Jason Porath

has a website, i guess

Category: teaching

The good with the bad

So I’m coming down the home stretch on my stay in Japan, and in the span of one week, I’ve had a bevy of experiences illustrating exactly what I’ll miss and what I’ll eagerly try to forget about Japan.

First, the good. This weekend I went to a fertility festival in Kawasaki, a bit outside Tokyo. It was stupendous. Statues of penises everywhere, transvestites in kimonos, genitalia-shaped candy, the whole nine yards. I went with a troop of foreigner friends, and we had a LOT of pictures taken of us – specifically Amy, who has large breasts, was wearing a tank top, and working away on a giant cock lollipop.

The Monday after the penis festival, I went to my favorite elementary school, where I’ve been able to establish a great rapport with the teachers and staff. They like me a lot there. So much so that when they changed up my shoe locker (we have different shoes for inside versus outside), they gave me a special nameplate… with my name in kanji.

I should explain that both my first and last name are nearly impossible to write in kanji. There is no naturally-occurring “jei” sound in Japanese, nor is there a “po” sound. My teachers got around that by writing it out as “jieison” —慈英尊. The kanji mean [love][english][revered]. Pretty much everyone agrees it’s a kickass name.Having kanji for my name meant a lot to me. It made me feel included in a culture where inclusion is everything. Sure, I still have people staring at me on the street, old ladies amazed I can write kanji and use chopsticks, and I still get the “Wow, you’re really good at Japanese” every time I so much as say one word, but at that elementary school, I really feel like part of the family. Everyone talks to me. They invite me out for get-togethers. They keep me in the loop as to what’s going on. I really feel at home.

Contrast that with my junior high. Recently, with the school year ending and starting again (my contract actually started me in the middle of the Japanese school year, weirdly enough), a lot of teachers have come and gone. Because I wasn’t able to go to their going-away party (they forgot to even tell me there was one until the day before, let alone invite me), I wrote each and every one of them an extensive goodbye note in Japanese. It took me literally all day.

Apparently, several of my favorite teachers actually wrote me back. But I’ll never know what they said. Because the other teachers lost the goddamn letters.

Because of all the new-year hubbub, they moved me around, so now I’m sitting next to the English teacher who isn’t actually very good at English. More than that, she’s incredibly awkward to talk to, and chronically absent. This wouldn’t be a problem, except every single teacher in the entire school is somehow terrified to talk to me in Japanese, afraid I won’t understand them, or that I can’t look up the words I don’t know. They don’t even try. They just route all replies through her, and will never talk to me face-to-face. They have incredibly involved impromptu meetings, water cooler chats, and whatnot, speaking as fast and in as much slang as possible, so that I can’t even understand what the hell they’re saying. In the rare event that I do understand, it’s all going so fast that I can’t formulate a response in the time it’s taken for me to decipher what they’re saying.

Sometimes all the teachers will spontaneously get up and leave the room, or crowd by the window, and I won’t know what’s going on. I have literally had intense, hushed conversation conducted in a circle around me, and nobody bothered to so much as look at me. I have had people pretend they can’t hear me so that they don’t have to talk to me.

It’s honest to god the most frustrating work environment I’ve been in, bar none. I think I actually preferred the CEO of Digital Domain calling me a worthless idiot (to my face) to being the invisible man.

I know I’ve got a reputation at this school for being quiet and reclusive, using my computer to do god-knows-what (usually I’m working on that lesson-sharing website). This really bothered me for awhile, but at this point, I’m just sort of giving up. Every time I try to initiate conversation, it fails miserably. I try and maintain perspective and remember all the good times I’ve had in Japan, but given that I’m here 3 out of 7 days in the week, it’s kind of difficult.


Everyone keeps asking me if I was hit by an earthquake.

There was an earthquake?

We have tremors pretty regularly, and the last one we had was actually in the middle of graduation — absolutely nobody flinched even a bit, or paid it any attention. The day after that, at closing ceremonies for the school year, all the kids were standing at attention, listening to the principal, in tight formation… and one of them apparently threw up. Now, in America, something like that happens and every girl in a 50-foot vicinity would shriek, start running away, and start a stampede. Here, I couldn’t even tell what happened, cause all the kids remained completely quiet, although they moved slightly out of the way. The teachers descended on it like a strike force, three with mop, bucket, and rag, and one for extracting the kid. Once they got the kid out of the gym, I realized they had actually set up a rotating line of teachers from here to the nurse’s office to see any sick kids on their way.

I felt kind of useless.

Anywho, no, no earthquake damage. Seriously, there was an earthquake?

Pomp and Circumstance

Happy pointless excuse to get drunk and pinch people!

