Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dreams of the 15-year-old

As the winter chill finally falls on Tokyo (we reached 13 degrees C today!), I can't help but start falling into a rather contemplative mood on the year gone by. Perhaps because there wasn't a long summer away from Tokyo or any extensive trips overseas that this year Tokyo feels very much like a full circle coming to a complete end, with an immediate kick of a new circle that, in many ways though, begins with flashes of images of the past.

Or perhaps it's the growingly shortened day or the increase of gray clouds on sky that makes one rather lethargic towards the daily work routine. Almost every turn of the corner reminds me something, some distant memory from a year ago. People say that music and scents recall old memories from the past. I agree but would add that the mere change of temperature felt upon one's skin too brings back memories one thought had long been gone.

The chilliness of the room, the aroma of a hot cup of coffee, the frozen fingers that reach out for a shockingly warm handshake with someone indoor ...

Christmas lights are already up all throughout the city. A friend asked me what are my plans for my Christmas. "Hmm ... no idea at the moment. But it'd be too 淋しい〜〜〜 (= lonely) to be here alone!!!" I replied. She nodded. "This will be my 2nd year alone here, if I do decide to stay."

Her husband is literally thousands of miles away, a trip that will take 20+ hours of physical endurance, dry air, and poor in-flight meals.

But still, I'm thankful for being here. As Sakai Junko puts it, Tokyo is a place 優しい (= thoughtful, gentle, considerate) to the lone dwellers - there are 24-hour internet cafes and karaoke boxes, neighborhood beer houses till 1 am, and Tsutaya video/DVD rental & books/music store till 4 am. Safety is guaranteed wherever one goes, and convenient stores always provide a warm haven for those who want a hot can of coffee, a bowl of oden, or random browsing of magazines, at any hour of the day.

But for the same reason, lone people continue to grow. Men become オタク (=otaku) and women turn 負け犬 (=make-inu, which I refrain from translating here 'cuz a translation wouldn't seem appropriate here).

And as Sakai suggests - given that Japanese gov't has been so fervently advertising and transporting the "soft power" of Japan overseas as a "come-back" power for its slumping economy while such "soft power" really should pay tribute to the large number of otaku population who supports it, perhaps it's time for the gov't to also draft out a new campaign that recognizes and transports the power of the make-inu?

On a completely different note ...

Earlier this year I joined a NPO organization partially sponsored by the Ministry of Education here that recruits foreign students in Tokyo on a part-time basis to offer presentations on their home cultures to students at local elementary/junior high schools. The aim of the organization is to encourage greater understanding of foreign countries/cultures among young Japanese students, and in turn it also hopes to help the Japanese kids develop a better sense of their own home cultures/traditions through contacts with the others.

Since then I have periodically been invited to local schools to talk about American cultures (given that I come to Japan as an American citizen). Some schools are located right at the heart of Tokyo while others in more suburb areas. Interestingly, regardless of the actual location of the school - which oftentimes indicates the wealth of a particular ward or income level of the kids' parents - students at one particular school could be very enthusiastic about learning and meeting foreigners, while those at another location could care less and show an overall attitude of apathy.

The reception from the school-side itself, however, often reflects the level of interests that the students embrace. Those that welcome us with obvious effort of sound coordination (e.g. beautifully printed name tags or typed-out schedules) and generosity (with almost too much tea, sweets, and souvenirs!) also tends to have kids that are curious in learning and open to the unknown; those that show less interest in taking the matter seriously also have kids who show indifference in learning. Surprisingly, some of the less financially well-off schools fall into the former category while some of the better funded ones fall into the latter.

The school that I visited yesterday fell into the former category. Though third graders in junior year (=9th graders in the U.S. system), an age when most Japanese students become rather shy, quiet, reserved (or simply too "cool") in speaking up their minds, the students yesterday were extremely responsive to the game questions and were far from timidity.

There is (again ...) a saying in Chinese - 「三歲看大,七歲看老」. I do believe that one always has the potentials for change and growth as long as one is committed to it. Yet, some young kids do exuberate a certain kind of potentials that just so evidently glow on their faces or glitter in their eyes.

On the train home, I was flipping through the thank you cards that that kids gave me. On the front page, each student pastes a work of origami, and on the back, each draws a picture of one aspect of Japanese tradition that he/she would like to introduce to me. At the bottom of the page, each student writes about his/her future dream.

"When I become ... I would like to see Japan becoming a country of/that ..."

"When I become a POLITICIAN, I would like to see Japan becoming a country that helps the developing countries ..."

"When I become a DOCTOR, I would like to see Japan becoming a country that sends doctors overseas to help those who don't have medical aids ..."

"When I become a LAWYER, I would like to see Japan becoming a country of law and order and peace ..."

"When I become a STYLIST, I would like to see Japan becoming a country of 幸せ (=happiness) ..."

"When I become a TEACHER, I would like to see Japan becoming a country of healthy and strong youths ..."

Beyond the hot tea, authentic sweets, warm smiles and enthusiastic responses received in class, these precious dreams are the most treasured rewards from the very short exchange time that I could have with them.

May their dreams come true.

梅ちゃん at 12:16:00 PM



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