Who Cares if They’re Naughty or Nice?

Three weeks before Christmas, I initiated an ‘English Christmas Challenge’ for my students. The concept was simple…if they wrote me a Christmas story or letter in English, I would write them a reply and give them a small present in return. The only rules were that they had to write a minimum of three sentences and they could only receive two presents…any letters after that were purely for the joy of corresponding with me in English (ha).

Two days and 20 letters into the challenge, the teachers started calling me ‘Santa’ as I wandered the halls giving out presents from my Christmas stocking (it’s all about the theatrics…not the hundred yen gifts). With a total of 434 students, I started to wonder…had I bitten off more than I could chew? Come the end of semester, was I going to end up with carpal tunnel from hours of writing replies? Would I be rocking myself in the fetal position having nightmares about the 2nd year boys trying to pillage my stocking?!

I came to realise that children can be bought (quite cheaply apparently) and by the end of the challenge I had received 164 letters in total. I had been Santa to these kids and received letters from all kinds of students. From the ones who can write English in their sleep to the ones who still can’t spell their own names after three years of study. From the kid who never opens his English textbook in class, to the cute little 1st year girl who writes to me every week. The letters and the students who wrote them were many and varied, but in the end I realised… who cares if they’re naughty or nice? As long as they use English…

There were the cute letters with declarations of adoration and love…

There were the comments/pictures regarding my appearance…

There were letters about music (good and bad)…

There were the students channeling Yoda into their writing…

There were the sweet talkers (who were clearly only in it for one thing)…

Then there were the unexpected presents. Some cute…

And some not so cute (a picture of Arashi and a scrunchie)…

And some just weird…like ear buds these pellets that expanded in water?!

There were the letters to make me laugh…

There were the letters containing Engrish…

Oh and then there were the letters from the Gods…

And lastly, there were the hand made Christmas cards from my special needs students…

The experience was possibly more entertaining for me than the students but nonetheless, it got them reading, writing, listening and speaking English more than they would on a usual day.

While I am secretly glad I don’t have 20+ students writing to me every day, I was happy to receive these cards in the mail over winter break and know that at least some of the kids will continue writing for the joy of an English exchange with me…even now that the presents have dried up and Santa has retired…

Still, Only in Japan…

…are VPL (Visible Panty Lines) acceptable in public…or at all.

…are Lilo & Stitch actually popular.

…are snowmen made of only two parts and not three.

Japanese Snowman

…are people only considered sick if they have a fever.

…are you expected to fully wash yourself before getting into a bath.

…are aprons a fashion statement for housewives.

Still, only in Japan…

…does sock glue need to exist.

Girl's gotta have sock glue...

…do shop assistants yell ‘irashaimase’ (welcome) at you repeatedly throughout the duration of your time in their store.

…do elementary school children raise their hand in the air to cross the road.

…does using your hazard lights give you the ability to break any traffic law without penalty.

The hazards of driving in Japan

…do most houses not have an oven.

…do construction workers warm up before starting work with a stretching routine that resembles the YMCA.

…do people’s car dashboards look like a Disney Store shopfront.

Shoe horn?

Still, only in Japan…

…is playing the pokies/slot machines deemed an enjoyable pastime for people under retirement age.

…is it considered rude not to slurp your noodles/soup/tea/any edible substance.

…is Christmas celebrated with KFC and sponge cake.

KFC Christmas

is dancing illegal.

…is there an irrational fear of bugs.

…is a 2.4km race referred to as a ‘marathon’.

Still, only in Japan…

…can peanuts appear on the school lunch menu at least once a month without a student going into anaphylactic shock or their parents suing the school.

…can a person face jail time if a stranger drinking in the same bar as them gets behind the wheel of his car and breaks the law.

…can you make a sport out of sumo and geisha spotting.

Sumo spotting

Geisha stalking

…can I step out of my front door, walk 100 metres in any direction and find a vending machine.

…can trying to heat your apartment become a game of Russian roulette.

…can you find cleaning products sold in gift sets.

Cleaning gift pack? Oh, yes please!

Still, only in Japan…

…will people send New Years cards, as opposed to Christmas cards.

…will you find people own cars bigger than their apartments.

Giant car

…will the movie title ‘This Means War’ be changed to ‘Black & White’.

