Not Quite Tokyo

After years of being amused by the inanity of “mind the gap” signs on the subway in Toronto, it finally happened. Since I’d been standing in the doorway I was at the front of the crowd getting off the train when it arrived in Tokyo, and between the crush of people and the clunky baggage I was carrying I wasn’t able to turn around. When the door opened, I took a casual step backward in an attempt to make a graceful reverse exit and, naturally, perfectly inserted my leg into gap between the train and the platform. It turned out to be rather large. I stopped my fall partly with my baggage-laden arm and partly by twisting my thigh into the gap.


I lifted myself out and continued on as if nothing had happened. I think my body is getting acclimatized to impacts.


I took another train for about thirty minutes and, surprisingly, found the training centre fairly easily. I checked in and shelled out another of my precious 10,000 yen bills for the meal plan, which, although convenient, I only realized afterward was also about triple what I’d normally pay for a week of food.


Training started on Monday morning and ran until Friday afternoon. Compared to my Blight training, where I’d sat nearly silent with one other green teacher as the trainer had promulgated our Bible to us, it was actually fairly interesting. The forty-odd trainees had no qualms about picking at the two very personable trainers, and there was a lot of experience in the room. Quite a few were even former Blight teachers, although I think I was the only mid-contract refugee.


Between the first day finishing at 8:15, the homework were told to complete for the next morning at 8:30, and the training centre's 11:00 p.m. curfew, after which the doors locked and the staff went home, there was no way to make the thirty-minute trip to Tokyo at the end of the day. 


I still had a few things from Shizuoka cluttering up the back of my mind. I was worried about whether my new Aussie housemate had remembered to cover my private lesson on Monday as promised, and I was deliberating taking up his car rental offer since I still couldn’t get in touch with Grimm about using his van. I was no closer to figuring out how exactly I was going to move, and the conundrum was burning a hole in the back of my brain.


I think I finally managed to relax a little when, as I put the finishing touches on my homework around midnight, they played Sloan on Tokyo radio.

Lust for Life

Most of the training concentrated on junior high material, which started to cause me some concern since I already had a vague idea of what to do with junior high students, but no idea what to do in elementary school.


There is no fixed curriculum for elementary school. The government has taken an unusual risk and decided to allow elementary school English to sort itself out from the bottom up, so the only clearly-stated priority is the promotion of a “Zest for life,” which, although it always brings to mind an energizing jolt of Iggy Pop, doesn’t really give me a lot of direction.


When we finally did some elementary school work on the third day, one of our group tasks was to come up with specific games for each of the twenty “Classroom Activities” delineated in our manuals.


I decided right off the bat that sheep and other animals were a decent teaching point to start with and recommended something along those lines for the first activity. But every subsequent activity seemed to naturally lend itself to an animal solution, and I could do nothing to stop myself. Our group started laughing uncontrollably, first because of my total animal fixation and then because of my state of absolute sniggering paralysis that relented only long enough to chortle out another animal game. I nearly keeled over sideways.


When the others tried to calm down and come up with a game along another theme, I asked, “What does that have to do with animals?” and we sank into lunacy again. I think we got into a bit of trouble.


The two worst casualties were myself and a New Zealander with amazing halogen-blue eyes who was engaged to one of the other teachers.


When we had to present our ideas, the others refused to have anything to do with the madness I’d spawned, so I got to explain everything.


“Group One!” the trainer called out. “What do you have for Total Physical Response?”


“Um… touch an animal on the wall,” I said with a completely inappropriate grin.




“Uh… ‘What’s this animal?’”


“Role Play?”


“You’re an animal.”


“Cultural Activities?”

“Umm… animal sounds?”


Then we pretty much lost it again.


During the ensuing break, my Kiwi friend said she hadn’t had the giggles like that in years and refused to sit anywhere near me henceforth. She’d had to concentrate on something else just to keep herself from breaking out laughing.


“You’re welcome,” I said.


I felt amazing. I hadn’t been able to entertain anyone like that in ages.


When we watched a video of a crazy high-energy elementary school teacher, everyone was sure that that would be me. I appreciated their confidence, but I knew I was still a long way from knowing what I was doing. It did, however, give me the secret suspicion that I was going to be great.


Please note that whenever I put myself on a pedestal, the universe makes a point of crushing me very, very flat.


We were given time to prepare demonstration lessons on Thursday, and presented on Friday morning. I modelled myself after the crazy guy in the video we’d watched and basically tried to use raw energy to motivate my “students.” The other teachers had a few problems keeping up with me, but I thought it generally went well.


Then I saw what the other guys could do.


One girl had been Kids coordinator at her Blight branch for a year and a half, and she simply walked us through a series of games for an ESL class as if she were teaching us in our first language. Another lady had taught in high schools for seventeen years and had us doing a complex sequence of singing and actions before we even knew what we were doing. Some of the other teachers just taught straightforward lessons that were purely engaging, no tricks involved. I had to fool people into being excited by using mega-energy, but these guys knew how to generate it naturally.


I realize that the words “Teach to your strengths” apply here, but I was beginning to wonder if my strengths were really the ones I wanted.


I must note that I got a refreshing little taste of home when one of the teachers from Ontario sang, “Eyes, ears, mouth and nose.” She said “ma-oo-th.” I’ve heard nothing but “ma-oh-th” for months. I’ve even modified my own pronunciation since being mocked by my Australian co-workers.


I also learned the key difference between New Zealand and Australian accents: sux vs. six. Fufty vs. fifty. Aussies like to taunt Kiwis about that.

Back to Reality

Although I was leaving on Friday, I didn’t want to just slink off into the night, so I stayed around as long as I could after training finished. I’d made an idiot of myself and come out of my shell more than I’d ever intended—more than I had in ages—and the last few days had been filled with a sense of real camaraderie that I hadn’t felt since high school. I liked so many of the people there: the trainer who reminded me of one of my high school friends’ boyish sense of humour. The other trainer who’d happily joined the posse I was rounding up to go to the all-you-can-eat conveyor belt sushi (“kaitenzushi”) place with me. The former JET who seemed like a cross between two of my other high school friends, with whom I’d unsuccessfully gone looking for a five-star hotel swimming pool to crash. The Californian with the bag that made my Big Purple pack look like a baby. R from New York. P from Mac. Many more.


There were too many of us to simply walk into a restaurant or bar, so by the time people seemed to settle on a destination that could accommodate us, I had to go. We said legitimately heartfelt goodbyes and then I ran off to the station, where reality began to set in again.


I’d heard from Grimm that morning and discovered that he couldn’t help me move. I didn’t like the idea of my new Aussie housemate trying to find his way back from Izu on his own after dropping off my stuff, so I was considering shipping all of my things on Saturday and sleeping on the couch and borrowed bedding for one night, praying that the delivery service would operate late on a Sunday. Of course, I had no idea how to do any of this, and I had all of Saturday morning to pack up and figure it out.


I came back to discover that quite a few things had unfolded while I’d been away: in addition to visiting Izu, shrines, hills, and Toronto Girl, The Rover had successfully packed up everything in my room, dismantled my shelves, and determined that we could actually stuff all the bedding into two bags. We could carry everything ourselves if my Aussie housemate came along.


I should have kissed him for that.


But I was on such a low after coming from a place that had been suffused with all-but-forgotten friendly energy that I barely even thanked him. I just checked to make sure he hadn’t packed any breakables in vulnerable places.


I really don’t know how he put up with me.


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April 2002