Ah, the opening ceremony….
The Japanese hold opening ceremonies much the same way that Canadians throw around apologies. They happen all the time, regardless of whether or not they are actually required. Some are elaborate and a bit over the top, the way you would apologise for kicking someone’s baby; some are quick and nonchalant, the way you would apologise for bumping someone’s elbow in a crowded subway. The ceremony is something that is completely natural in Japan but can feel a bit awkward for those of us who are new to the custom. But you get used to it. I’ve been in Japan for just 6 weeks and I’ve witnessed or participated in more opening ceremonies then I can count.
I made it through the opening ceremony at my school without any major embarrassments. I mean, I didn’t set myself on fire or anything. That’s not to say there were no, ahem, incidents.
I had to make a self introduction speech to the students and staff. It was entirely in Japanese and it was very simple. Basically I said: Hello everyone and nice to meet you all. My name is Meagan Connor but please call me Meagan. I am from Kingston, Canada. Canada is famous for Anne of Green Gables. Maybe you know her? My hobby is photography. My Japanese is not very good but I am studying to learn. Let’s have fun in class together! Please look favourably upon me. (Ok, that last bit is from a Japanese phrase that’s really hard to translate but you say when you meet new people.)
The speech was short and simple, but there were enough vocabulary words that I felt I had plenty of opportunities to screw it up and deeply offend someone. I was pretty nervous. Anyhow, one of the teachers gave me a schedule for the assembly and told me step-by-step what would be happening and when I would be speaking. It was a very kind gesture and I was so grateful for his help.
When we got to the gym for the assembly I took off my shoes and was going to go barefoot, since that’s what all the other teachers were doing and I had confirmed the day before that would be ok. However, upon seeing my sock feet one of the teachers hustled over to me to give me a pair of slippers. These are the one-size-fits all slippers that are all over Japan for situations when you don’t have your own indoor (or, in this case, gym) shoes. Most westerners complain that they are too small. Yeah, well, I bet those people can also reach the top shelves in their kitchens. Show offs.
I shuffled into the gym in my oversized slippers and I followed another teacher to the front, where I was instructed to sit in the lone chair in front of the stage. So I sat, while everyone else in the room stood. Eventually someone started speaking into a microphone and then the room fell completely silent. It stayed silent for a few seconds before another teacher whispered “Meagan, now.” I slowly shuffled up the stairs, being careful no to fling my slipper into the audience. I walked up to the podium and started speaking into the microphone. I have to tell you, I killed the first few lines of my speech. I completely rocked it. I had confidence, style, and perfect pronunciation. I didn’t even need to look at my paper, which was good. If I had been looking at my paper, I might not have noticed the strange looks on everyone’s faces. Or the teacher who was rushing up to the stage with a modest, but undeniably horrified look on her face.
Oh. No. What have I done? What did I say? Is my zipper undone? No, I’m wearing a skirt. IS MY SKIRT TUCKED INTO MY UNDERWEAR? Panic. How do I check if my skirt is tucked into my underwear without drawing further attention to myself.
Finally, after the longest and most panic-stricken interior monolog ever, my co-teacher made it up to the stage. “Meagan, first the principal will speak. Then it will be your turn. Please sit in that chair on the stage and wait.” Oh. Well, that’s embarrassing,
I sat in the chair as the principal spoke and a calm washed over me. That had been bad, but could have been so much worse. When the principal finished he gestured for me to come up to the podium. I gave my speech, somewhat less enthusiastically the second time, but I made it through without flashing anyone. Which, I decided later, is a mark of success in its own right.
I have been teaching now for two full weeks. I’m still getting used to team-teaching and it takes me hours to mark essays that should probably take me minutes. But I have yet to flash any students. Or co-workers, for that matter. Success!