Posted by: Megan | July 3, 2007

‘Sensei Sensei …’

Japan.  A land where; mobile phones have become ubiquitous, the excessive number of convenience stores combined with vending machines could potentially spill and end a third world crisis, Hello Kitty has become a bigger reigning phenomenon than Kylie Minogue, a complex clutter of telegraph wires too often obscure the beauty of Mt Fuji, the high speed of the Shinkansen spans the country, revolving sushi bars can cause a dizzy state of being, 1 day out of 365 can successfully be claimed as a ‘National Cleaning Day’ … English Teachers are employed to help give its nation the opportunity to travel and explore beyond a land believed to be the first to be awakened by the rising sun!


As one of those English Teacher in Japan, at one point, I’m not entirely sure exactly if my students were any closer to leaving site of that remarkable metamorphosis of the rice terraces that surrounded them year in, year out? Never the less, my time as one ceased to amaze and … moreover amuse me (and possibly my students) …


The story of The Three Pigs set out to be nothing more than a valuable lesson in terms of language acquisition for my young class of Japanese students (and their mothers). In a ‘Mother Hen Manner’ I read and showed pictures of the tale of how three pigs grew so big that their mother told them they had to leave home! Little pig, little pig, let me in – part of the story went. Not by the hair of my chiny-chin-chin – part of the story continued. But, it was at this precise ‘part’ where I noticed the colour of the mother’s faces turning from porcelain to rouge blushes and the chorus of giggles from their children. While I was delighted that this story had such a crowd pleaser affect, at the time, I couldn’t work out quite why the Three Little Pigs proved so popular, and so continued to finish the story. As equally perplexed as I felt from such a lesson, the mothers bowed in thanks as they left my lesson, and the giggles could still be heard from their children until they were just out the door. I then asked one of the Japanese teachers who understood English afterwards why my lesson received such a reaction only to learn that chin chin is a Japanese expression that refers to the male genitals. And so, that was the end of The Three Little Pigs … at least in my teachings within Japan …

The song-game of the Hokey-Pokey set out to be much more successful than the story of The Three Pigs – at least in terms of teaching English! So, when my young class of Japanese students came back the next week I tried (and tried) to demonstrate the nature of the game! You put your left hand in (right hand in, left leg in, right leg in …). You put your left hand out (right hand out, left leg out, right leg out …). You put your left hand in (right hand in, left leg in, right leg in …) and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey-Pokey, and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about! But … was it what it was all about? Not really when my class would sit still and just watch me like a great piece of Shakespearean theatre as opposed to participating in a great piece of English lesson. I mean it was all very well that I managed to possibly create a world first standing ovation of the Hokey-Pokey but seriously … And so, that was the end of the Hokey-Pokey … at least in my teachings within Japan …

I was never quite sure really what I was saying to my students at times (or teaching them rather), given that they thought I spoke fluent Japanese (and I desperately wanted them to speak fluent English). Sometimes I would wonder why they would just disappear to the bathroom, or run wild around the room, or knock over the big soft coloured blocks, or even … look set to go home! Quite possibly their actions were all a result of them chanting ‘Sensei Sensei’ (teacher teacher) … and me responding ‘Hi Hi Hi’ (yes yes yes) without really having any bloody clue what they said beyond ‘Sensei’! Possibly it could be said, at times, that my great ‘debut’ Hokey-Pokey performance displayed more potential talent in the acting field than it was fast becoming the classroom!





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  1. Amongst hobbies listed by my first-year Japanese Uni English class was: I like to touch dogs (submitted by a quiet lad).
    An instant lesson developed on the difference between “patting, petting and touching”

  2. I had the pleasure of working in Japan for two years and I had many of what I like to call ‘Hello Japan!’ moments like these. In fact I feel like I could write a book with all my experiences. And I probably would it if wasn’t for the fact that it appears 4 out of 5 people who complete my teaching programme do this. I mean really, how many times do we have to read about crazy Kocho Sensei’s (principal of a school) drunken antics at the office enkai (party)? Every English teacher experiences this at some point in their stay; do we really have to keep documenting it?? Anyway, I have now resigned myself to the fact that since others before me have stolen my dream of publishing my Japan memoirs (and no, I’m not bitter ), my only option is to blog my tales. This is one of my favourites.

    I taught at a high school nestled in the mountains in a small rural village in Tottori Prefecture (set the scene, set the scene!). No-one has ever heard of my prefecture – not even most Japanese! Its claim to fame is a big pile of sand, and a humble pear. One of my jobs at my school was to help prepare students who were participating in the local English speech competition. One of my students, let’s call her Yuri, came to me one day with the speech she had carefully constructed on her best Hello Kitty notepaper. She nervously handed me the speech without saying a word and then quietly shuffled backwards out the room while executing a perfect series of bows to me.

    I was looking forward to reading her work as Yuri was one of the few students in my class who could string a sentence together which said more then ‘I like printclub’ or ‘Miss Berinda is bery pletty’ – cute and accurate, but not particularly inspiring as an English teacher. So you can imagine my surprise when this is what I read:

    “In my school vacation I went to Kobe with my father. He took me to see my favourite band Limp Bizkit. I love Limp Bizkit. I think lead singer Fled Durst is very cute! But you know Fled Durst is sometimes naughty man. Last year he was on TV and did the f**k sign. You know, middle finger up in air! I was so excited to go to concert with my father! At the concert Fled Durst came in front of me. I lost myself, and I cried! I will never forget it!”

    After drying the tears from my eyes I didn’t really know where to start in correcting her work. I mean how do you correct something that is so brilliantly, and innocently, written? In the end I had to bow (pardon the pun) to the speech competition standards and butcher dear Yuri’s fabulous prose, but I still wish I could have stood in the auditorium that day while Yuri read her original speech, untouched, and delivered in her sweet, lilting tones.

  3. Teaching English in japan was defintitley an eye opening experience, especially with my limited grasp of English grammar. Students were constantly asking me if a certain word was a noun or a verb to which I replied…’Well what do you think it is?’ and I agreed with whatever they said…after all they knew more grammar than I did.

    One particular highlight was teaching a group of middle aged mothers every Wednesday. It was bascially a social get together where they would take me out to lunch and speak to me in Japanese. I couln’t believe I was getting paid to do this.

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