10 February 2017 ~ 7 Comments

On Bullying, Hazing, and Backbiting in Japan

My eye caught the hand movement and spotted the projectile as soon as it left its source: Matsui-kun.

Takahashi-sensei (not her real name), the other half of my teaching team, was writing something on the board, her back to the class. She didn’t know she was a target. She probably couldn’t imagine being the target of anything thrown (or fired) by a student. Myself, along with most of the class, watched this object sail across the room, in slow motion, from the back of the class where Matsui-kun sat on a beeline for Takahashi-sensei, only to land short of its target somewhere between the first row and the teacher’s desk, then roll towards Takahashi-sensei’s feet. She never saw it.

But I did. And, immediately, I saw red.

It was the first time I’d felt rage directed at a student. I mean, as far as I was concerned what Matsui-kun did, even if done playfully, amounted to attempted assault and battery. And to make it worse, it was done practically in my face as if to say, “you don’t even matter in my world, Loco-sensei,” confirming my suspicions about how many people here consider my feelings and dislodging some other deep-seated insecurities as well, I suspect. On top of that, I have about as much tolerance for that kind of shit as my mother had for her kids cussing in her house: Zero!

…And, before I knew it, before I could consider the ramifications of such an act, I had hurled the piece of chalk in my hand across the room and hit Matsui-kun square in the chest. If I had been holding a coffee mug, that too would have been sent flying his way…perhaps anything as big as a dictionary would have grown wings in my hand.

Why? A little background:

First about Takahashi-sensei. She is still relatively new at this teaching thing. She has been at it for only a year so basically she’s still an apprentice, a New Jack English teacher. She’s very nice, smart, and her English is not awful. But, unfortunately for her, something about her rubs her co-workers the wrong way. At least that’s what I thought. I mean. I couldn’t imagine that the stern treatment, the accusatory tones and harsh criticism she received was simply hazing. Hell, I had been working with these people almost two years when she arrived and they had (with a few exceptions) from the start shown me a great deal of patience and consideration…even after my Gaijin Honeymoon (the special treatment and allowances granted because I was a foreigner) was over.

Even my closest friend in the school, Kawaguchi-sensei, who I’d never heard and therefore couldn’t imagine doing as much as even raising her voice, treats Takahashi-sensei worst than Burakumin were (are) treated.

Burakumin (Japanese outcast)

Every conversation any teacher had with Takahashi-san- in particular the other female teachers- they seemed to be at the brink of exasperation, like at any point they might either storm away, spit in her face or drop-kick her.

At first, I thought it was simply jealousy. After all, all of the teachers aside from Takahashi-san are well over 40 and some over 50, while Takahashi-san was 23, fresh from university, cute, fashionable, and to kick them all while they were down, she’s been blessed /cursed with bountiful breast; and she favors tight-fitting cleavage-accentuating sweaters. At least she used to. But, I couldn’t believe it was that simple. Whenever an answer seems to be arrived at without much thought I question it. It’s my habit.

So, I asked my buddy Kawaguchi-san (who seemed quite beside herself sometimes when she interacted with Takahashi-san) what the deal was. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that Tahakashi was a fuck-up and lies to cover up her fuck ups. I was shocked. Not at the prospect of Takahashi fucking up. She was a new jack. There were bound to be fuck ups. Not even about her lying about it. Hell, there are approximately two ways to deal with having fucked something up: face the music or duck blame. Most people, in my experience, duck blame if possible.

No, what surprised me was Kawaguchi’s venom and total loss of decorum. She’d usually hedge around harsh declarations…with her, nothing was ever absolutely wrong, it was always chotto chigau to omoimasu (a little wrong /different to my thinking.) Nothing tasted like shit to her, it was always aji ga chottoooooo (The taste is a little ummm….) She even uses fairly formal Japanese when she is addressing students, something very few teachers do. So, who the hell was this woman, I wondered.

