It will come as no surprise to my readers that Junior high school students in Japan are required to wear a uniform to school every day. The uniform, among many other aspects of school life, promotes conformity and discourages that great Western deharmonizing plague: flagrant individuality.
However, if you look closely at the students (and I wish I had pictures to further illustrate this) you will see their desire to be different just aching to be released. Looking at a student’s style and accessory choice can often give you clues as to their character.
Sometimes it’s something as subtle as a pencil case which sits prominently atop every desk. One girl has Betty Boop while another has a red, yellow and green case with a big marijuana leaf. (which is shocking in a society with such strict drug laws.)
Then, there’s the uniform itself. Some girls wear the skirt full length, while some roll it up til it is essentially a mini skirt. The third year students usually have it as high as it will go without revealing the panties beneath.
As for the boys, they will go tie-less, or let the tails of the shirt out, or, since the white uniform dress shirt is sort of sheer, wear a brightly colored t-shirt beneath it with some logo or wording or picture sure to draw attention. There are a variety of belts that jump out at you and key chains that hang and dangle…some magic marker their hands and arms. Some have the craziest hairstyles…some are so outlandish you almost forget they’re in uniform (are a facsimile thereof).
But, in my three plus years as an ALT I had not seen what I have encountered here at my new school. There is not 1, nor 2, but THREE students here (2 guys and a girl) who have foregone the uniform altogether and come to school every day in street clothes. And, not conservative street clothes. I’m talking “whatever the fuck they want” street clothes.
Hanabi-kun (His pseudonym will be self-explanatory momentarily) is one of these un-uniformed boys. I met him my first week here and on our first meeting I actually thought he was a rather young-looking teacher or a super cool maintenance worker. I greeted him as an equal, until I looked down at his feet and noticed that he was wearing the slippers of a third year student (each school year wears a different color slipper.)
I was amazed.
He was wearing a hoodie, black jeans and a pair of cool-ass sunglasses. He spoke to me without nervousness and rolled his “r” like yakuza do. When a couple of his cronies from his homeroom spotted him chatting with me in the hallway they jumped on him! “Baka yarrrrou!” (You assholes!) he yelled.
Yep, I liked him, immediately.
Yesterday, while I was sitting in the teacher’s office trying to look busy, along with 6 or 7 other teachers without classes to teach 5th period, there was a sudden explosion outside the office window. I knew it was a firecracker. From a lifetime of living in the ghetto I knew a gunshot when I heard one and a firecracker when I heard one. Knowing the difference can make a big difference back home. Besides, if you jumped at a firecracker’s pop back home you’d probably get laughed at. Especially in the summer when firecrackers were more common than gunshots. But, still, I jumped a bit because I rarely even hear firecrackers here in Japan.
Especially not at work.
The other teachers all jumped up like this was a drill they’d been rehearsing for for years. They all made that Japanese sound, kind of like a “Huh!?” Then, it was like an Earthquake Drill, where every teacher knew his or her duty. There’s a sliding door in the teacher’s office that leads out to the field where the noise had come from, and the teachers all headed through it,one sliding it open for the others as they fanned out in various directions, without huddling to discuss who would go where.
It was the damnedest thing.
Apparently this was not the first occurrence of this, I deduced. (Genius, aint I?)
I walked over to the door, and across the field I caught a glimpse of Hanabi-kun, running away from the school. (btw Hanabi means fireworks in Japanese…)
Then, today, I was teaching a third year class; Hanabi-kun’s class. He likes me, I think. Either that or he’s just not a disruptive presence in the class. He sat in the rear of the class, in his Adidas sweatsuit, baseball cap and shades, looking like a Run-DMC fan. Then, something happened that, again, had never happened in my tenure: A cellphone rang. I glanced at Wakahara sensei, the third year English teacher (who I will discuss at another time), deciding to take my cue from him as to how to respond to this. He smiled, milquetoast with cheese, and said nothing.
“Moshi Moshi!” Hanabi hollered. Then, realizing he was disrupting the class, stood up and went to the sliding door that led out onto the balcony overlooking the field, slid the door open, stepped out, closed the door behind him, kind of half-bowed to Wakahara sensei through the window and took a walk along the balcony where, from other classrooms along the hall, he could be seen, continuing his conversation.
Hanabi didn’t return until the bell had rung. And, he was still on the phone when he got back.
It really was the damnedest thing…