A little about Matsui-kun.
I remember the first time I met him. I came to the class prepared to do my usual introduction lesson, where I talk about myself, in the simplest English possible, while showing pictures of my family back home in the US. In most cases this is the first interaction with a foreigner so I try to make it a pleasant experience and as entertaining as possible by hamming it up a bit. I always intend to withhold the fact that I know Japanese because once they know that, well, what’s the sense of trying to speak English some of them conclude…that is, those who hadn’t come to that conclusion before they even walked in the door.
But, inevitably, I slip up by responding to something said in Japanese unwittingly or saying something only someone fluent in Japanese would say, or even behaving the way speaking Japanese modifies one’s behavior. Kids pick up on the slightest things.
Matsui-kun picked up on it first.
Matsui-kun is the smallest kid in the class and has the happiest disposition of anyone in the class, maybe any student I’ve ever met; genki (energetic) to the Nth degree. At first glance you get the impression that he’s trying to compensate for his stature with his character, like some Japanese-version of the Napoleonic complex. Only he does it with a great deal of charm. And, you almost root for him, want him to be successful. He laughs and jokes non-stop and only speaks with the volume on max. One of those kids you’re more likely to use gentler words like rascal or mischief-maker than menace or delinquent. Everything except his size reminded me of someone I knew.
It was clear from that first day who the leader of this class was going to be. Most of the students knew each other already having mostly come from the same elementary school, and Matsui-kun had probably been the leader back there, too. I didn’t think about any of this that first day, though. I was too busy trying to make a good first impression to seriously assess the students. But, Matsui-kun…he was assessing me, aloud.
“LOCO SENSEI! YOU CAN SPEAK JAPANESE CAN’T YOU,” he yelled in Japanese with the kind of joviality that is hard to resist, joy in every word.
“A little,” I said, giving my pat answer.
“YOU’RE LYING!” he snapped with a raucous giggle. Then he jumped out his seat and started addressing the class. “HEY EVERYBODY, THIS GUY CAN SPEAK JAPANESE…BETTER WATCH WHAT YOU SAY!”
Takasashi-sensei was there beside me. This was her home room but I could see in her demeanor that she had already relinquished control of this class. Somehow, in the week before this first lesson, Matsui-kun had pulled a coup d’etat and while she remained the figurehead lame duck Empress, he was Shogun. But,don’t think for a moment that this kind of thing is unusual. It isn’t. In Japanese schools, the teachers pretty much let the kids do what the hell they want and because of the respect elements in the culture generally that means study hard and behave accordingly. But, maybe 10% of the time, at least in my experience, there are classes who decide that they’d much rather run amok, and do.
“LOCO SENSEI, HOW DID YOU LEARN JAPANESE?”
Since the cat was out of the bag, I said, “I’ve been living here for 6 years so…”
“…YOU GOT A JAPANESE GIRLFRIEND, RIGHT?”
“…what?? that’s none of your business. Listen, sit down and let’s…”
“…LOCO-SENSEI SUKEBE! (horny / lecher) HA HA HA HA HA HA!”
Everybody laughed. I glanced at Takahashi sensei, again. She turned bright red and started scolding Matsui-kun. Her scolding fell on deaf ears, though. Half the class was held enthralled by Matsui-kun’s audacity while the other half seemed embarrassed or too scared not to laugh. Matsui-kun scanned the room while he held forth from his throne. He apparently siphoned energy from his audience. Then, he turned to me.
“LOCO-SENSEI, GOMEN NE (I’m sorry) Matsui-kun cried at the top of his voice. He jumped up out of his seat again and ran towards me and jumped in my arms. I caught him instinctively, and he gave me the warmest most affectionate hug I’d ever gotten from a student, even warmer than some of the girlfriends I’ve had in Japan. I was dumbfounded. Here was this little rascal in my arms, hugging me about the neck like it was the most natural thing in the world; I actually thought he was going to kiss me on the cheek. He was light as a toddler and I didn’t let him down immediately. It was a moment. We had bonded, somehow. At least I felt something.
And, I realized just then who he reminded me of:
He reminded me of me…when I’m drunk.
to be continued…