She told me about how, on several occasions, Takahashi would screw up such and such a report and lie about it or she’d be late for meetings pretending not to have been informed about such and such and blah, blah, blah… While she was talking I just kept searching her face for some sign of the women that was there before Takahashi had joined the staff. The woman I knew wasn’t petty or malicious at all. Then again we had only worked and sat side by side for a year or two. How well does anybody know anybody anyway? Not to downplay the seriousness of these misdemeanors Takahashi was accused of (and being punished for) but Kawaguchi-san was going off the deep end over them.

In her first year, Takahashi-sensei was the home room teacher of a third year class, but this year, she was given a class of first year students. I actually thought it was a great break for her. The third year students know all the ropes and I figured they’d drive her crazy. Just last year, one of the crazy third year students hauled off and slapped the shit out of the home room teacher, but that student, Senri was her name, was certifiable…an actual future mental patient, and by no means represented the student body. The first year students last year had been soooo sweet. You could just eat them. They spent half the year shy and obedient and the second half obedient, fun and eager to learn. This year’s crop of first years, however, are another fucking story. It’s like there was some kind of rotation, equally dispersing the worst of the worst from the worst elementary school in the area among all the junior high schools in Yokohama, and it was our school’s turn to take on this lot from that Elementary school…

Poor Takahashi-sensei. It was bad enough she was being bullied by her colleagues, but now she has to figure out how to get a class of future nine-fingered Yakuza, hostesses and Pachinko parlor employees to appreciate studying anything, especially something as utterly useless as English. I started feeling sorry for her, despite my buddy Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Kawaguchi’s admonitions about her. I hadn’t even realized at first that I had become her ally. Maybe I commiserated because I saw some parallels between our predicaments. Like me, here she was in an environment where the natives treat her with hostility for reasons beyond her control. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a pretty face and bodacious assets.

Sometimes she comes to school looking like she’s one harsh word away from losing it. What she would do then, who knows. In America, emptying a 45. automatic into your boss or several magazines of M-16 shells into everyone in the office or simply quitting might be option A, but here in Japan, people in her situation- disliked, and treated like shit, even due to the standard hazing at a job- have been known to off themselves; suicide seems to be option A and B. I became really concerned about her. I really didn’t want anything like that to go down on my watch, knowing I could have done something about it.

Sometimes Takahasi-san and I will have private moments together. Like in the recording studio when we’re preparing tests for the students and we need to record English conversations…we’d be alone in the booth behind closed doors and she’d give me some deep eye contact and say, “Tsukarechatta.” (I’m tired!) I’d heard that word used that way several times before. Like when I broke-up with my ex-girl. She’d begun using that phrase in reference to our relationship months before as our relationship slowly deteriorated. The nuance being more at “I’ve exhausted all options,” than simply “I’m tired.” At those times I’d share little anecdotes about my experiences with Takahashi-sensei. Stories from my first year at the school and how trying it was, and continues to be, to fit in but how, little by little, it had gotten more bearable. I’d end these stories with a “Gambarimasyou” (let’s hang in there) so she’ll feel less alone.

When I spoke to Kawaguchi-san about Takahasi-san, I never failed to mention how well she was coming along and give her examples of how she’d handle a particular problem or resolved an issue in the class. Kawaguchi-san was beyond appeasement though. She’d listen to me, not knowing where I was coming from, not realizing that I had taken on the task of Takahashi advocate, and counter every kudo I offered with some slander.

I couldn’t really argue with Kawaguchi-san though. I too noticed that though Takahashi-san was clearly qualified to teach English, she lacked certain other skills necessary to manage a classroom. She was at the bottom of the totem pole in the office, and scolded constantly, and it seemed the students (these worst of the worst students) sensed her feeling of powerlessness and instability, and instead of seeing someone they should handle with kid gloves, they saw easy pickings. Walking into her class was like walking on the set of a new TV series called: “Kids Gone Wild.” Whenever I joined the class and once they saw my face, a face they didn’t see everyday due to my schedule- but every two weeks or so, a ripple of uncertainty would course through the room. “Should we continue to act like we ain’t got no sense in our heads or comport ourselves in a respectful manner?” Most would go with the latter…but there are two kids who opt, unfailingly, for the former.

