Japan is gripped in Olympic fever, an ailment most woefully ironic considering the medal count for the great country is (as I write this) a silver and a pair of bronzes. This fact notwithstanding, I just the other day watched a full thirty minute feature on the one Japanese male figure skater to medal, a bronze, during which they most intently covered his training and fantastic performance, making sure to include copious numbers of scenes dedicated to the man’s tear shedding. You’d swear he won not the bronze but the gold–nay, the platinum–some medal outside the reach of man, his emotional rollercoaster punctuated by strains of Canon, his ascent from this mortal plane complete. But no just the bronze. I’m happy for him. In a group that includes only two others thus far he has at least become a member of a group, which as a member of this society must feel real nice.
Aside from these medalist in-depths, and between shows focusing not on showing the medal-winning runs of other country’s athletes but the exhaustive examinations of the 5th, 8th, 20th, and 25th place performances of the Japanese, we can catch glimpses of the rabid viewing parties taking place across the nation. These events, though I have not witnessed them in person anyway, seem to consist of a school gymnasium filled with folding chairs, hundreds of avid fans pounding together plastic tubes and other mysterious noisemakers, and a crappy projector displaying a postage-sized image of the live event up in front where it can be barely seen.
The remaining hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of plucky 19-year-old poster-girl Mao Asada, who looks sort of like a frog crossed with a teen idol and who is the wish-I-was-her figure of high school girls everywhere. The media has been ruthless in drawing her into figurative battle with South Korean superstar Kim Yu-Na, the more aggressive, slightly provocative but petite wish-I-was-with-her figure of high school boys everywhere (and at least one American teacher of high schoolers). For her short program she skates around and gesticulates lasciviously to Monty Norman’s 007 Theme, which is probably the comfortable fantasy of most male ex-pats in this country. My co-workers are in the other room watching it right now. It’s like the Super Bowl, but only for three minutes, and with young girls in dresses.
As the games begin their slow draw to a close, so do the final dregs of winter, most specifically marked by today: a glorious, sunny, fresh-air 68 Fahrenheit wunderday the warmest we’ve had since before fall at least, an anomaly, in anticipation of which we yesterday opened our windows, put up the bed, and let that breeze clear the stale winter air. It’s invigorating and exciting, in that this is the first taste of the only Japanese season (they have four you know) I have yet to experience. It also heralds the firm crossing over of the halfway mark of my first year here. The seasons are not all that are beginning to change, however: so is the school year, and yesterday was the final day of classes at my main school for this term. In Japan, the school year works on a system of three terms, running roughly from April and with breaks for summer, winter, and spring. Since I started in August, at the start of the second term, that means that now, after two terms with my current crop of kidlings who will now be graduating to second year, I’ll have all new ones once spring break’s done. Conveniently that puts me in the office for the next two weeks with nothing to teach (final exam season again) and for the following two weeks with nothing to teach (spring break). I find little to dislike about this arrangement.
In product news, Fanta launched their new flavor today. It is called “Fanta もお~もお～ (Moo Moo) White” (the Moos being onomatopoeic for the noise a cow makes when it speaks Japanese, something like the English pronunciation of “Moe”) and seems to be positioning itself as kind of a rival to “Calpis Soda,” which is a carbonated version of Calpis, a popular milky-flavored sort of sweet soft drink. I stopped by the Daily Yamazaki on my way up to school and they had them, so I picked one up! Moo~Moo~ White contains calcium and is low in calories, and tastes maybe like what you’d expect? Kinda like milk, kinda sweet, almost encroaching on vanilla or banana territory. The bottle is even spotted like a cow. On TV they had some idol girl star dressed up in “gyaru” style (kind of like a overly trashy fake-tan yahoo with huge thick eye makeup and ridiculous exploded hair) who tried it and said “It’s good! Not just for gyaru, but kids will like it too!” You heard it here: you don’t need to sacrifice dignity for dubious fashion sense in order to drink cow Fanta (but nobody’s stopping you).
As I sat here typing this one of the teachers called out for “Daika-sensei.” I routinely ignored it for two reasons, the first of which being that almost nobody actually calls me by my last name, even though it is customary to address people by their last names here, here, because I’m a crazy wild-eyed foreigner and they try to do things just for me. This results in frequent awkward hybridizations of politeness and failure: most often I am addressed as “Mr. Brandon” or by some of the only half-wrong and endearing kids “Brandon-teacher” (at least they got the sensei right). At my special school, one young girl has taken to calling me Bura-pon or Don-pon which are nicknames I do not mind, but this is beyond the scope. The second reason I ignored it is that most of the time nobody actually refers to me as a teacher, either insulted that I am behaving as such or skeptical that someone so poor with the language of this country could be proficient in any language, and so they instead prefer the Mr. label from before or depending on the effort level they care to invest, Brandon-san (the errant translation of which is the American culturally-nonsensical “Mr. Brandon”). It took another couple of teachers repeating it, Daika-sensei, Daika-sensei, before I could even openly elucidate that I believed they were referring to me, ignoring for a moment there is no other “Daika” in the office and that daika is not(?) a frequently used word in Japanese.
Surely, part of the confusion comes because what with the lack of ending consonants that aren’t N in the Japanese language I have had to abbreviate my family name from its “er” ending to just an “a.” Where it gets more exciting is on my inkan, my personal seal with which I sign documents in Japan: most people just have katakana representations of their names but mine’s full on kanji, those good old Chinese characters: “Dai” meaning big, and “Ka” meaning deer. Yes the legendary big deer, the deer of lore, the American English Mr. Brandon teacher. They just had a FAX to give me me. Daika-sensei. My alter-ego. For a second I felt almost like a real person!
Just now one of the students entered the teacher’s room and called for my attention. I turned around to see what was the matter and was met with “Hello Brandon!” I returned the greeting, “Hi!” She milled about for a second or two, and then, having turned her back and begun her walk out the door, she shouted “I’M FINE THANK YOU!!” Had she said it to me, or at me at least, I’m not sure I would have had a response. “That’s good” or “you’re welcome?” Neither seems to suffice. “Gravy salad reads hyper clothes beast” probably would have been just as good.