountability, but he’s so completely easygoing that I find it hard to hold anything against him. He voiced a concern that there was bad blood between us, but I told him that I honestly had no ill feelings toward him, though I admitted that I didn’t quite agree with his promiscuity. He argued that he more often than not ended up thinking his way out of relationships before they began, and twenty minutes later grabbed Gina by the hand and dragged her outside for some serious snogging.


Grimm and his girlfriend had been getting on each other’s nerves all night. When Gina started bugging Grimm about his growing paunch, he was in no mood to pull punches.


“Pudgy, pudgy,” she mocked.


“Well,” he retorted, “At least I don’t cheat on my husband.”


This resulted in Gina's argument that her husband also cheated, Grimm’s assertion that it wasn’t good for their baby, her heated response, and him finally flipping her the finger and walking away.


I only heard about this later, as I ended up talking to a very pleasant girl with quite decent English for some time. Whenever she was distracted by one of the other guys, she would immediately turn right back to our conversation a moment later, which stuck me as very decent indeed. However, she mainly talked about her discontent with her husband, who distressed her by flirting with other girls. I delicately tried to determine the present status of said husband as she started to twine her arm around mine.


She eventually got up and was replaced by Vorpal, whom I’d met for the first time earlier that night. He seemed to have forgotten me, because he immediately re-introduced himself. He asked where I was from, I asked where he was from, we exchanged the usual pleasantries, and as I was in quite a good mood I merely chuckled politely when he slammed his fist on the bar and said something I couldn’t make out over the music.


I smiled and asked him to repeat himself. He slammed his fist on the bar again and said more clearly, “You touch my wife and I’ll smash your fucking face.”


She had neglected to mention that her husband was in the room.


I gently put my hand in the way of his fist, explained that I hadn’t known she was his wife, said that I was going to get up and go outside, and promptly did. Then I considered that the words “go outside” might be misinterpreted and quickly stepped back in.


I spent the rest of the night waiting to get a drunken fist in the back of my head. I mentioned my concerns in turn to Grimm and Aristotle, who each got up to have little talks with Vorpal on my behalf, but the paranoia pretty much killed my evening. There’s nothing like the imminent threat of an actual fight to make you realize that, whatever you like to tell yourself when you’re holding a sword, you’re really a limp-wristed little twig without the slightest hope in hell of defending himself.


Grimm, his girlfriend and I eventually left for home, with me acting as negotiator between the two since they weren’t capable of talking civilly any more. As usual, they tried to convince me to drive us home under the assumptions that I was (a) sober, (b) capable of driving on the left hand side of the road, and (c) capable of driving at all. I actually had to take the keys out of the ignition just to get us all into a cab.


The next morning, Grimm’s girlfriend made us fantastic fried eggs with bacon imbedded in them, the secret of which is still a mystery to us. She told me that the instant he’d heard I was coming, Grimm had gotten really excited and insisted that they get the spare bed ready and sent her out to buy food for breakfast. I guess there’d been no need to worry that he wouldn’t want to hear from me.


As we prepared to head out, a mutual friend called and tried to get us to join him and three girls who “wanted to meet gaijin” by the river, but Grimm just as adamantly insisted that he join us at the castle for gaijin kabuki and ¥500 Meat-On-A-Stick.


We reached our highest point of the day by walking away with ¥2000 worth of Meat-On-A-Stick in a single purchase.


At the castle we made it our mission to convince everyone to come watch gaijin kabuki in an hour, and while we were in the midst of negotiations, we noticed that there did indeed seem to be five people in kimonos onstage at that very moment. After losing a brief battle with disbelief, Grimm and I decided we should move in for a closer look.


We arrived just in time to see the last of the gaijin being interviewed for TV at the end of the performance. The Sunday show had been secretly moved up an hour. All we could do was swing around to the back of the stage to say hello to some of the organizers, and while it was nice that some of them still recognized me and even remembered where I’d gone, it wasn’t exactly what we’d come for.


Last weekend I went to a kite festival in Hamamatsu and somehow managed to completely avoid seeing a single kite. Fate conspires against me.

Young Faces

Since I teach at a different school every day of the week and I assume that anything I wear has a 60% chance of being destroyed, I tend to end up wearing pretty much the same thing every day. I used to have quite a few different pairs of pants, but they’ve all gradually fallen apart to the point that I now have only two tan-green pairs that I’m willing to sacrifice. I’d never taken note of this decline in sartorial options until I overheard one of my grade ones asking her teacher why Maikeru-san always wore green pants. When I showed up at one school’s graduation ceremony in my old high school suit, the grade sixes just looked at me at went, “Oh… even your suit pants are green.”


At Monday Elementary I was playing a game with the grade threes and fours in which they would take turns calling out body parts to put each other into awkward positions. You would call things like, “Left hand, right foot,” and get your partner to touch his right foot with his left hand. The objective was to make your partner fall over.


I found one pair particularly amusing. Kenta started by calling “Right foot, left ear,” and he laughed it up as Taka struggled to lift his foot to his head. But he didn’t laugh long. Taka actually managed to prop his foot up there. Then Taka called in a voice that dripped of vengeance, “Left foot… RIGHT EYE!”


I have a new grade one student who once came to visit from kindergarten last year while I was teaching her older sister. When I first saw her this year, she didn’t get jumpy or excited like most kids; she just said, as she would to anyone else, “Ah... Maikeru-san. Hisashiburi.” (“Long time no see.”) She’ll come in while I’m sitting in the teachers’ office, climb up my legs and lie down on my chest like Piglet on Winnie the Pooh. She’s so incredibly cute that I can’t bring myself to stop her.

New Faces

After much panic and running around on the part of my superiors, there is now a new ALT in the town next door, bringing the total number of foreigners in the area to an unprecedented five. He arrived in Tokyo on a Wednesday, dropped by my place to pick up some bags he’d forwarded on Thursday, and came by for a multi-hour “talk” on Friday before he started work on Monday. Though I hadn’t been explicitly told as much, our “talk” would be all the training he’d receive before his first day in the classroom.


Nonetheless, St. Nick seems to be doing fine. Recalling the sweaty terror in which I awoke every morning of my first week, I’m quite envious of his easy transition. He’s Australian, 31, and spent seven months with Blight about a year ago. I’d secretly been hoping for a girl, but no such luck.


I gave him a beta copy of the CD-ROM I made, and he says it’s been useful. My boss was also impressed, and she says that if she sends it to Tokyo, they may offer me a position as the resident “art department,” which is exactly what I’d like to do for a few months after this contract expires next April.


I’m not holding my breath, but we’ll see what happens.


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April 2003