One is Satou-kun, a 13-year old future henchman / Yes man for some Yakuza boss. He doesn’t have a bone of leadership in his body, which is not unusual among kids of any country most especially Japan. He sits quietly waiting to see which way things will go. He takes his cues from another student, the leader:

Matsui-kun…

*****

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 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 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 terms 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 and 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’état 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 as they please 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 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 a while 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, siphoning energy from his audience. Then, he turned back 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 leapt into 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, truth be told. 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. Well, at least I felt something. And, I realized just then who he reminded me of:

He reminded me of me…when I’m drunk.

*****

From our first meeting on, this had become our routine: I’d come to the class a little early and catch him rattling windows with his vociferous screeching and menacing other students…upon seeing me, he’d stop whatever he was doing, holler, “LOCO-SENSEI!” and run-jump into my arms, all hugs and an irresistible quality.

Having routines with students was not unusual. I have about a couple dozen students with which I have a greeting routine, many consisting of some variation of the pound or the pound hug. They’ve seen in umpteen movies that black people have some of the coolest handshakes and most of the students had memorized their favorites and were dying to try them on the real thing — you know: me. Some of these handshakes I recognize, and remember the movie, video or TV show that gave them international fame, but some of them were obscure. Some of them, when executed proficiently by a sixteen year old Japanese boy, surprise the hell out of me.

But, Matsui-kun simply liked leaping into my embrace, like a loving son might do upon his beloved father’s return from a prolonged business trip abroad, or a chimpanzee might do when his favorite trainer shows up with a tasty treat. I think that’s the feeling he might have tapped into…something paternal and protective, because when I saw him I was all cheesy grins and open arms.

Yep, he’d found my weak point and charmed the hell outta me.

His charms didn’t work on Takahashi-sensei, though. She saw right through him for the terrorist that he was. He was a non-conformist, something I found admirable but Takahashi called, “trouble” almost from the start. It took me a little while to see through my sakura-tinted lenses, though. I was still seeing Spanky, not Damien.

Spanky

Damien

But it wasn’t long before I saw the “666” birthmark behind his ear.

One day, a couple of weeks into the semester, he decided that English class was recess, the classroom was the playground, his classmates were his flock, and Takahashi-sensei was the Jungle Jim, the see-saw and the swings…almost metaphorically speaking. I mean, he didn’t actually ride Takahashi-san, not physically anyway, and his classmates weren’t exactly overly willing participants, but the rest is a non-metaphorical description. All learning or even pretense at learning ceased.

I’ve been at this for a few years now but until this year I’d never had a class like this. Other ALTs would tell me horror stories and I’d be like, “that happened in Japan!?” “You’re exaggerating!” “C’mon…that’s bullshit! Ain’t no student spit on the teacher…get outta here with that!’

At this point, I should mention that I don’t work for the school, but for a contractor the Board of Education hires to provide English teachers for the schools in their district. And, the company I work for has handed down certain guidelines on reprimanding and disciplining students. And, to put it simply, the first rule of “The Company” is Don’t touch them, same as the second and third rules. Don’t touch them, don’t scold them. Don’t even think, dream or fantasize about touching them or scolding them. It’s not your job. Leave it to the Japanese teachers!

My first year at the school, there was an isolated incident where one student who was being bullied by another finally had had enough and went after him, in the middle of the class, with a pair of scissors. As I approached the student with the scissors stealthily from behind, the Japanese teacher practically dived in front of the damn things to stop him from slicing the other. The way he had thrown himself into the fray led me to believe that maybe the Japanese teacher’s guidelines say something along the lines of: in the event of an altercation, if there is blood spilt it had better be yours, or heads will roll.