…will a cars be given names like ‘moco’…which means ‘booger’ in Spanish.

…will you see teenage boys being more openly affectionate with each other than dating couples.

Still, only in Japan are there so many cultural quirks that I could write this threequel to ‘Only in Japan’ and ‘Again, Only in Japan’

Ode to Yuji

Yuji, the baseball player, with bat and glove,

The fifteen year old boy, who adorned me in love.

Yuji, school life just isn’t the same,

With you in Kyushu playing the game.

Yuji, I wonder, how are you today?

In the south of Japan, so far away.

Yuji, six months, since you left my life,

Are you cheeky as ever, causing all kinds of strife?

Yuji, I’m left, incomplete and in pain,

Without you here, to drive me insane.

Yuji, to me, you played a large part,

The only J-boy, to capture my heart.

Yuji, the others, they try to be you,

Kazuki, Ryuji and the senseis too.

Yuji, the others, they fail to be,

Your replacement, they aren’t, it’s plain to see.

Yuji, these days, no love comes my way,

No smile, no message, no sweet words you say.

Yuji, have you moved on, and left me for dead?

Those advances you made, just words you said?

Yuji, since you seem to have cast me aside,

Is there another, along for the ride?

Yuji, who is it now, you give your love to?

Some teen, a groupie…or worse, tell me true!

Yuji, what English are you learning these days?

On who are you honing your lover boy ways?

Yuji, be honest, tell me, who’s your ALT now?

Have you replaced me with some other foreign cow?!

Yuji, why bother, she’s no me, I’ll bet,

Not rolling her eyes, nor playing hard to get.

Yuji, she won’t be a challenge for you,

You need the chase, you know you do!

Yuji, forget her, this other ALT,

Get on a shink and come back to me!

Yuji, our history, please don’t forget,

Don’t let this end, in a poem of regret.

Yuji, I’m sorry, I treated you so bad.

No, that’s not true, I’m actually glad.

Yuji, you loved it, no need for lies here,

So please just come back, so we can be near.

Yuji, you’re gone, but I want you back,

My days at Omiya-chu, your love they lack.

Yuji, I miss those games we played,

Oh how I wish, you could have stayed.

Yuji, I wait for your return to me,

While you’re off playing baseball, a star to be.

Yuji, when you’re a man (and baseball pro),

Look me up in Australia, I’ll be ready to go…

The Yuji Diaries

Every now and then a girl has a special boy come into her life and sweep her off her feet. I am not that girl…and Yuji is not that boy. But, over the last two years, Yuji certainly became an important part of my life at Omiya Junior High School.

Sure, there were other boys to declare their undying devotion to me…there was Takeshi, the sensitive soul who is the ‘in sickness and in health’ kinda guy. Then there was the pervert, Shunsuke, always wanting to know ‘what colour under hair?’ I have (yes, a real charmer). I did have a soft spot for the dreamer, Kohei, waiting patiently on the sidelines for an opportunity to win me over…and lastly there was Hayate, who always came to my rescue in times of need, wanting to be my knight in shining armour.

All these boys had their own unique brand of seduction technique, but none of them compared to Yuji. None could beat the dogged (and humorous) persistence he threw into the task of wooing me over the last two years. And so I dedicate this post to Yuji: The Boy, The Baseball Player, The No.1 Comedian…

9th November 2010

Dear Diary,

Apparently I have ‘small milky breasts’. How do I know this, you ask? Well today, one of my 2nd year students, Yuji Kikuchi, was kind enough to tell me. Yuji is on the baseball team and very cheeky. I found it hard to be mad at him when he grinned at me so innocently, he was using English, and let’s face it…his observation iscorrect.He seemed to derive great enjoyment from my shocked reaction, so I doubt this is the last I’ll be hearing from Yuji…The now very self conscious,


28th June 2011

Dear Diary,

Apart from repeatedly telling me I have ‘small milky breasts’ over the last several months, Yuji has been rather quiet…until today. Clearly he realised (finally) that he needed new material to get my attention. This was actually kind of sweet…

Yuji’s new muse,

9th September 2011
Dear Diary,

Yuji was completely upstaged by the sweet words of Hayate today…

Yuji: ‘Ms.Carla, small milky breasts’
Me: ‘Yes Yuji, so you keep telling me’
Hayate: ‘Small breast, but beautiful face’

Bless Hayate, he made my day. But I dread to think how Yuji might retaliate to this blatant act of war.

