03 October 2011 ~ 7 Comments

What Were Yakuza Like As Junior High School Students?

When I was about 10 years old, and a student at a private school (I’ve touched on the nature of the school I attended several times in past posts) we had a protocol for answering questions. The teacher would pose a question like, “What is the product of 5 and 5?” (Yeah, they would word the question funny to try and trip you up…) The student with the answer would raise his hand. The teacher would call on the student, and that student would then, according to the protocol, hop up from his seat, stand at attention, and…say: “Hapa (here, in Swahili) I appreciate what’s been said, and if I understand correctly, the product is 25.”

Yeah, it was a mouthful for a 10 year old.

Here in a Japanese JHS, there’s a protocol, too.

The teacher’s office here is considered holy ground. At least the teachers feel so, and would like the students to respect that notion. So, there is a protocol students must follow in order to enter or speak with a teacher. A humbling one, of course. And depending on the anal retentiveness or slackness of the teachers there, does this sanctity depend. For example, at one of my schools, if a student comes to the office to speak with a teacher he must follow, “to a T”, the following protocol: They must first knock, then beg forgiveness for having disturbed the honorable teachers within. Then announce themselves by name, year and class. Then, even if the teacher they want to speak with is standing before them or is in clear view, they must ask whether or not that teacher is currently in the office. And then they must wait for an official response.

It sounds something like this: (knock knock!) Shitsurei Shimasu (Please forgive my intrusion / rudeness). Ichi nen, ni kumi no Kawasaki Hideki desu kedo. (but, I am Hideki Kawasaki of the 1st year 2nd class,) Takahashi Sensei Irrashaimasuka? (inquiring after Takahashi sensei. Might she be in this exalted space?)

Some teacher would bark in response: “Inai! ” (Nah, so get lost!) or “Imasen!” (I’m afraid not…) Or, if the teacher were there they’d go to the door to speak with the student. Once their business is completed, the student would then take their leave but not before saying, “Shitsurei shimashita!” (Sorry to have disturbed you!)

This is a mouthful for Japanese students, as well. So, until they get it right, at one school, the teacher will stand at the door with the student having them repeat it over and over. This is usually done to the 1st year students to establish who’s running the show around here.

By the time the kids are 3rd year students, the protocol is rote and they’ve injected their own personalities into the protocol. They might replace “Irrashaimasuka?” with the less formal “Imasu ka” or even with the informal “inai no?” if they’re one of the knuckleheads / wiseguys. But every student goes through some variation this protocol…or else!

In the 10 minute break between classes, the kids usually horse around, read manga, play cards (sometimes trump cards, sometimes Konami Yogioh cards or some other brand) or just stand around the old fashioned-looking kerosene stove heater in the classroom trying to stay warm (there’s no central heating in Junior High Schools) like it’s a camp fire. Sometimes the girls even sing songs.However, there are two students from every class whose responsibility it is to come to the teacher’s office and aid the teacher of the next class with whatever supplies they may have to tote. We often use a boom box, so the two students would carry the teacher’s bag with our lesson materials in it and the boom box up to the classroom (I think this duty rotates but it always seems to be the same students to me).

I guess this duty must have rotated around to Matsui-kun and Satou-kun.

I was sitting at my desk trying to not look like I was writing a book, when the sliding door to the office slammed open with the racket of a iron security gate on a Bodega in Brooklyn, followed by a high-pitched voice at the highest possible volume, screaming: “SHITSUREI SHIMASU!” filled the office.

Some teachers actually jumped out of their seats like a gun had gone off, while others whiplashed their necks turning for the door. I was accustomed to this yelling, and so were the other 1st year teachers sitting over in their section near the door, my beleaguered co-worker, Takahashi-sensei among them. But, the other teachers were totally alarmed. Which tickled Matsui senseless. He started laughing in the doorway.