So, when I walk into Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey, and see Takahashi-san trying to go through the motions of teaching a class, almost on the brink of tears or collapse, while the class is going…well, berserk, according to my guidelines that come down from on-high, I should allow this. But, fortunately, I didn’t have to, at first, because most of the students were a little intimidated by me. Either by my gender, my height and girth, perhaps even my blackness was a factor, probably some combination of all of them, and these factors conspired to keep the mob in check. But, one day, it didn’t matter anymore. It only took me a moment to realize how I’d been neutralized.

Yep, you guessed it: it was Matsui-kun!

With all his running and leaping and hugging he’d shown all who’d previously been intimidated that Loco-sensei ain’t nothing but a great big Teddy Bear.

Like Poo-San (Winnie the Poo), only SUKEBE!

You gotta give him credit, though. He’s a bright kid. I watch him, sometimes. I watch how he manipulates the other students. One of the advantages of not being afraid to be in the limelight and having a very big mouth and no reservations about saying anything that comes to your head to anyone- students and teachers alike- is you’re uncommon, in Japan anyway. Damn near a working-class hero. Add to that he’s naturally charismatic with a Joie de Vivre, daring, funny… Yep, half the class was wrapped around his little finger and the rest kept their mouths shut.

And, if challenged, he was merciless before, during and after classes.

Last week, in the middle of my lesson, while I was getting the students to repeat some English phrases, Matsui-kun kept taunting another student, twice his size, sitting clear across the room. Telling jokes and making insults. Most of the class was laughing and the rest wanted to. At one point, the target of his derision said something I couldn’t understand. To be honest I can’t understand much of what they say- maybe 50% at best- because the kids speak in code and slang and sometimes the Japanese equivalent of Pig Latin, so it’s virtually impossible to catch everything unless you’re a thirteen year old Japanese student. But, whatever he said must have rubbed Matsui-kun the wrong way because at that point he got up, stood on his chair (he’s really short) and threw his pencil-case, with a little mustard on it, at the other student, who took the blow upside the head like he’d had it coming, his comeuppance for challenging Matsui-kun. Then Matsui-kun asked politely, at volume 10, for the student to return the case. And don’t you know…he got up and brought it back to him. Matsui-kun accepted it and thanked him with a nod/bow, like this was just the way it is and there was nothing either of them could do about it.

Then he looked at me. I’ll never forget his eyes that day. He was smiling that same 1000 watts of love smile he always shines on me, but his eyes…There was something there, like wisdom. Not like an adult’s wisdom, but definitely wiser than I feel comfortable with any child around me being. That look broke the bond between us, I think. At least for me it did.

The next day when he saw me in the hallway and came running, I side-stepped his leap. He landed on his feet like a cat, turned on me, and the smile was gone, replaced by something that was always there but somehow I’d missed it before; something dark and unforgiving and calculating. It was only there for a moment, just a flash of the real Matsui-kun, I think.

Then he turned away and ran down the hallway like the incident had never occurred.

The next day he threw something at Takahashi-Sensei…and I threw a piece of chalk at him.

“OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!” the entire class exhaled aloud. As shocking as it was for me to see something being thrown at the teacher, it was even more so for the reverse. Students looked like I had taken a dump on him. Their looks were so shell-shocked I actually got scared and thought, “Oh fuck, what have I done now.”

Takahashi-sensei turned around from the board at the sound of the students and asked, “What? What happened?”

None of the students said anything, Not even Matsui-kun, So I said, “…I’ll tell you later.”

*****

Life here in Japan has slowly but surely re-wired my sensibilities as well as my expectations of people; in particular, kids. So that now, what wouldn’t have even been picked up on my radar a few years ago, sets off all kinds of bells and whistles: people dropping trash in the street, talking loud or talking on cellphones on the train, my roommates playing loud music at night, etc, etc… According to my old sensibilities, these were all misdemeanors, but with my re-wired sensibilities, they are definitely punishable felonies.