Yours in fear,

14th September 2011

Dear Diary,

Well, Yuji staged his comeback against Hayate in class today. Clearly he has realised his ‘treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen’ tactics are not working on me, so now he is trying his hand at the sweet approach. His statement today:

‘I have been in love with Ms.Carla forever’ The cheeky grin was an added bonus thrown in for free…

The object of unrequited love,

5th October 2011
Dear Diary,

Today Yuji decided to go public with his love for me, and dragged me into the declaration too. His neighbour was away so I got to fill in for dialogue creation…Yuji’s grin as I walked toward his desk told me I was in for a treat. This was our dialogue…above the pink line is what we came up with together…under is what he added when I wasn’t looking…

Then Yuji volunteered us to perform our dialogue in front of the class! The more the students (and O Sensei) laughed, the wider Yuji’s grin became…and the redder my face became. Yuji was very pleased that he managed to squeeze the words ‘I love you’ out of me, especially in front of such an appreciative audience.

Yours in mortifying embarrassment,

21st November 2011

Dear Diary,

Today Yuji ramped up his efforts to win me over with his creative writing in class…

Yours with a slightly swollen ego,

30th November 2011

Dear Diary,

It came to my attention today that Yuji’s hair has become quite tall of late. Since club activity came to an end for the 3rd year students four months ago, Yuji has abandoned his baseball team buzz cut in favour of this new gravity defying monstrosity. I questioned him about his new style today:

Me: Yuji, you have a new haircut?
Yuji: Yes, you like?
Me: Umm, it’s interesting. It’s very…tall
Yuji (excitedly): Yes, yes! Chicken hair!
Me: Chicken hair?
Yuji: Yes, look chicken.
Me: You look like a chicken? Why do you want to look like a chicken?!
Yuji: Chicken hair cool!!!
Me: Okaaaay…

I will never understand the fashion trends of teenagers in Japan. Clearly Yuji is preparing himself to be one of the cool kids in high school. Quite why you need ‘chicken hair’ to achieve this, I’m not entirely sure.

Yours in Japanese fashion confusion,

14th December 2011

Dear Diary,

Yuji got hold of a speaking electronic dictionary in class today…and he found the ‘dating’ vocab section. Intermittently throughout class I had a polite American woman say to me:

‘You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.’
‘I’m crazy for you.’
‘You’re the one for me.’
‘I love you.’
‘Can we talk?’
‘Will you marry me?’

How does this kid not have a girlfriend?! Oh that’s right, because apparently I am his girlfriend…lucky me.

The still giggling,

16th December 2011

Dear Diary,

Today I had lunch with Yuji (and the polite American woman):

‘Can we talk? I have something to tell you…’
‘It was love at first sight.’
‘I can’t live without you.’
‘Stop playing hard to get!’

The apparently ‘playing hard to get’,

11th January 2011

Dear Diary,

Yuji’s hair has reached staggering new heights (literally):

Me: Yuji, you still have chicken hair?
Yuji: No, no, no, no. No chicken hair!
Me: It looks like chicken hair. What is it now?
Yuji: (motioning a wave washing over his head)
Me: Wave hair?!
Yuji: Yes, yes, YES!!!
Me: Ok. Why wave hair?
Yuji: Because it’s coooooooool!

Whatever you say Yuji, whatever you say…

Despairing over Yuji’s wave hair,

18th January 2012
Dear Diary,
3rd year graduation looms near. In two months my time with Yuji will end. He has become aware of the fact:

Do you think this counts as my first official marriage proposal?! Mum will be so pleased, I’m sure.

The blushing bride to be (ha),

19th January 2012

Dear Diary,

This was the extent of my interaction with Yuji today:
This morning…
Me: Good morning Yuji.
Yuji: I love you.
Me: I know.
Me: Hello Yuji.
Yuji: I love you.
Me: I know.
Warm up activity in class…
Me: What kind of girls are you interested in?
Yuji: Only Ms.Carla. Just Ms.Carla.
During class…
Yuji: I love you.
Me: I know.
Yuji: Do you love me?
Me: No.
Yuji: Yes!
Me: No.
Yuji: Yes!
Me: No.
Yuji: Yes you can!!!
This afternoon…
Me: Bye Yuji.
Yuji: I love you.
Me: I know.

