I’ve interrupted one of the longer posts I’m writing to talk about an experience I had in class this Thursday. Let me give you a little background information (I’ll flesh this stuff out in more detail in later posts):
- I am an English teacher in Japan.
- I teach about an hour from Tokyo in an area that’s some kinda crazy mix between suburban and very rural geography. Very low population density.
Ok that’s about all you’ll need to know for this story. Considering these things, it is safe to assume that I am one of the only foreigners living in my region. Not to mention the 5 other teachers (who teach/live in totally different areas than me) and the Indian family who owns a fantastic restaurant near my house. Which is why the experience I had on Thursday totally caught me off guard, and made me reflect on how much I feel connected to my race.
After two periods of being the super genki english teacher I was already starting to feel a little fatigued. I grabbed a cup of tea and headed back to the office for a little break. Before I knew it, a few fourth grade students were standing at the entrance to the teacher’s office, requesting permission to speak. (In Japanese) “We are sorry for interrupting but we are here for the English teacher.” I gave them a nice chipper hello as another student grabbed my briefcase. And I was off, escorted to another room full of new faces.
As we walked through the school, students peeked from out of their classroom doors just to get a glimpse of me. I could hear the students saying things like, “Wow he’s tall!” “He’s cool-looking!” or sometimes, “He’s scary!” I waved hello to the staring faces, and tried to strike up small conversations with the students who decided to tail behind me…still staring. Finally, we arrived at the classroom.
As expected, upon entry I received a synchronous, “Whooaaa!!!” from the class. I smiled and thought to myself, “Now I know how a celebrity feels; these kids react to every little thing I do.” But my smile was interrupted and my jaw almost dropped upon seeing one student. She had a little more melanin than the rest of the class. Her hair: in active defiance of the laws of gravity. And instantly, I felt a connection.
Now in the big cities like Tokyo, it isn’t all that homogenous. Every once in a while (more like every few months), I would meet someone who was mixed. And often I would make the mistake of trying to speak to them in English, not realizing that they’ve grown up in Japan for their entire life. But in an area as rural as this one, the likelihood of meeting a hafu-hafu (slang term for mixed person, aka half-half) was damn near impossible.
I picked my jaw back up off the ground and attempted to regain my composure as the period began. The students welcomed me with a bow and I started the lesson. Throughout the period I kept focusing too much on the side of the class where the mixed student was seated. It was almost like an instinctual feeling. An instinct that was built into me from my kindergarten days at Ivy Leaf Elementary. I never forgot the almost weekly lessons on Africa; the meanings of the red, green, and black. I might have not fully understood it at that time in my life, but my teachers were building my self-esteem, and teaching me the importance of my culture. Since then I always felt an instant connection with other blacks; especially in situations where we were the minority.
I wonder if that girl felt the same way? I wonder if she told her parents after school that she saw someone who looked like her? She’s so young, I wonder if she even recognizes that she looks different from everyone else in the school.
Well, that was an interesting experience. Sorry everyone for the delay in posting this week. Tell me your thoughts: do you feel this connection with others in your same race? nationality? gender? all humans? Let me know in the comments section. Or on Facebook. Stay Tuned.
- Mixed-race Japanese documentary ‘Hafu’ makes its Tokyo debut (japandailypress.com)