Here’s a catchup post for you, mostly dealing with the recent graduation at the junior high school I teach at.

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The immortal awesomeness of my kids

Okay, still waiting on pictures, but to tide you over, some of my students’ recent exploits.

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Winter in Silent Hill

Sorry for the depressing bloggery. Here’s some random tidbits that have kept me amused in the meanwhile:

  1. So a couple weeks ago, I stepped outside into the thickest fog I’ve ever witnessed in my life. It made me rethink video games a bit… well, let me explain myself. You know how cars only explode into flames in movies? Well, that’s not true. They really do explode into flames in California. I saw it a lot when I was there. Since they make movies in California, they must assume it’s natural for cars to explode. I figure it’s the same with games — you think that distance fog is just because of clipping plane issues? No, it actually happens in Japan. Take a look.
  2. I have taken to calling one of my kids “Zipper kid.” This is actually the same student that made the Ultraman bracelet earlier. He’s taken to pointing at my crotch and yelling “Open the zipper!” The first time, it was slightly open (blame the pants, not me), but every time after that, it’s been closed. Finally, today, the kid does it again, and I’m like, “No, it’s not open.” Then he reaches out and PULLS OPEN MY ZIPPER. I zip it back up and say, “You shouldn’t do that.” The other students are like, “OHMYGOD YOU’RE SO CREEPY, ZIPPER-KUN!” Normally I’d agree, but something’s been going wrong with the poor guy’s life, though I don’t know what. He’s stopped paying attention in class, and he is in the teacher’s lounge every day, getting chewed out by someone different. Today he was actually crying.
  3. The 2nd graders at one of my elementary schools put on a Winter Festival this week. They made a bunch of festival-type games, gave everyone tickets, and manned booths, giving away origami as prizes. It was unbearably cute. Here are some choice photos.
  4. To motivate my students to study English, I told them about the following things: my found-in-Japan I Hate Myself And I Want To Die t-shirt (which I showed them), how English-speakers generally react to the name “Wii” (specifically, the phrase “playing with my wii”), and All Your Base Are Belong To Us (even showed them the video). After that, they were significantly more motivated to learn English, because they didn’t realize how silly they looked.
  5. I played Mad Libs with my students, in order to to practice possessive pronouns (e.g. “a dog that eats natto, “a girl who is running in the park”). They weren’t as creative as I’d hoped, but one of them, for the “a food that descriptive clause” blank, wrote “Mr. Yoshida, who is playing sekuhara (sexual harassment).” I stopped class and taught them how sekuhara was a contraction, like pokemon. I taught them how to say it correctly, had them practice it, made sure they used the correct verbs, and after they’d got it, told them in strict yakuza-style voice to never say it in class, or I’d kick their asses.

On a similar vein, while teaching about the future tense, and practicing “I will XXXXX this weekend,” I had the following conversation with one of my kids, a 13-year old boy:

Kid: “I will play sex this weekend.”

Me: “I will HAVE sex this weekend. HAVE sex.”

Kid: “Oh, I will have sex this weekend! Okay!”

Me: “Who will you have sex with?”

Kid: (thinks a second, points at me) “Jason-sensei!”

Me: (in Japanese) “No, you will have sex with yourself. Alone. In your room.”

Kid: “No! I will have sex with Jason-sensei!”

Me: (in Japanese) “You will have sex with a toy. A doll. Of a dog.”

Kid: (laughs a minute, then looks at me seriously) “I will have sex with girl.”

Me: “Oh yeah, who?”

Kid: “Wait a minute!” (runs off, grabs a girl and drags her back with him) “Her! Her! This girl!”

Me: (to girl) “Isn’t that boy kind of creepy?”

Girl: “He’s really creepy!”

Me: “He says you will have sex with him this weekend.”

Girl: “NO WAY! GROSS!” (hits the boy as hard as she can square in the chest)

Kid: “OW!”

Me: (cackle)


This post is going to be a little sensitive, so in a few days, I’ll probably put it behind a password lock. I’m probably going to set the password to my middle name, spelled in reverse. If you don’t know it, email me and I’ll send it to you. Also, as a precaution, I’m translating every name in the blog. If they’re in Japanese, they become their english equivalent (Hiroshima –> Wide Island), and if they’re English, they get Japanized (Jason -> Jeison). Alright, with that said, on to the meat of the post.

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The indescribable awesomeness of my kids

So I gave my 3rd-grade elective class an in-class assignment to write a paragraph or two about a fictional trip that they took, using the textbook as an example. I gave them each different places, some of them normal (Osaka, London, Sydney), and some of them weird (Howl`s Moving Castle, Neverland, the moon). Three kids came out swinging with some incredibly weird paragraphs.

