200 People Who Have Looked Inside My Brain

So, a week ago I spent the whole day talking to Mr. Murphy and Mr. Osmond’s English classes at the local high school. About 200 kids are reading BIG IN JAPAN as part of their curriculum this year. Whoa, right? It was partway through the day when I realized: These people have all looked inside my brain.

I guess that’s what we as writers do, give readers a chance to look inside our heads for a few pages. (Yikes, right?)

Don’t worry. I got the upper hand for a bit. I made them sit seiza (Japanese style) on their knees for … a long time. Until some of them groaned in pain. Bwahahaha.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a torture chamber. They could get up and sit in their desks anytime their knees dictated, but some of them were just so darned competitive. And a box of Pocky chocolate covered biscuits was at stake, the winner of “longest seiza-sitter” receiving the coveted prize. Granted, it was a little meaner than if we’d been having that contest in a home in Japan, on springy tatami mats of woven bamboo on the floor. The millimeter-thick carpet over the cement on the floor of Mr. Murphy’s classroom did make for a hard surface. I think one winning kid may have been tardy for his next class because he was lying on the ground on his side unable to straighten out his knees. Poor kid. He’s a Mormon kid, and I hope if he ends up being assigned as a missionary to Japan he adjusts to the sitting thing fast. BHH.*

The kids were great. I gave a presentation mostly on Japanese culture, with a smidge of “writing a novel” thrown in. One of the favorite slides in all seven classes was the “how to use Japanese style toilet.” Google this, if you dare. Another was a photo from a strange story in the NY Times about people in Japan nervous about urban crime who dress in costume as vending machines to be safe in train stations. Do you see the feet? Weirdness. I think this might have been an April Fool’s Day joke. (Photo credit: New York Times.)

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I also have to say how impressed I was with how fast the students caught on to “Japanese style photo taking.” Very few of them knew the tradition of doing the peace/victory symbol with both hands and putting them next to the face while slightly bending the knees and inclining the head toward the person next to you in the photo. (Why is this a tradition? I don’t know. But in my stack of thousands of photos from my year and a half in Japan, the lion’s share have this pose going on.) When I told them, they got it almost instantly. See?

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I had a fabulous day with all the students, and I really, really appreciated their interest, their respect, their great questions, and most of all that they’d take the time to read Big in Japan. I know a lot of reading assignments in school can be a drudge, but I hope it was mostly an enjoyable experience for them. Thank you for reading it! Yay!

Finally. Can I just say again, I don’t know how teachers do it? How do they not come home at night and not just collapse in a heap of needing Pizza Hut every night? Please! That’s an exhausting job! Yo, high school students–those teachers are TOUGH. Respect them! They could probably trounce you with all that endurance they have built up.



*BHH= Bless his heart. (If we can have BFF, we should totally have BHH as an acronym.)

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