Name, Rank, and Musical Number
        You only get one shot to make a first impression. Well, maybe two. This is at least the case when it came to meeting the teachers at my main school. I have two schools I teach at. My main school I am at four days a week, while I only teach at my second school on Fridays. I am fond of both schools, but it’s been much easier to build rapport at my main school strictly due to the amount of time I spend there. For today, we will focus on the main school and how I was introduced to the teachers and staff.
    The first introduction, I should have been better prepared. It was a day or two before school started. All of the ALTs were told to meet at the Board of Education building and we would be taken to meet our schools. We were told to dress work appropriate, but not formal. In hindsight, I should have worn a tie. I was clad in my blue and white checkered button down. The shirt was my go to for years for holiday meals and church. After meeting with the other ALTs and support staff, we were ushered into a meeting with the head of the Minami-Alps board of education. The meeting was light, but felt far more formal then the shirt I was wearing. After a short speech from our higher ups, we split into groups and left to visit our respective groups.
    I was very lucky in the group that I got placed in. The two other ALTs were experienced and made my life much easier. One was in his second year living in the Alps. Matt is a fun loving Aussie who I had already met at a cherry blossom viewing picnic prior. I would lean heavily on him and Jodie in my first year. They are a wealth of information and immensely kind. I owe them greatly for my success in my first year. The other member of our crew was Minami-Alps best known ALT. The man who’s name carries weight throughout the land. His name is B-Sensei. No matter what school you go to, someone knows and loves B-Sensei. This included my main school, where he had taught several years prior. There had been a handful of ALTs since, but his influence still loomed large.
    After visiting a couple of schools, including my second school, the time came to visit my main school. During our travels that day, Matt and B-Sensei gave me advice and asked me questions about who I was. This would prove important. We arrived at the school and were ushered into the Principal’s office. I had not brought my indoor shoes and was at the mercy of the guest sandals. My feet were only about five sizes too large, my entire heel sticking out the back. We entered the office, pleasantries were exchanged. In the room with me were the other ALTs, the company rep, the head English teacher and the Principle himself. Most of the exchange initial exchange came from the company rep and B-Sensei, their Japanese leagues ahead of mine. I mostly smiled and nodded, trying to hide my nerves and my ignorance.
    After a bit of small talk, we were whisked into the next room. We now stood in the Teacher’s office. The room was abuzz as everyone prepared for the year about to start. A quick throat clear from the Principal and the room came to a stop. First, the company rep introduced himself and the company. Then, it was my turn in the spotlight. I’m not one to shy away from a performance, but this was different. These were the people I would be working with all year and I was trying not to butcher their native tongue. I kept the Japanese short and sweet before switching to English for the last bit. Finally, B-Sensei chimed in. I still don’t know everything he said, but once he finished, everyone seemed fairly happy to have me there. The end of the first week though would cement this.
  After a fun week of introducing myself to students, explaining American football and how to say my name, I was invited to dinner by both of my schools to ring in the new school year. Unfortunately, the dinners were at the same time. As my main school asked first, I attended their soiree. I would not be caught off-guard this time, I wore a damn tie. The dinner was held at a nice sushi restaurant on the north side of town. We were led into a large traditional room. The tatami mat floors were adorn with cushions and tables at approximately shin height. This was my first attempt at traditional Japanese dining and to say I struggled finding a comfortable way to sit is an understatement. Sitting crossed legged or with my legs under the table were a no go. 
My legs are just too big. Kneeling was working far better, but was not going to be the best feeling in the world after a couple of hours. I’m sure everyone else was getting a kick out of seeing the Gaijin struggle. Eventually, I was asked if I wanted a chair. My pride wanted to say no, but my body was telling me yes. The chair sat at the same height as the table, bringing with it a couple of problems. The first problem was that the seat was so low, getting up and down were not my most graceful moments. All the while, the chair being at the same level as the table had me towering above both my food and everyone else in the room. Because I needed help sticking out in this room.
    Eventually, the dinner commenced. The conversation was lively and the food was tremendous. I ate food I would have never tried back in America. The teachers did their best to explain the dishes and include me in conversations. I was feeling more and more at home. After some speeches and toasts, one of the younger teachers approached me. Some of the teachers had been charged with introducing the new teachers, of which there were nine. His daunting task was to introduce the new ALT. I assume he had received this task due to his impressive English abilities. Unfortunately, he had about fifteen minutes to throw together a presentation. I realized my future was in his hands. I needed him to make me sound like someone they want to include in their school. The school had a rough go of it the previous year with the ALT and many thought there could be pushback because of this. Eventually, it was my turn to be introduced. I could tell he was a bit nervous. The early focus was on the measurable, focusing on how dekkai I actually am. The measurements said aloud leaving some in stunned awe. Some started to smile when my love of sports such as golf, football and sumo were brought up. To finish, he talked about my love of music and singing. After some gasp, many started to ask me to sing.
I froze a bit. What do you sing for a room full of Japanese teachers on the spot? Wait, many of the teachers being a bit older then I am probably know the Beatles. But what song? Of all the things to pop into my head at that moment, it was Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and let fly with the chorus of “All You Need is Love”. Looking out, the shocked looks had returned to their faces. I lived a lifetime in that moment of pause. An eruption of cheers snapped me back to reality, a sense of relief allowed me to finally breathe again. I gave a small speech after, apologizing for my lack of Japanese and asking for their support over the next year. Upon returning to my seat, it was made abundantly clear that I would be attending the karaoke after party and that I would be singing. Wanting to still gain favor, I thought it best not to protest.
A chance to mingle more with my coworkers and knock back a couple more brews sounded great. If I have to sing a song or two, so be it. I chose “Piano Man” and “Fire and Rain” to the groups approval. The songs are in my range and I know them well enough to win over the crowd. Then the owner of the bar asked me to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. I was very thankful that he picked a song I am very familiar with. Someone then got the bright idea that I should sing half a Michael Jackson album. I love the King of Pop, but I can’t sing his work well to save my life. My main reprieve at this moment is that the majority of the crowd is three sheets to the wind. My coworkers seem to have a low alcohol tolerance. I finally got a reprieve after eight or nine songs, engaging in whatever conversation I could get into to save my vocal chords.
Not that it was hard to find a conversation that night. Teachers were asking questions left and right, in both Japanese and English. The best part is, it has never really stopped. It’s amazing how welcoming the school has been. Both schools for that matter. I still wish I could integrate more into everyday conversations. My Japanese has improved, but not that much. But even so, they try to include me when possible. It helps that some speak fairly good English. No matter the case, it’s given me a feeling I didn’t think I would ever get here. A feeling of belonging. A feeling of being home.
   


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What do you sing for a room full of Japanese teachers on the spot? 

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Jeff Maack
 
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