As was Matsui-kun’s throwing stuff at Takahashi-sensei…

Looking out at the crestfallen faces of my students, I regretted my overreaction and wondered how it could have come to be. Yes, I was in defensive mode – practically on suicide watch – when it came to Takahashi-sensei. I didn’t know if having things thrown at her by students would push her over the edge but it couldn’t have helped that’s for damn sure. Besides, I knew it was important for us to present a united front against the unruly masses, show that we had each other’s backs. Especially now because, to me, the object tossing represented an unacceptable escalation in bad behavior, and needed to be put down and deterred. He had to be made aware that that kind of thing was not going to be tolerated…and Takahashi-sensei certainly wasn’t going to do a damn thing. Someone had to do something.

But, aside from the power struggle going on, to be honest, I was a little hurt. I mean, he had really won me over. The bond we had was short-lived, but it lived. It was real. I liked his hugs the way my mother likes my hugs. I really like physical affection and I loved the way he ran and jumped in my arms when he saw me. It made me feel more human, and in a really dehumanizing society like Japan has been for me, I had, without really noticing it, looked forward to it every time. I didn’t care that he was a knucklehead and liked power. I like knuckleheads, and I like power, too. Some of my best friends were knuckleheads at some point but either grew out of it or learned how to put it to good use.

So, I guess you could say I kinda missed him already.

Matsui-kun stared at me for a long time after that, his face frozen in an odd expression somewhere between befuddled and despondent. He was really starting to worry me. Maybe the shock had been too much for him. Or, maybe he was simply thinking, plotting his revenge. After all, he’d lost face big time and he knew that the class was waiting to see how he would handle this situation. Perhaps he’d never been challenged before by a teacher. His henchman, Satou-kun, watched Matsui-kun with an open-mouthed gape. Occasionally he would look over at me with darkness in his eyes. I made a mental note to watch my back around that one.

Takahashi-sensei was walking around the class checking notebooks while I stayed up front trying to look relaxed and pretend like everything was normal, hoping this whole situation would just blow over and be forgotten. Pretending that all the tension I felt and the drama playing out in my head was just that: imagination. I do that sometimes.

However, when Takahashi-sensei reached Matsui-kun, she must’ve realized that he, and in fact the entire class, had been silent for going on 2 minutes or so which was unprecedented. She looked around the room at the various students then at Matsui-kun’s frozen stare at me and asked him what was wrong.

“Loco-sensei pss pss pss pss pss pss…” he whispered, another first.

Takahashi-sensei face dropped. She turned to look at me, then back at Matsui-kun, then down at the floor where the yellow piece of chalk lay, now crushed- no doubt beneath Matsui-kun’s slipper. Then, back at me. Then a light in her face went out…and I knew that whatever ideas I had about a united front were dashed.

When she rejoined me at the head of the class she whispered, “Loco-sensei? Matsui-kun says you threw chalk at him?”

Her tone was incredulous. Not like she didn’t believe him but like she couldn’t believe what I’d done. She was as shocked as the students. Though it was hardly a question I almost denied it. She probably still would have believed him.

“Yeah…” I said, after a moment’s hesitation. Then added, “but only after he threw something at you!” I said this in English and hoped she understood it was done in her defense. But her tone was all, Say it isn’t so, Loco… shock and disgust-laden and guilt-inspiring. It was like she hadn’t even heard what I said.

I peeped over at Matsui-kun as the bell sounded for the end of class. He was still sullen and looked on the brink of tears. I felt pangs of panic-tinged regret coursing through me. What the hell have I done?

I collected my unused teaching materials, lost in the contemplation of going and apologizing to him. I had been out of line, after all. Then, I caught a glimpse of movement in front of me and looked up.

It was him.

“Loco-sensei, I’m very sorry I made you angry!” he cried, at a barely audible volume.

“Eeee!” I snapped. “What?”

“I made you angry, right?” he said a little louder, his Japanese like a toddler’s Japanese. “And…I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”

“Uhhh…” Just then I caught a movement behind me in my peripheral and I wheeled around ready for a surprise attack. Satou-kun was back there, but he also wore a mask of shame. He didn’t say anything. He just stood there with his head downcast.

