When I was at Betsuin Junior High School I spent my last class with the 3rd year students. They were to listen to a random, real conversation between the teacher and me, and then to think of three questions to ask me. Of course the topic went to the Olympics. A student prompted Mr. Yamashita to inquire after my loyalties. For whom did I cheer, Japan or America?
Did my thoughts turn to patriotism or conflicted allegiance? Nay. They turned to the memory of watching a Dutch commercial during a winter Olympics more than twelve years ago. Some blond Viking speed skater was sitting, supposedly nude, in a bathtub full of ice cubes. At some point the viewers were urged to buy a product. I only remember his chest muscles. During the long tradition of Choose Your Own Olympian Husband tradition with my sister, I don't recall a fiercer argument than after seeing that commercial. And I've said before that blonds don't turn my pages. What a liar am I.
So I was honest with these fifteen-year-olds. After all, this was the last time I would ever teach them.
"I choose the handsomest men and vote for their team," I replied. "It doesn't matter what country."
"Handsome?" asked the boy who had prompted the question. Mr. Yamashita explained my answer and a few of the girls giggled. We moved on to other topics, but it seemed my preferences in men stuck in these students' minds.
Question time came soon enough. The students consulted with Mr. Yamashita for anything they couldn't translate by themselves. The first questions were pretty tame.
"If the world will end tomorrow, what will you do?"
"Which do you like better, soccer of baseball?"
These questions I answered easily enough, spelling out the words in my answers for them and signing their papers for verification. Then it seemed that one out of every four questions was something about men, or my tastes in men. Sure, they asked me about Japanese actors. I only know the name of one skinny guy and Ken Watanabe (heaven help me if they conclude I have a taste for older men. I'd never hear the end of it), so I feigned enthusiasm for the star of Nodame Cantabile, who does have the credit of being a good actor. But they also asked me some weird questions, my favorites of which were from a baseball boy—"Do you like body builders?"—and from a couple of girls—"Who is the best boy in the class?"
God bless the study of comparatives.
To the first I answered with a laugh and a resounding "No!" The boy found my response and the subsequent mimicry of bodybuilding poses amusing. The second was a little more difficult to get out of. Sure, I could have pointed at any boy in the class and said, "He is," but slay me if I ever mislead junior high school students into thinking that I find them attractive.
"I don't know," I said, shrugging.
The girls weren't content. They circled their faces with their fingers. "Good, etto, good face. Who? Who?"
Fighting the temptation to choose a nice kid who was clearly the least popular in class, I shrugged again. The girls pointed at their classmates. "He? He?" One boy who had heard the conversation looked between the girls and me, and then deliberately stepped behind a female classmate. His friends laughed. "He? Him? Him?"
"Listen," I said, holding up my hands. "I am twenty-five years old. They," I waved a hand at the boys in the room, "are fifteen. Too young. They are ten years younger than I am."
The girls nodded, satisfied. As females, we can agree that immaturity is never a desirable trait in a man. Bonding.
A couple of other students asked me what my favorite TV program was. This is a weakness. I'm not a fan of Japanese television; it's an assault on my senses. The dorama (anything that is fictitious, from mystery to comedy) are usually acted by young, pretty people whose mediocre talents span singing through their noses, wooden acting, and dancing like a drunk Backstreet Boy. There are a plethora of silly romantic comedies starring members of boy bands. Picking a band and following them from hit single to quiz show to drama is a surefire way to connect with students. One could have a whole conversation consisting of "I like~" and inserting a member of the band, a song they sang, a show they were on, or a TV special in which they made an appearance for the tilde.
The upside to terrible TV is that it's pretty easy to understand. The "good" shows are tougher for me to figure out when there are no subtitles. Bad TV has catch phrases, slapstick humor, jokes that are as far from subtle as I am from wearing pants to bed. Americans, compare Gossip Girl to 30 Rock and know why I used the one show whose name I could remember at the time (I watched three episodes without subtitles and gave up. Keep secret!). "Masuguna Otoko," I answered, and basked in the immediate bonding.
"Oh, that's a good one," they replied excitedly. "Do you know Getikototogotogotoshmendai?"
"Er," I replied, "no." The glow of cross-cultural bonding was fading as quickly as it had appeared.
"How about Nakamegidigidigidigidigo?"
"Um, no." The light was dim.
One student thought for a moment. In careful English she suggested, "How about Yamato getktitotitijdsjsdflaks?"
At least I had caught the first part. "When?" I asked.
The two girls conferred. "Saturday. Ten o'clock. Night. At night."
I made typing motions. "I will find it," I assured them. "I will search and watch it on the web."
True to my word, I did. I suffered through an episode of that craptastic wormhole of bad acting and obviousness. I was determined that sustained horrified laughter on my part was not a sign of worthwhile television. When simplified to the main story arc only, the plot is as follows: Ill-tempered young man, cursed by a beautiful face that prevents women from ever loving him as he truly is, behaves like a dirty buffalo's anus to a superbly weird, subservient (yet classically beautiful, but with a complex about her looks, natch) girl. They fall in love. Their friends rejoice, having seen it all along. I roll my eyes, having seen it from the first ten minutes of the show. Mind, I haven't seen more than the first episode and a half at this point. Check back with me in another seven weeks when the show is over for confirmation.
"Check back?" you say with ample incredulity. "But it's not worthwhile!"
It isn't, no. But at a different junior high school the mere mention of this show brought so many squeals of delight that I have seen this whirling tar pit of terrible media in a different light. This light is that of common ground, something I can share with my students. They'll never know my true hatred for the feather-haired girlymen who have to be in kissing range to say anything threatening or masculine. No. I will find the real names of those sissies and listen to them screech at me in poor imitation of singing. I will watch their performances on YouTube and pretend that I love their jazz hands and body rolls. And in sweet return I will earn the love and respect of all girls ages fifteen and under. And die a little bit, every day.
And now, you can, too! Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge episode 1
Don't worry, the groper gets his. Also, guys mess with each other like that all the time here, kind of like how the six-year-olds mess with me. Tell me what you think, and consider yourself educated in the archetypes of male appeal according to modern Japanese society.
All of this comes after telling a cousin that watching TV is a great way to improve one's Japanese. I'm sorry, Richard. That was before I learned of this show.
Also, I looked up that commercial with the naked skater. How did I not know that it the commercial was for lotion?