Thousands of Miles from Home


Minami High School Craziness

Before the meat of this entry I have to mention why December is "the most wonderful time of the year" in Japan. Oseibo gifts (or seibo) are end of the year gifts usually given in mid-December to people one respects. My host father, being a local doctor, is respected by many in the community. This means that our house is overflowing with candy, cakes, udon, chocolate, meats, seaweed, dried fish, oil, shrimp, tons of fruit, and enough beer to to subdue a rhino. Shoko seems indifferent to the gifts, probably after many years of receiving them, but I can't believe the amount of wrapped presents I find on the doorstep after coming home everyday.

This weekend I got an invite from my friend Nobuko, of Minami High School, to her "Open School" ceremony. At first she told me it was a graduation ceremony, but I knew it was a little too early for that. Her his school is in Okayama City, so I was a little unsure of what bus to take to meet her. Shoko assured me that taking a bus near our house would "probably" get me where I needed to go. The "open school" started at 9:30, but Nobuko asked me to come a little early to help her set up for her club's exhibit.

Around 8:30, the bus I was riding sleepily pulled into Konan Sho Gakko Mai along with some junior high school kids that seemed to be going to the same event as me. Junior high school kids seem to stare at me a little more than the average japanese person, but it doesn't bother me too much. Sometimes I try to start a conversation, but it usually ends in giggling (I am the giggle-ee, not the giggler). I was a little early, so I walked around the block to get a feel for where I was. The morning traffic was heavy, and the weather a little cold witout a cloud in the sky. When I came back to the bus stop I spotted Nobuko and a girl I didn't know on the other side of the street. I waved hello and they led me to their school a few blocks away.

Minami High School, as I came to realize later in the day, boasts many exciting clubs and classes that I had not seen at Tamano High School. One of the main events for the "open school" was a fashion show put on by the school's fashion students. And when I say fashion show, I don't mean a few dresses on display. Between 40 and 50 dinner dresses, gowns, punk clothing, midieval wear, and 70's flamboyant outfits were on display by the designers in short choreographed scenes with music on the school's main stage.

But I'll try not to get ahead on myself. After I arrived at school Nobuko introduced me to some of her friends and took me to the room where her international club was hosting an "airport customs" exhibit. She had asked me to act like a customs officer in the morning, which turned out to be a blast. Her club had made a large metal detector out of cardboard, painted black, and stationed me, resident english speaking kid, along with the school's english teacher as two customs officals in a foreign country's airport terminal. Parents, students, and the general admission of the open school festival could try their hand at a prepared english conversation with two real-life native english speakers. My part went something like "Are these all your bags," and "do you have anything to declare?" while the english teacher asked, "How long will you be staying in this country?," stamping a fake passport. We switched rolls halfway through get a feel for both positions. I had a great time because some kids would get real creative with their responses in english, deviating from the printed script by informing me that they had to declare "two guns and a knife" in addition to a stash of illegal parapharnalia. Other kids just smiled and laughed when I tried to get them to pronounce the word "declare."

I also met Minami High School's exchange student from Canada, who took over for me when Nobuko suggested that we leave to get a good seat for the fashion show. When we entered the school gym, lots of kids stared at me and asked Nobuko who was the weird kid with her. I told them (in japanese) that it didn't matter because I couldn't speak japanese anyway (haha). The fashion show was spectacular, but I will let the pictures do the explaining. After the show I went with a group of kids to see the other exhibits in the school festival.

One exhibit that caught my eye was a "bookkeeping" club, which turned out to be a hospitality/entrepreneurship class. Their exhibit involved a personal conference with one of the class's students to simulate a business meeting. Nobuko asked if any of the students spoke english, and we entered a dimly lit room to find about 10 kids dressed in fancy clothes yelling "hello" and "welcome" in japanese. We were shown to a back room lit with candles and served fruit punch while being bombarded with compliments and broken phrases in english. Clearly these kids were all about hospitality. Through my laughter I started up a conversation in japanese with the head of the "business meeting," and even though he tried to trick me into saying weird phrases I didn't let him fool me too easily. We took some pictures, then were ushered out of the room by the same 10 guys who shouted compliments on the way in. It was something one would truly have to experience to understand the complete humor, but I assure you I laughed for a long time after the meeting with the hospitality club.

After the school ceremony, I didn't have to be back in Tamano for a while so Nobuko, Miko, Takeshi, and bunch of other kids took me to sing karaoke with them. About three hours later we emerged laughing, hoarse, and hungry. Some kids had to leave, but the rest went to Gusto, a surprisingly "Eat'n'Park" type restaurant with a bunch of other students I had seen from Minami High School earlier in the day. Just like american 24 hour restaurants, we ordered cheap food an hung out talking until I decided it was time to head back to Tamano. After saying goodbye, some kids took me to the bus station where we found that the last bus had already come, so I got a ride on the back of Takeshi's bicycle to Tenmaya Bus Station where I could catch a later bus. I came home to find Shoko sending e-mails on her cellular phone, her usual evening activity.

A very good day.


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