It now feels like we have this skit well rehearsed…

Yuji’s personal heart-breaker,

2nd February 2012

Dear Diary,

Yuji caught me with a surprise declaration-of-love-attack today:

Yuji: Standing outside the 3-4 classroom while I eat lunch. Knocks on the door for my attention.
Me: Look up to see Yuji grinning at me.
Yuji: Yells through the door (so the entire 3-4 class can hear), I LOVE YOU!!!
Me: I know Yuji!
Yuji: Blows kisses and runs away.

The amazed,

3rd February 2012
Dear Diary,
Today Yuji put in his order for Valentine’s Day…
Yuji: Hi Ms.Carla!
Me: Hi Yuji!
Yuji (thinking and gesturing madly): You…me…Ms.Carla make chocolate…me…
Me: You want me to make you chocolates? For Valentine’s Day?
Yuji (grinning): Yes!!! Ok?
Me: No, sorry Yuji.
Yuji: Yes. Ok?
Me: No.

Yuji: Yes. Ok!!!

Killer of Yuji’s hopes and dreams,

8th February 2012

Dear Diary,

Today’s conversation with Yuji on the soccer field at lunch:

Me: Yuji, I hear you broke Tomoya’s arm playing soccer?

Yuji: Yes.

Me (knowing it was an accident): Why?!

Yuji (grinning): Because I’m No.1 Best Soccer Player!!! Please give chocolate.

The future No.1. Best Soccer Player’s wife,

9th February 2012

Dear Diary,

Yuji continues to be persistent about this Valentine’s business…

Yuji: Give me chocolate.
Me: No Yuji…your girlfriend will give you chocolate for Valentines Day.
Yuji: No, no! Ms.Carla my girlfriend!

The Valentine’s Grinch,

15th February 2012

Dear Diary,

Well, what do you know…Yuji got a Valentine’s surprise yesterday…

Me: Did you get chocolates yesterday?
Yuji: No, no, no, no, no! BUT I got card!
Me: Really? Who from?
Yuji: Ms.Carla!
Me: Nooooo, I don’t think so…
Yuji: Yes! I’m happy! I cry! (grinning)

Giver of false hope,

20th February 2012

Dear Diary,

The insatiable Yuji was at it again today:

Yuji: I love you!
Me: I know. But you are trouble.
Yuji: Trouble どう言ういみ?(What does ‘trouble’ mean?)
Me: (chuckling) めんどくさい (Mendokusai/troublesome)
Yuji: (grinning) I’m trouble! Do you love trouble?!

Attractor of trouble,

22nd February 2012

Dear Diary,

Today I did ‘Crazy Sentences’ with the 3rd year students. This is the gem Yuji and his group came up with…Yuji wrote the first sentence and then his loving classmates (knowing about his infatuation with me), kindly carried on the story for him…

A truly inspired piece of English literature…the legend of Yuji’s love for me will be remembered by these kids forever.

The one who apparently doesn’t like Yuji,

29th February 2012

Dear Diary,

Today was my last lesson with Yuji before he graduates. To mark the occasion, he wrote and said a speech for me:

After Yuji gave his speech he said he was sad…while grinning. I cried. Only eight more school days until he leaves my life…what will I do?!

Dreading the inevitable,

2nd March 2012

Dear Diary,

Today was my last lunch with 3-5 before graduation and fate ensured I had a seat opposite Yuji and his best mates Shu and Kenji for the occasion. We were all then treated to Yuji monologing for the duration of lunch…

I might actually miss Yuji’s ‘perfect face’ when he isn’t around any more.

Second to Yuji’s other girlfriend, Eddy Murphy,

12th March 2012

Dear Diary,

Today Yuji graduated from Omiya Junior High School. I cried. Yuji did not. In fact, since he shaved off his eye brows last week and his obsession with his ‘wave hair’ reaches epic proportions, he seems to have lost all interest in winning me over. He is all grown up and moving on. After today I won’t have Yuji’s daily professions of love to amuse me in the hallways at school, but something tells me this isn’t the last time I’ll be seeing Yuji…

The now very sad and Yuji-less,