My days of singing Michael Jackson hits at karaoke bars are long gone. The classroom has become my new stage. By the time Friday comes my voice is just as crackly as the leaves under my feet. The cold weather doesn’t make things much better. For the first time I donned a mask on a day that wasn’t Halloween. Not fearing I would catch anything though. I was more concerned that I might accidentally sneeze/cough on a kid. I remember feeling a little uncomfortable when I first saw a mask in public. It was less than a year after 3/11; right before I was about to board a plane to Tokyo. “Is there something harmful in the air of Japan?” I thought. I came to find out that catching a cold can be easy out here due to high population density. Wearing a mask can ward off the common cold (or become an effective placebo for cold prevention).
For the most part, my schools have heating systems in various rooms throughout the building. I came into my junior high school this past Wednesday to a weird odor. As I entered the teacher’s office, I noticed the vice principal filling up kerosene heaters with fluid. Heaters that looked like they were brought in the early 80s. I swear, for every technological advance in Japan, there is still an outdated technology in widespread use. This society is so retro-futuristic. Needless to say, because of heating like this, the schools are still pretty chilly. (Side note: my gas bill just came in the mail. Could anyone stateside mail me a snuggy? It’s going to be a long winter.)
Two Fridays ago, I went out for Indian curry and karaoke with a few of the Ibaraki ALTs. Sometime during the night, the topic of teaching came up. I was pleased to find out that a few of my peers also thought that teaching was very much similar to improv acting. I think that’s why I enjoy teaching so much. I’ve been improvising my entire college career: every Friday at the Temple University Bell Tower. Rain or shine, me and my crew, the Hungry Ghosts would be out there every Friday at 1PM; creating soulful melodies and smooth lyrics with nothing but a beatbox and a few hints of inspiration. It was improvisation, it was meditation. It was the uncensored stream of conscious in rhyme form. I miss it.
Since I’ve been back to Japan, I haven’t been able to freestyle rap in a cypher like the one at the Bell Tower. In the summer of 2012, I used to go to a monthly cypher in Shibuya. That has since been discontinued by the host. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from freestyling. All those years of rhyming has rewired my brain. The lesson plans have become my new beatbox sets. I look at them to get a feel for things, in the same way listening to a particular beat might inspire various ideas while freestyling. Yet once I step into that classroom, I find my center, inspire (breathe in…breathe out), and just go for it. Do I make mistakes? Sure. Do I make a fool of myself? Sometimes. But do you think the students or teachers actually notice? Probably not. I’m in my comfort zone as a sensei. Mistakes come off as natural occurrences in a much larger performance. The best part of this performance though is that the audience, my students, actively participate throughout. We’re all improvising. It’s call + response; the roots of Hip-Hop. The essence of the cypher.
I’m trying to incorporate more elements of Hip-Hop into my lessons. I make rhymes, chants; and for the younger students, I sing songs. I believe in the power of Music in learning. Who knows, maybe I’ll have these kids writing their own songs soon. Stay Tuned Everyone.
P.S. If you would like a postcard this holiday season, please give me your address!