Kigen ga warui

4 Nov

As I begin to type I’m still debating whether or not I really want to post about this. I usually make it a habit not to write about things that upset or bother me on a more personal level. But I’ve been steadily steaming for a couple hours now so I might as well get it off my chest. I also haven’t posted anything since Aboshi, so at the very least you’ll know I’m alive.

At school today was an event called Ongakusai, or music festival. I am only writing about it today because, in a sense, today is the first day I really understood it was a thing. Earlier this week one of my teachers approached me and asked if I wanted to judge a singing competition. I said fine, and that was really all I got until today. But Ongakusai, much like Taiikusai, is an event practiced by all schools roughly around the same time in celebration of Culture Day (which was yesterday). There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance to it, the parents come to watch their kids, and it goes a few hours. I’d have liked to known this before today.

So I’m doing my best to judge the students. And honestly, I’m giving everyone marks of good or great, I’m sure as hell not going to put “bad” on any aspect of middle schoolers singing songs (though the teacher next to me looked like he was putting “bad” a lot). I didn’t fully understand every aspect of the grading sheet, but that’s largely because it was entirely in Japanese and I only got a copy right when the event started. But that the heck, I’ll do my best and if I mess up someone can help me out. All the classes give their performances and we have an intermission. I fold up my judging sheet and pocket it because I don’t want any students peeking at it.

There’s a bit more after the intermission. A couple of guest Indian musicians came and played a sitar and tabla for a half hour. Then the school band played a few songs. Then the parents actually came up and sang a couple songs, along with the teachers. Now, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to sing, but in truth if I was asked I’d have done it. But nobody asked. Nobody even bothered to give me the lyrics sheet (and I don’t know if I could have read it anyway). So I just stood nearby and watched.

And then at the end of it all, they announced the winning classes, which threw me for a loop because I still had my judging sheet on me. At no point did anyone come and ask me for my sheet. Even if it was someone who didn’t know English, they could have just tugged on my shirt and I’d have figured it out. I was never instructed on how or when to turn the sheet in.

It’s at this point I’m thinking “You know, I really must look like an asshole to these people.” No one has told me what this event is about. No one has told me what I need to prepare or how I can help, outside of “You’re going to judge the classes singing.” But to the parents, to the teachers, maybe even the students, it might look like “Hey, here’s this guy who just doesn’t seem to care about what we’re doing. He didn’t judge the contest and he didn’t join the PTA concert.” And it’s no problem on them to not tell me what to do, because I look like the asshole.

Now am I blowing this out of proportion? Probably. Did they expect that much effort from me? Maybe not. But I got to thinking. This was, if I remember correctly, the 13th annual Ongakusai at Okishio. I don’t know how long Okishio has made use of the ALT program. Yumesaki, where Okishio is, has only been a part of Himeji since 2006, I think. But needless to say, they’ve had other ALTs before me. At least two. So this being something that continues to occur every year, you would think they might, you know, plan specific materials for the ALT to participate. This wasn’t their first rodeo. Heck, they could have given me the materials the previous day and I’d have been happy to translate them at home. But I didn’t get anything like that. So I’m only left to assume that… had I been on the ball or blown it aside, it wouldn’t have made a big difference to them.

What really gripes me is that the class I ultimately voted as best came in second. Had my vote been counted, would they have one first perhaps? Maybe an upset? I really don’t know. Ironically, the class I thought did the worst won first place. Maybe I just don’t have an ear for Japanese music. That’s probably why stuff like this drives me up the wall.

If this were an isolated incident, I might look it over. And truth be told, the teachers at Okishio are great. No one is rude to me, no one mistreats me. If anyone has a problem with me, they keep it to themselves (though actually that sort of thing does really bug me). But truth also be told… they just don’t involve me a lot. For the most part, I’m there to stand in class and pronounce new words and sentences. And outside of that, it’s just my job to be the goofy foreigner at school. And there are times I’m even content with this. But there are also times where I do actively try to get involved; where I do try to make assignments and games for the lesson material. And a lot of the time, it just feels like I’m getting in the way. The teachers then have to hassle changing their plans to fit my stuff. And that’s really not what I want to do.

But I also don’t want to be remembered as the guy who sat around and got paid to do nothing.


2 Responses to “Kigen ga warui”

  1. Mom November 5, 2011 at 5:24 am #

    Don’t think like your momma. They’ll get over it – you get over others. Right? Treat yourself with as much respect as you do others. love!

  2. Nz17 November 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Ah man, I definitely commiserate with you. And sadly the whole thing is quite reflective of the reality of how ALTs are treated across Japan. But it also seems like standard practice across Asia to have things this way. In the teacher’s mind he is there to teach, the students are there to learn through rote memorization, and you are there to pronounce the words the way a native would. And that’s it. Because despite your acronym standing for Assistant Language Teacher, you aren’t expected to do much assisting. That’s why a lot of ALTs don’t sign on for additional service terms and instead switch jobs to a more involved occupation after their ALT experience.

    Then again, because you seemed to “get” so much of their language, culture, and customs, perhaps they just assumed that you knew how the ongakusai goes. On the other hand, I also hear that Japanese people often presume foreigners can’t understand anything that is “too Japanese for an outsider to get.”

    Ultimately you might want to think about having one of the teacher’s be your confidant and “inside man” so you can better understand what’s happening inside everyone’s mind.

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