This week's title comes from some close encounters that I've had with students. Before I came to Japan, I understood that physical contact like hugging and other things intentional were off-limits. So I was very surprised when one of my 9th grade students poked me in the butt during the passing period! I told him never to do that again, but I was afraid of saying anything more because his English and my Japanese were both quite poor. So I asked my cultural confidant, Aki, what the deal-io was here. He said that it was a sign that the boys like me, but not a sexual advance as it might be interpreted in the States. Yes, that kind of touching shouldn't happen between teachers and students. But the best thing I could do is not to react. That would encourage them to keep doing it.

So the next day, I'm more relaxed about it. As I'm passing through the aisle between desks in class before class starts, another student taps me in the groin! Immediately I hold his hands to his side and tell him, "keep your hands to yourself" as he grins and I try to hold back a grin at how strange and absurd this behavior seems to me. To give you some more context to what is going on here, I need to tell you that I teach at a private, Christian, boys junior high school. So I guess that you could call it a bit of a bubble. During the days the boys are pal-ing around with arms around shoulders, horsing around, etc. Now that this happened to me, I'm more aware of how its going on everywhere.

Now I'm not telling you this to embarrass anyone. Its just a story about cross-cultural relations. Even some of the solid stereotypes about a culture don't hold up when you live in a specific sub-culture of it. So I guess that's what I'm in right now. All bets are off and I've got to approach school with an even more open mind!

This past weekend I was a teacher/counselor at an English Camp that we held for the 7th grade boys here. We had about 6 hours of English content and the rest of the program and cultural cues were Japanese. Not exactly an immersion environment, but I definately saw the boys warming up to speaking English outside of the classroom. I'm supposed to write my suggestions and observations for revisions. My duties at school are progressively increasing, so there's a danger of that report getting stuck under the in-box pile.

The camp was held at the retreat property of Kwansei Gakuin in the mountains northwest of Nishinomiya. We slept in traditional Japanese cabins with reed mats, paper windowshades and room dividers. I slept on a futon. It certainly was an experience, but I didn't get a lot of sleep! This may take some getting used to. I was impressed with the open space of the cabin despite its small size. I had the same feeling when I visited Nijo Castle last week. Here is this huge palace inside the forbidding walls, and there is nothing in the rooms! Where do they put all the stuff for running the territory? Tables, files, weapons? All that was in the rooms were the tatami mats, staggered shelves, and wall paper. Perhaps the important thing to see is the architecture and art on the walls, so they present it like a real estate open house. Or maybe I'm missing something cultural here and there really isn't supposed to be anything in these rooms but the art of open space.

This Monday, I will go to Hiroshima with a group of Indian students visiting our school on an exchange program. I'm debating on whether to buy a digital camera this weekend to document it or wait until the next paycheck. I'll see if I can get digital scans of my film pictures. Thanks for reading and look forward to highlights of my daytrip to Hiroshima next Thursday.

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