Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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Photo of the Week
The Small Print
Star Struck
"Page 2 "
The Goods
Body & Soul
Tech Know
Cars & Bikes
Global Village
The Last Word
The Negi
+ Best of Tokyo
Haikyo Corner
Out & About
Japan Beat
Live Report
Pop Life
2008 Flashback
Stage & Dance
Metropolis League
Theater Maps
Restaurant Review
Bar Review
International Dining
Local Flavors
Table Talk
About Us
Distribution Points
Sponsored Links
Past Issues
804: Drama Scene
803: Heads, Tails & Snake Eyes
801: A Legacy of Emotion
800: Through the Monocle
799: Fighting spirit
798: Taking the Stares
796: Friends Don't Let Friends Become Salarymen
795: Fuzzy Democracy
794: Hung Jury
792: Highway to Hell
791: The Cartography of Cyberspace
790: Train Talk
789: A Confessions of a Teenager in Kimono
787: A Downloaded Question
786: Counterculture Shock
785: The Good Sensei
783: Me, Charisma Woman?
782: Stumbling Block
781: Paradise Lost
779: Half and Half
778: Road Rage
777: Dumb Luck
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ain't Easy Being Green
769: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Let's Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: I'll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes 'R' Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japan's Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters "R" Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthing's Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Caf Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Child's play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By R.D. Muth

The Good Sensei
You can learn a lot about Japanese culture from sitting in on a kindergarten class

R. D. Muth is an English teacher from Hawaii who loves kids, traveling and ¥100 coffees from McDonald's

When I walked into the Japanese kindergarten on my first day as an English teacher, I had to fight the urge to duck and run for cover. It was like stepping foot into a giant birdcage at the zoo. Everywhere I looked, children were loudly screeching and clawing at one another, leaping off the plastic slide and hanging upside down from the basketball hoop. It was terrifying.
And braving the front lines was my ballerina-frail Japanese co-teacher, a 24-year-old in pigtails and a Big Bird apron.

“Sit down, please” she repeated to each child, in the same soft, barely audible tone of voice. It had about as much of an effect as trying to catch a flock of wild geese with a butterfly net. What she really needed was a tranquilizer gun.

This wasn’t how I’d imagined it. Before coming to Japan, I’d pictured my co-teacher as a middle-aged, no-nonsense Mary Poppins-type, with a bun and a soft spot for Disney songs. My students would, in turn, be well-mannered, docile children who respected and revered their eigo no sensei.

But as I discovered in the months to follow the reality was different. Kindergarten teachers in Japan are more “human piñatas” than “highly-respected figures of authority.” In my first week alone, I had erasers hurled at my head, chalk dust thrown in my eyes, and my handbag tossed out of a second story window.

“Japanese children are monsters,” I raged to my English teacher friends. “Haven’t their parents heard of ‘Time outs’? Or better yet, clear, consistent rules?”

As an American, I’d grown up with the idea that a ‘good mother’ or a ‘good teacher’ was someone who set strict boundaries and consequences. And I’d assumed that these standards were the same the world over.
Akemi Shinohara

But in Japan, rules aren’t considered nearly as important as fostering the development of a mutual child/teacher friendship. The theory is that if children have close bonds with their teachers they won’t misbehave because they’ll be afraid of disappointing them. As Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno put it in their book The Japanese Mind, a “good parent” does whatever possible to “avoid creating any mental distance from their children,” even if it means giving in to their children’s demands. Or in the case of my Japanese co-teacher, not reacting when 5-year-old Kenshiro slaps her across the face.
“Ouch, you really hurt me,” was all she said. She didn’t scold or punish or arrange a parent-teacher conference. She simply rubbed her cheek, made an exaggerated show of wincing in pain and then continued on with the lesson as if nothing had happened.

But apparently, this non-reaction is all part of a bigger plan. By drawing attention to the pain he’d caused her, my co-teacher hoped to shape little Kenshiro into a good team player, a sensitive soul acutely tuned in to the feelings of those around him. And according to The Japanese Mind, this isn’t limited to the feelings of family, friends or pet goldfish—it’s even applied to the likes of the lowly houseplant or piece of old furniture, as I would learn when I caught little Kenshiro trying to knock over the classroom bookshelf.

“Kenshiro!” I hollered, for the third time that morning. “Don’t do that!’” He stared at the floor, his face as blank as a chalkboard.

“You’ve hurt the bookshelf,” my Japanese co-teacher translated softly, as she crouched down to his eye level. She gently touched the spot which moments before, Kenshiro had been bashing with a hula hoop. “He’s crying.”

I stared at her incredulously. Did she really think that hippie mumbo jumbo was going to work? If the kid didn’t care that he was about to cause his teacher to suffer a nervous breakdown, he certainly wasn’t going care about the hypothetical feelings of an inanimate object.

But then, something truly amazing happened. Kenshiro gazed at the bookshelf reproachfully and mumbled:


I recounted the story to my English teacher friends over beers later that night. They dragged on their cigarettes and regarded me thoughtfully.

“Japanese kindergarteners are like a group of untrained synchronized swimmers,” one friend commented philosophically. “Right now they’re flailing around, half-drowning. But give them a few years and they’ll be swimming in sync like robotic pod-people.”

I was dubious. I could imagine the children making an entertaining half hour of Super-Nanny: Japanese Kindergarten Edition, but well-mannered and disciplined? No way.

My teacher friends looked at each other smugly. “Just wait until you start working at a Japanese middle school. You’ll see.”

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