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Teaching English in Japan with Ato – F You!

Last updated on September 2, 2009

Part 2: If you think the figurine above is shocking, read what Ato had to deal with at his new school:
“And so it begins…

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the first two weeks of this semester at a school that’s been refurbished within the last couple years or so, which means the facilities are up to date and I feel like I’m working in the 21st century; the school actually has ELECTRIC heaters and not the fuel powered ones that require the class to have a container of gas in the corner spewing out fumes, making me dizzy.

The kids seem pretty nice so far, but that’s because they’re still getting used to their new grades; I give it two weeks before they’re straight disrespecting me.
Now when I say “the kids don’t seem that bad” I should mention two of my ninensei classes I walked in and said ‘Good Morning everyone!’ to be met by “F*ck you!” from some of the students, prompting me to give a 10-minute lecture on why you can say that in Japan (because people don’t beat the sh*t out of strangers) versus why you can’t say that anywhere in the States. Some of the kids didn’t believe me, so I suggested they don’t try saying it to me in the safety of the classroom, but to a random foreigner walking on the street if they want to see what happens – I hope some of them DO try it! Dealing with this kind of childish behavior from the kids is one thing, but what about when it comes from adults?
I’m standing in the staff room surrounded by teachers like a bunch of giggling schoolgirls around a new puppy and one of the older ladies asks the inevitable: ‘Can I touch your hair?’ I can understand asking the question but don’t have your hand stretched out in my f*cking face like I’m already gonna say yes. I pushed her hand away, stopped smiling, looked at her in the eyes and said no. The look on her face you would swear I just slapped her. No wonder I have kids running up to md when my back is turned, pulling my hair and running away – this is where they learn it from.
Today is ‘Fit Test’ day so I don’t teach – just spend the whole day walking amongst the kids educatin’ them on real sh*t that matters, so they don’t get themselves killed when they meet foreigners out in the real world:
Japanese Teacher: ‘Will you be taking part in the Fit Test?’
Ato: ‘No, I have injuries. (True)’

Japanese Teacher:  ‘Oh..We will be disappointed..we know you can jump high and run fast..’

Ato: ‘Really? How’s that?’
Japanese Teacher: ‘..because you the Caribe..(big, stupid, ignorant grin)
Ato: ‘Sorry to disappoint you.’
Basically, because I’m black, all the teachers (including the ‘smart’ ones that have studied and worked abroad, assume that because I’m black I can jump high and run oh so fast. While that may be true in my case, I’m not taking part in their Fitness Test just to satisfy their curiousity. There will be no jump-ato-how-high today. Sorry! Watch reruns of the Olympics.”
Photo credit to Danny Choo

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  1. King Tone Capone King Tone Capone September 7, 2009

    I have been working in public schools in Japan for almost four years. Even though you do meet a few bad students, it’s really up to the way you carry yourself that will determine how they treat you or look at you. Same for the staff. If you don’t know how to acclimate yourself to this culture you will only make yourself sick, perpetuate the negative stereotypes, and eventually you will end up leaving here disgusted.

    The teacher that wanted to touch your hair was probably just being Japanese, which is to say she was just curious and that was her way of satisfying her curiousity. It can be annoying, true, but don’t automatically think it’s because she is trying to diss you.

    And the reason why they say you can prolly run fast and jump high is because the Jamaican brotha Bolt is almost a national hero, he is so popular. So they tend to think that alot of Blacks are strong and have athletic prowess. Is it a stereotype? Yes. Is it the same as saying all blacks eat watermelon? No!

    My advice, just relax and don’t be so reactive. It’s not what they do to you, it’s how you handle it. Either that, or go home.

  2. Brown Canadian Brown Canadian September 11, 2009

    haha lol
    that is so funny.
    im brown and considering teaching in Japan. I was worried that it would be impossible for a guy with darker skin to get around.

  3. JCurious JCurious March 3, 2010

    “Looked like you slapped her” lol! thats halarious!

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