When he noticed me he screamed, walking into the office, “OI! LOCO SENSEI, BABAA UZAI DESHOU? HA HA HA!!!” (Yo, Loco Sensei! Takahashi is an annoying bitch isn’t she?) This has become his greeting…this or some other insult of Takahashi. I’d made the mistake of laughing once at a joke he made one day in the hall. So, now, whenever he sees me, he lets them fly. “BABAA HA DOKO? INAI NO?” (Where is that bitch, anyway? Aint she here?) Then he turned where he knew she was sitting and said. “BETSU NI, MITSUKECHATTA! (Nevermind, I found her!) KORA, TEME ISOGE!” Listen here, hurry the fuck up!”

I can’t tell you how much of an aberration this is from the norm. He might as well had pulled a Columbine and started spraying the faculty with an automatic weapon.

The teachers were sitting around in various stages of shock. At the head of the office, the principal and Vice principal were witnesses, too. The principal came from behind the front desk and all heads turned.

This was to be a moment.

He walked towards Matsui, carrying his girth like an ex-jock, his authority gathered all up around his chest and shoulders. Matsui turned and saw the principal approaching him. I almost thought I saw something in his eyes that might have been intimidation, but it was only there for a micro-second, and I think it had more to do with the principal’s height (he’s actually taller than me, at about 185 cm) than any threat he actually posed.

Joker and Bob the Goon

“Daijoubu???” (Are you ok?) The principal asked, in a way that conveyed the question, ‘what’s your problem??’ or ‘Are you outta your mind?’

“Daiiiijoubu da yo ne!”  Matsui responded with a tone that said flat out,”I don’t have problems, Mr. Man- I MAKE problems! You looking for problems? You came to the right place!

All of this as Satou-kun came creeping into the scene, sidling up beside him, like a shadow taking form. It was as if he’d sensed the tension brewing and decided, seemingly independently, that if something was going to go down  he wasn’t going to let anything happen to Matsui. It would be someone else’s misfortune.

He’d make a great secret service agent…if Matsui were Prime Minister.

The principal suddenly noticed the arrival of Satou-kun next to Matsui, looking evil, and took an unconscious step backwards. He really didn’t know what to make of this furtive maneuver.

But, I did. In NY we’d call that gangster. Straight Gangster.

Reminded me of  Joker and Bob the Goon in the first Batman movie. Joker was a crazy, ruthless, genius, but Bob the Goon got shit done, and was ever-ready to bust a cap in someone’s ass. Joker didn’t even have to reach for his gun, and in one scene in the movie he had actually been unprepared for an assault; but Bob the Goon…he never slept. I’d always wondered what Yakuza Cats might have been like in Junior High School.

Now I know…


Takahashi was standing there like she had been hoping and praying that the principal would do something on her behalf, maybe expel the boy, or at least scold him for blatantly disregarding the protocol in the office; something no other student in the school, other than the mentally challenged cases in the Special Class, has done. Something which if not aggressively discouraged could certainly undermine discipline and bring chaos.

But, he didn’t.

The principal turned to Takahashi, and, without words or even body language, conveyed the message, ‘You heard him: get a move on, Missy! Get this little menace outta my office. Can’t you see he’s embarrassing me in front of my staff?!’

It was all in his eyes.

Then, as if to amplify the sound in the principal’s eyes, Matsui yelled. “ISOGE BABAA!” (Move your ass, bitch!) 

Mission accomplished, Matsui headed for the door. At that door, he spun around on his heels, scanned the room like he’d forgotten something, smiled and screamed, “SHITSUREI SHIMASHITA!!!”

And he left. Satou-kun slowly followed him out, covering his rear. His eyes cut from teacher to teacher to administrator, almost hoping for someone to try to play the hero .

He never said a word.


Who is this guy, Loco, anyway? Click here!

PS: This is a re-post!

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7 Responses to “What Were Yakuza Like As Junior High School Students?”

  1. Kaley 3 October 2011 at 9:53 pm Permalink

    Literally laughed my ass off the whole time I read this.

    The most interesting thing about Japanese schools, to me, is the student’s respect and treatment of the teacher’s room. You can tell A LOT about a student by how seriously they take the role of entering and exiting the teachers room.