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Typhoons suck.

So we’ve been having some out-of-season weather. Specifically, two typhoons hit simultaneously last night, causing a shit-ton of rain to hit nearly all of Japan. They ended up stopping the trains in several places, and I had to play operator for several of my non-Japanese-speaking friends, who were stranded at terminals. They kept giving me to random Japanese people to ask what was going on — all of whom, to their credit, were incredibly friendly. All that said, it was still kind of nerve wracking.

Oh yeah, and because of the typhoons, the festival was cancelled for Saturday. Maybe Sunday too, unknown as of yet. Suck.

Nothing overly crazy has been going on. One of my JTEs (Japanese co-teacher) is, for one reason or another, gone every Friday this month, which means I have no classes on any Friday this month. Very strange. Even if I’m here, they cancel class. I guess they take the “assistant” in Assistant Language Teacher very seriously.

I found out a bunch of my students like Linkin Park, but only knew three of their songs, so I burned them a CD and gave it to them on the condition that they do their best at English. When they were like, “I don’t know, that’s awfully hard,” I downgraded it to, “Just don’t fall asleep in class.” They were so thankful they played it at lunch. Over the intercoms. For the entire school.
I put up a ton of pictures, including of my apartment and various oddities, on my flickr feed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jashugan/

Gotta run to Tokyo, getting a haircut and buying a halloween costume today!

Michael Jason

So apparently my name is very difficult for Japanese people to understand. For starters, they don’t generally hear it right. Probably around 5% of my elementary schoolers (used to be around 20%) thought my name was Jackson. A stubborn 3 percent persist in calling me Jackson-sensei, or even Michael Jackson-sensei, and upon occasion, Michael Jason-sensei, repeatedly. More on these kids in a minute.
The real problem, however, lies in the fact that the only Jason that Japanese people have ever heard of is the one from the Friday the 13th movies. I’ve met random Japanese people who, upon hearing my name, take a couple steps back and nervously make chainsaw-revving motions with a questioning look on their face. Truth be told, I think their minds sort of subconsciously gravitate towards something else. Hence, Jackson.

Now, the kids that are calling me Michael Jason are the only problem kids I’ve had so far. Of the approximately 1000 students I teach, 99.9% are wonderful, upbeat, good-hearted kids. It’s just these three 5th-graders at my elementary school who are a little overly hyper.

They first got my attention after their school’s undoukai. They see me walking home and yell, “Jackson-sensei!” and starts walking along with me. As I’m talking to them, they start making fun of my Japanese, which is fine, because at this point, I’ve taken to speaking quickly with a lot of mistakes rather than slowly and correctly. It’s usually understandable, if broken. But all this is fine, fairly normal; as I’ve learned, kids don’t have a ton of tact.

They next ask me if I like Baba-sensei, their unfortunately-named teacher. Baba-sensei is around 28, pretty nice, very good at judo, and has a name that is also slang for “hag” or “bullshit.” Even translated, her family name means something like “Horseplace,” which isn’t super-glamorous. Anyway, I just pull the whole, “Wait, which one’s Baba-sensei?” and they give up on that line of thinking.

But I keep walking and they keep following me, and soon we’re at my apartment. And these kids aren’t leaving. They want to come inside, which I won’t do, on principle. It’s really cluttered, uninteresting, and has a faint smell of mold I’m trying to get rid of. They interpret my resistance to mean I have a girlfriend up there. Possibly two or three.

So they start assailing my apartment. For fifteen minutes. These kids really stop at nothing, hiding in the garbage, pretending to leave around 5 times, crawling up the stairs, etc. They just won’t leave. I just stand there and stop talking to them, and eventually they take off, and I get my shower. All this is fine.

And then today one of them kanchoed me.

For the uninitiated, kancho is like the Japanese wedgie. It basically is a two-handed poke up someone’s rear. It didn’t hurt so much as surprised me, that someone was poking my ass. So I put my arm around the kid and pulled him close, with my arm around his neck, and leaned sideways to lift him an inch or two off the ground. I told him, “Dame desu yo” (“that is forbidden”), and let him back down. I don’t think that’s going to deter him. If he does it again, I’m going to completely shift my speech patterns into yakuza territory, rolling my Rs and yelling a lot, and start threatening his life.

Later in class, the same kid insisted on calling me Michael Jason, after I told him my name was Jason. So I told him, since I have a new name, he does too. His new name is Baka-chan. All the other kids in the class started calling him that. I told him once he starts calling me Jason, he can have his old name back. Kind of a Spirited Away dealie.

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