Wednesday, June 2, 2010

You Look Happy to Meet Me

Numazu, Japan.  Summer 2003.

Midori teaches music class at the elementary school, and today I've followed her to work. 

A group of about twenty second-graders file into Midori's room straight away, and they chatter excitedly when they see me.  I think my reputation precedes me.  Midori shushes them, and urges them to take their seats.  She pressed the play button on the CD player, raising her hand when the music starts.      

It's "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music.  In Japanese, of course.  There's an extra syllable on the end of the word, and Midori laughs just a bit when her kids put at little extra emphasis on it.  E-del-wa-i-SU!  E-del-wa-i-SU!  Every morning you greet me.  I hum along, because don't remember much beyond "small and white," and it's not really my song to sing.  The kids sing the last note and hold it long after the music stops playing.  They giggle, trying to see who can hold it longer than everyone else.  A boy with close-cropped hair and too-big glasses just manages to outlast a girl with her hair tied back with pink ribbons, and he bows deeply in his victory.  Midori claps her hands, and they scurry to the back of the room and start pulling things from their bags.        

Midori asks if I have every played the recorder.  I nod, because I did in third and fourth grade, but I try to mask my fear when she hands me an extra one.  The kids are already running back to their seats, their own Yamaha recorders in their little hands.  I haven't played a recorder in years, I don't even own one any more, and while I may still have the muscle memory to play "My Heart Will Go On," I've long since forgotten how to read the music.  Midori rattles off another round of instructions, and the kids flip through their pamphlets.  I didn't catch the page number, but I don't want to ask her to repeat herself. 

The little girl in the chair next to me helpfully turns the pages of my book until she hits what must be the right one.  "Edelweiss" is written along the top of the page in English and katakana, and that's the first and last thing I recognize.  The rest of it might as well be braille for as much as I understand it.  Midori starts the music again, and the kids play along.  I rest the recorder on my lips and move my fingers, but I don't blow.  I think Midori can tell I'm faking.  As long as she doesn't ask me to perform a solo.     

After lunch, I follow Midori into another classroom.  It's the kids from this morning - they've been working with their teacher on a special song for me, and they're ready to show it.  Standing at the front of the classroom, they sing, in English, a song about happy trees, how they grow in the sunshine, how they love the rain, and how they'd love to give you a great big hug.  They raise their little arms high above their heads - look how tall the tree will grow!  I applaud when they've finished.  It was very cute, and I think I spy some of them trying to hide a smile as they bow.

Sensei tells them to sit down, and they gather in a semi-circle around me; they are allowed to ask questions until the end of class.  They ask little kid questions, the ones that are easy to answer, and Sensei translates them for me.  How long will you be here?  Two weeks.  Do you have any pets?  Yes, two cats and three dogs.  Do you like Japan?  Yes, very much.  Is it different from America?  In some ways, yes.  In others, not at all.  

One little boy asks if I speak Japanese.  "Hai," I say.  "Watashi wa chyo-to Nihongo o hanashimas."  Yes, I speak a little Japanese.  It's formal, probably way to formal for speaking to a child, but they are suitably impressed.  And excited round of whispers moves through the group.  I won't tell them that, unless their next question is "What is the weather like today?" that might be the extent of my conversational Japanese.  

A bell rings - it's the end of the day, and it's time to clean up.  I've read about this, but never seen it in action.  At the sensei's nod, the students run to put their chairs up over their desks, then go to pull brooms, dust mops, and towels out of the closet.  Some stay in the room, starting at one corner and sweeping their way across the floor.  A handful run out into the hallway - from the window I watch them get down on their hands and knees and push their towels and dust mops down the corridor.  I wonder if anyone is cleaning Midori's room.  

I'm not a student, so I don't have to clean.  Midori takes me back to my shoes (no shoes in this school, either), and reminds me that Fushiko is coming this evening to take me and Julie to Kyoto for a few days, and that I should be all packed by dinner time.

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