Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Japanese Musings I: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes



I'm feeling a bit Balkaned out this week and as the next instalment of Balkania is not quite ready for posting yet, I've decided to break it up with a short hop over to Japan. This is the first in an irregular series of articles that i wrote whilst working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) out in Osawano, a small town in rural Japan back in 2000-2. These articles are the earliest pieces of travel writing I ever wrote and describe episodes from my life, as a somewhat baffled and bemused promoter of Internationalisation to the youth of Japan...

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all the Japanese Musings:

Series 1

Japanese Musings I: Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Japanese Musings II: O-ha!!!

Japanese Musings III: The Thin Blue Line

Japanese Musings IV: Nihon no Shokyu

Japanese Musings V: The Sporting Life

Japanese Musings VI: A Bad Day

Japanese Musings VII: Time, time, time…

Japanese Musings VIII: The Joys of Internationalisation

Japanese Musings IX: Meri Kurisumasu!

Japanese Musings X: It’s Cold Outside!

Japanese Musings XI: Moomins and Mydo Cardo

Japanese Musings XII: Engrish

Japanese Musings XIII: Valentine’s Day

Series 2

Japanese Musings 2.1: Arrival: Tokyo

Japanese Musings 2.2: Arrival: Inaka

Japanese Musings 2.3: Riding the Kamioka-sen

Japanese Musings 2.4: Onsen

Japanese Musings I: Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
The other day I was informed by the town hall that my lessons for Primary Schools during the month of November would be centered around the exciting theme of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." Now, for those of you not in the know, Head Shoulders, Knees and Toes is a pretty cool song that virtually all kids, (well British ones at least), learn when they are between the ages of 3 and 5. It involves one standing up, and singing the following:-
Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
Knees and Toes
Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
Knees and Toes
Eyes and Ears and Mouth and Nose
Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
Knees and Toes
And, if these stunning lyrics were not enough, one must also point to the various parts of ones anatomy whilst saying the words. Yes, it's that cool and thus I anticipated doing these lessons with relish. Of course the whole point to the lesson however is to teach my little darlings the parts of the body and thus it is no use just singing the song and pointing to body parts, they just wouldn't get it. Therefore I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to draw a big picture of a body (clothed I must add), and then point the bits out to my kiddiwinks first, before progressing to more musical activities.
Now, whilst this idea sounded good in practice, I soon hit upon a massive stumbling block, that being the fact that I cannot draw; or in other words, I am to Art what Josef Stalin was to Humanitarianism. I attempted a few bodies, but to say that they didn't quite turn out as anticipated is something of an understatement. What I am very good at however, is gaining inspiration from the creations of others, (i.e. nicking other people's ideas), and with this in mind, I decided instead to copy a popular cartoon character and then use this instead of my own pitiful creation. But great as this idea sounds, it too only created more problems, since I then discovered that not one popular Japanese cartoon character has all the necessary 'bits':-

Pikachoo has no knees.
Am-Pam-Man also has no knees, or toes, and indeed he often doesn't even have all of his face.
Thomas the Tank Engine is a train, he thus was completely useless.
Hello Kitty has no mouth.
Miffy Bunny, no knees also, (though very big ears it must be said).
The Moomins; they have very little except huge noses.

I was at a loss, what to do? As one should always do in a crisis, I made a cup of tea and put a CD on. And then it came to me! (Strictly speaking, not entirely true, then a mate rang up about something else entirely and I asked them what to do). There was the answer, MANGA!
No, I know not if you are aware of this but the Japanese are the world’s biggest consumers of comics. They sell them in the thousands and all ages read them. These comics are called Manga. So, there it was. All I had to do was buy a comic and copy one of the characters out of it. Thrilled, I rushed out of my little aparto, down to the nearest shop, grabbed the first comic that I saw, handed over my yens and rushed back. Unfortunately, I hadn't checked first which comic to buy. Big mistake, for I opened the pages and lo! What did I see?
Well, I cannot tell you, but from the title 'Exciting comic for men' you can take a pretty good guess. Yep, it was hard-core Manga Porn. Now whilst this was undoubtedly interesting from an artistic point of view, it was of course no good for my little munchkins, who would undoubtedly learn about more parts of the body than was on the curriculum if I copied one picture exactly. Unperturbed though, I browsed through the book until I found a figure which was passable with a few minor alterations, (e.g. slightly smaller breasts and clothes).
And so I set to work, and when this figure was finished, I clothed her, in Osawano JHS uniform. I then realised that she was actually holding something and the picture looked incomplete without a large cylindrical object for Miho (as I had christened her) to hold. Due to a lack of other ideas, I then added a huge flagpole complete with Japanese flag which I am sure you will agree is a perfectly natural object for any schoolgirl to hold. Thus she was complete and I felt very proud with myself.
The next day, the lesson commenced. Miho was put up on the board, and my little possums were most impressed. I selected one from the class as a volunteer and asked her, "Where is Miho's head?" Little Yuki thought for a while and then pointed, correctly at Miho's bonce. "Ping-pong!" said I (that means well done), and so I then asked her to point out the shoulders. Again and again Yuki guessed correctly, until I said "And where are Miho's ears?" Blank look from Yuki. I turned to her classmates. "Can you help?" I enquired. More blank stares. Then Japanese teacher says to me, "Ears?" "Yes, ears" I replied. "Excuse me but," she paused for a moment, "Miho have no ears." I looked at the picture, and yes, she was right, I'd forgotten her bloody ears.

Written Osawano, Japan 2000

Next musing: O-ha!!!


  1. Hey! I've been teaching in Osawano for the past three years. Since 2000, Osawano has been incorporated into Toyama City. The town is just as nice as ever, though. We've got a lot of conbinis now! And I believe I'm living in the same apartment complex you did (La Villa?)

    Anyway, I doubt any of the same teachers are here from 15 years ago, but if you need me to pass on any messages to someone in particular just let me know.

  2. Benjamin,

    Wow, so you are the Osawano ALT! Hope you're enjoying it. I had a very happy two years there and it really helped kick me off with regards to both travel and writing, (plus I met my future wife there... now ex-wife, ahem...), so all in all, it was well worth it.

    I lived in Corpo Locomotion which was near to Green Valley and next to a combini. Not sure about where La Villa is, but when I was there, there were two ALTs and the other one who taught in the high school lived in a different block, maybe that's it.

    The only guy who I know to be about from when I was there is an American guy named Torin Hunter who was originally an ALT. He had already been about for a few years when I was there. I am still in touch with him from time to time and if you see him, please greet him from me. Nice guy but weird political views and you can tell him I said that as we used to debate them for hours.

    I've got more Osawano stuff which I will be posting over the coming year in between longer travelogues, so please pop back and if you have anything you want to write about Osawano nowadays, I would be happy to post it on this blog to provide a contrast and update.

    All the best