From what I have seen, the graduation ceremony looks a bit like my high school prize-giving, but with markedly more singing and bowing. I think the teachers - including me - are expected to sing a song too, but since I a) can't sing, b) can't speak Japanese, and c) can't read the sheet of music that I've been given, I think I'll just pull a Cheryl Cole.
All the proper teachers have to attend these rehearsals, where they patrol like drill sergeants spotting kids who aren't standing sufficiently straight or singing sufficiently genkily. Thankfully I am excused from this duty, so I can just hang out in the staffroom with my Japanese textbooks. But that does get a bit dull after a while, so I've started really relishing cleaning time.
Today when I was sweeping the stairs, a teacher asked me if we had brooms where I come from. My heart sank as I thought she was about to tell me I'd been doing it all wrong for the last seven months. But no, she complimented my sweeping style! Out of boredom, I had been really going for it; using my left hand for a while and then switching to my right hand and sweeping even faster, to the amazement of my imaginary audience. I do a similar thing with snowboarding switch-stance.
To anyone who finds themselves having to clean a Japanese school, I would recommend the stairs. They are often overlooked by the students for some reason, and clever use of the steps allows you to stoop less - Japanese brooms are not designed for people my height. And there is something inherently satisfying about having your cleaning goal broken literally into steps. You don't see any recovering alcoholics doing the one-corridor programme.
Cleaning time is a good opportunity for informal interaction with the students. The kids certainly aren't afraid of me; the following is a list of things that happened today alone:
- A girl addressed me as "Fifi-chan", a nickname that I have done nothing to promote.
- The same girl pointed at my belly and said "Metabo?". This is short for 'metabolic syndrome', which is the medical euphemism of choice to describe being overweight.
- A bunch of students mocked my effeminate sitting style while scrubbing the floor, saying "Ooooh, pretty!". I was in a kind of sideways recline, a bit like the Little Mermaid ("Mer-man! Mer-MAN!"), but in my defence it's much more comfortable than kneeling for a gaijin like me.
- A boy asked me "Do you have a pocket monster?". He does this everytime he sees me, apparently lacking any concept of jokes getting old. Like all good Wikipedians I assume good faith, so when a kid says something that could be construed as rude I give them the benefit of the doubt. (Who could forget the time a girl said "I am glad to bone my mother", which turned out to be an honest but impressively disastrous mangling of "I am grateful to my mother for giving birth to me"?) So, the first couple of times he said it I was willing to believe he was just trying to strike up a conversation about Pokemon, which I'd be more than happy to participate in. But it's become pretty clear he's talking about penises. At least he formed a proper sentence this time; usually it's just "Finlay! Pocket monster?" Now I just respond in kind, asking how big his pocket monster is until he walks away giggling. I can always start inquiring about Pokeballs if he gets tired of that.
After the much-hyped graduation the kids are on spring holiday for a couple of weeks, representing an ideal time for me to take some leave. I kind of dropped the ball regarding organising any kind of holiday, so a couple of days ago I panicked and hatched a ridiculous plan to go to Sapporo on the cheap using only local trains. I invited pretty much every foreigner I know on the trip but no-one fancied it. It's almost like they thought spending 40 hours on a train in five days was a bad idea, the fools.
Fortunately, some nearby ALTs took pity on me and invited me on their trip to Kansai. I managed to clear the time off with my supervisor at cheekily short notice, so I'm going to Osaka on thursday, where apparently they have a box at the sumo tournament. After that it's Kyoto, and then they are planning to push on to the far-flung Hiroshima, but I think I might opt out of that leg of the journey - bullet trains are not cheap.
Tonight I'm off to my favourite izakaya, where they offer hot cheese wrapped in bacon on sticks, a rare treat in the land of rice and soybeans. I shall however be careful not to overindulge on the biiru (beer), since last weekend I was shooting absinthe and, long story short, I broke my no vomiting in Asia record and ended up with a two-day hangover, or mikkayoi (literally, "third day intoxication") as it is pleasingly called in Japanese.