“Kochira koso,” (I’m the one who should apologize) I said, turning back to face Matsui-kun. ” I’m sorry.”

“No,no,…” He bowed and gave me a hug without looking up, his head against my stomach. Then he turned and marched out of the class into the hallway- Satou-kun in tow- without even a glance back. I stood there trying to figure out if this was a ploy or had his apology been genuine. Had I neutralized him with a piece of chalk? Was a brief flash of my anger enough to make him re-think his position?

As I made my way downstairs to the teacher’s office, I felt like a heavy burden had been lifted off me.

When I got to the office I noticed that Takahashi was already there. And, as was becoming a common sight, she was being chewed out by Kawaguchi-sensei. I wondered what the matter was but I had learned to keep my distance from my buddy when she’s getting in Takahashi’s ass about something. She’s like a different person. It’s kind of spooky. I felt sorry for Takahashi, as usual. She looked like she was being bitch-slapped by a pimp. The other teachers in the office were pretending not to notice this, but it was like not noticing a total solar eclipse. It was the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the room.

From what I could gather from hush tones that rose and fell, Takahashi-Sensei had handed in some report late causing blah blah blah to be blah blah blah-ed. More of the same shit. Kawaguchi-sensei ended her harangue with an awful funky, malicious “Ne!?” and walked away from her. Takahashi-sensei took her leave of the office, probably to run to the bathroom and cry. Poor thing.

My desk is next to Kawaguchi -sensei’s. As she passed by I put my head into a text-book and tried to act like I didn’t even know she was there.

“Loco-sensei,” she whispered. “Chotto kite ne.” (Come here for a sec…)

I followed her out of the office and into the conference room across the hall. Kawaguchi-sensei usually does this when she has something important to tell me that she doesn’t want the rest of the staff to know about.

She sat me down. “You know…Takahashi-sensei, she told me about what happened with the student in her class.”

“She did!?”

“Yeah, she told me that you threw a piece of chalk, and it hit Matsui-kun…is that what happened?”

“Yeah, basically…he threw something at her and I kinda lost my…”

“He threw something at Takahashi-sensei?”

“Yeah…”

“She didn’t tell me that part…”

“It’s not important anyway…I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it.”

“Yes, please be more careful…”

“I will…”

“Yoku Wakatta!” (I get it now!) She snapped, and laughed. “Ne, ne…” she whispered in the echoing conference room we were in, looking around like she was about to let me in on a great secret. “She told me about that when I brought up her latest fuck up. I tell you she is a sneak and a liar but I know you never believed me, deshou? (right?)! Hora! (See!) She was trying to get me off her back using you, deshou?”

“You really think so?” I asked.

Kawaguchi just smiled…

I’d like to think that I was the kind of person who wouldn’t be fazed by shit like this. I mean, I shouldn’t have expected her not to tell anyone, right? Hell, I might have been a danger to the students, having taken to throwing things at them. Of course she would feel it was her responsibility- in the name of student safety- to report it. But, I have to admit: I was fazed. I did feel betrayed.

And next time my little buddy Matsui-kun gets into one of his tyrannical states, and even if he starts to launch larger objects, whatshername: the dime-dropping fuck-up with the tits, a hazing episode or two from a suicidal date with fate via the front of some speeding train, that Bitch is on her own! well, let’s just say I’ll be hard-pressed to get involved on her behalf in the future.

Loco

For more stories and insights like those above, check out the critically-acclaimed best-seller: Loco in Yokohama

 

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7 Responses to “On Bullying, Hazing, and Backbiting in Japan”

  1. Danchan 10 February 2017 at 11:41 pm Permalink

    Cheers Loco,

    Glad to see you’ve kept writing. That was very enjoyable. Learning to read people and situations in Japan can take a long time. You can think you’ve got things pretty figured out only to be reminded yet again that you don’t know shit.