    My favorite moments are when two teachers are stuck in a deep conversation about something and a student comes to the door and I’m the only one to talk to. That look of sheer fear of having to potentially talk to me always makes me giggle on the inside.

  2. Kaley 3 October 2011 at 9:54 pm Permalink

    And I just wanted to add that I am 185cm tall. Yeah. I’m taller than you. T_T

  3. Will 3 October 2011 at 11:27 pm Permalink

    Loco…thanks for re-posting this one, it brings back memories.
    In one of the junior high schools I used to work at, student population must have been well over 500…the place was huge, at least it felt that way with eight classes per grade. The office was more like a war room and the grounds more like a zoo. All of the teachers looked tired when they actually had a chance to come in and sit down. I think most were required to maintain some sort of presence among the general population at all times. If an instructor actually happened to be in the teachers room and a student came by looking for someone, protocols were definitely followed, but usually in a way that sounded like a plea. For those who needed to attempt to blow off a little steam, there was a ‘chill-out’ room that would quickly turn opaque with during the occasional breaks. The vice-principal was definitely an ex-jock who probably still trained at something, his demeanor that of someone whose duty was to give the ‘steers and queers’ welcome speech in his previous incarnation…the few weeks I was there, each morning started out with a ‘mission briefing’ worthy of a nod from Sgt. Phil. Wanna-be gangsters weren’t a problem, there was too much else that was barely kept under control. Like any good school, everybody there definitely put in their hours and were treated with the kind of disrespect worthy of any crony-filled board of education. There was talk of shutting down another junior high nearby and consolidating to save money. Nobody complained…but I never saw anyone step out of line in a challenging sort of way, maybe because they were just too busy. The vice-principal had a heart, and he gave off the impression that he took the idea of education seriously (even if a stick might have been required). He always seemed like he was moving too fast to slow down, but he was approachable. He definitely lead by example with his tie tucked in and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Can’t say I’ve seen this too many other places…

  4. Momotaro 4 October 2011 at 10:47 am Permalink

    What a weak bastard. Good job on undermining that teacher’s authority and ruining any chance of Takahashi being able to control the student. For supposedly a culture that does anything to avoid loss of face, I have seen instances like this quite a few times. It always seems that these rules only apply going down the hierarchy and the old buggers can do whatever they like.

    I used to be a high school teacher before coming here; however us teachers used to stick together and support one another in situations like this, with the student usually learning who was boss and submitting a little bit, even if they were quite a reckless student. Some of those boys can get big and scary and were sometimes physically bigger than me, but you have to keep looking in their eyes and let them know who is boss. As soon as the principal took a step back, the kid already knows who is the boss and any discipline will be very difficult. I managed to develop some good relationships with students like that in the end from going in hard, somehow it results in them respecting you.

    It often baffled me how the teachers would fly off the handle at a student who hadn’t handed in homework because they had most likely not understood it and just needed to have it explained to them again. They were otherwise a good student and being yelled at probably just took away whatever self-confidence they had and any pleasure they derived from learning. These junior gansters on the other hand do what they like and the teachers try to negotiate and bargain with them, it just seemed like cowardice to me.

    One of the vice-principles at a rough school I worked at was similar to the above comment, always getting his hands dirty and giving any rude student a nice verbal kick up the bum. He used to speak this great working class Japanese which worked well with the students. I thought he was quite a good bloke and a great teacher.

  5. Eddie 4 October 2011 at 10:11 pm Permalink

    That whole situation was just ignorant but I couldn’t stop my laughter.

  6. Stacey 5 October 2011 at 9:14 pm Permalink

    As I read this, it was like a manga was being drawn in my brain! Love your writing Loco~

    I laughed a little, but I can’t help but feel sorry for the lady teacher :( What did she do to deserve being called names by a student? I kind of just want to hug her now…

  7. dochimichi1 13 October 2011 at 5:25 am Permalink

    Me too, felt really bad for the teacher! After I stopped laughing. Brilliantly observed and written!

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