    “According to my old sensibilities, these were all misdemeanors, but with my re-wired sensibilities, they are definitely punishable felonies.”

    Oooh yeah.

    • Locohama 11 February 2017 at 11:29 am Permalink

      Thanks Danchan! Yep still at it!

  2. S. J. Pajonas 13 February 2017 at 3:04 am Permalink

    That was possibly the longest blog post I’ve read in ages but I was rapt with attention the entire time. Why is it that kids are such little shits pretty much the world round? Lol. Even in Japan! The height of politeness, at least to the Western point-of-view. 🙂 I’m kinda glad you shamed Matsui-kun into behaving and I’m sad that Takahashi-sensei tried to throw you under the bus in an effort to save her own skin. Karma’s a bitch. Let’s hope it visits soon.

  3. Takami Nishimoto 26 March 2017 at 4:09 pm Permalink

    Hi Loco,

    It’s past 2:30AM here in New York City, and I was ready to go to sleep until I found your blog and found this blog post, which was so captivating and so hilarious! You are an amazing writer, and I can’t wait to read more of your blog posts!

    A little about myself, by the way (you don’t have to read this paragraph, honestly, you can just skip to the end): My name’s Takami and I’m a Japanese-American, born and raised in New York for the 17 years that I’ve been alive. Recently, after writing all of these college applications as a high school senior, I was forced to reflect on myself and my identities and have started getting in touch more with my Japanese identity. I visit my grandparents in Japan every summer and I’ve been immersed in Japanese culture at home since I was little, however, nowadays, I’ve started treasuring these things that I’ve considered to be routine, and I am hoping to study Japanese and Japanese culture and politics in college (maybe even study abroad in Japan for a semester). I’m also really passionate about social justice, speaking out against sexism, racism, and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized communities in the U.S. Now, I’m also interested in fighting against these issues in Japan, which of course, may be a little unrealistic and naive of me to say considering how homogenous and more traditional Japan is compared to the U.S. I’ve been reading some blogs written by black people living in Japan, wanting to educate myself on what their day-to-day life is like and how Japanese society perceives black people and “foreigners” in general. It’s sad to hear that there’s so much racism in Japan, but then again, it’s sad that there is racism in general, and I shouldn’t be that surprised.

    I just wanted to ask you why you’ve chosen to live in Japan given the struggles and frustrations you have to face every day (I apologize if you’ve already answered this question on your blog, I’m new here and I’m just very curious), and what you think are some steps that people should take to start talking about race and racism in Japan.

    Hopefully, you read this comment and get back to me, I would love to hear from you and learn more about your experience. Until then, I’ll be reading more of your writing!

    Thank you so much,
    Takami

    • Takami Nishimoto 26 March 2017 at 4:16 pm Permalink

      So obviously, I’m not very observant and I didn’t see that you have written a whole book addressing the questions that I’ve asked; I’m really just another impatient millennial… I still would love to hear from you though!!

      • Locohama 27 March 2017 at 5:33 am Permalink

        Yes I have written a book (TWO books actually) addressing your very question(s) and perhaps some you’ve yet to even ask. But to make it short and sweet, there’s no escaping such issues particularly for people of African descent so it really doesn’t matter where you live in wonderful world. The struggle for humanization is ongoing and global. Enjoy the books (should you decide to power through those millennial attention limitations). If not enjoy the blog. It also addresses the issues at hand. Peace!

        • Takami Nishimoto 27 March 2017 at 7:44 am Permalink

          Just bought your first book and I’ve started it, I’m excited to keep reading!

          I realize that I was being ignorant and privileged in my comments and questions, and so I sincerely apologize that I was basically putting responsibility on you to educate me on your oppression, especially since I asked you to without even reading your other blog posts and books when it should be my own responsibility. I guess I had commented out of real desperation to do something about the oppression of marginalized groups in Japan, when really, there isn’t a simple solution. I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to my comment!!

          Thanks again,
          Takami


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