teacher’s question hangs in the drowsy classroom a crow answers
The heat and humidity are stifling and we still have two weeks of classes before summer vacation. At least here at Kyoto Seika College, I can open the windows and get some mountain air. These young women are exhausting with their need to be entertained. Today, feeling nostalgic, I begin rambling about my experiences hitchhiking from Spain to England when I was twenty. How I borrowed a Frenchman’s surfboard in Guethary, got wiped out by the waves, and nearly drowned. Doctors stitched up my forehead, which I’d hit on the fin of the surfboard. My students, who think all Americans are wealthy, are shocked to hear that I was so poor my friend had to take out the stitches instead of a doctor. They all listen today – even ask questions – and I have a good time reminiscing.
In the next Beginner English class, I go back to the textbook and set up a role playing exercise for the students: making a telephone date, then meeting at a restaurant. After I explain the vocabulary and structure of the skit, they ask me for some American men’s names, besides Michael (Jackson) and Tom (Cruise).
on the blackboard I make a list of men’s names – all former lovers
In the more advanced afternoon class, I usually challenge these young women to discuss controversial subjects, such as feminism. Today I bring up the subject of chikan – men who molest women, most often in crowded places where they are helpless to get away. In an overpopulated country where anonymity is the norm, chikan are common. This proves to be a difficult topic for these nineteen-year-old maidens to talk about. Once I get them started by making up an imaginary tale of my own, they all have a story to tell. Most encounters were subtle – an elbow grazing her breast when jostled on the train or a man mashed up against her from behind. But when the man began rubbing up against her, visibly excited, or when the anonymous hand ventured up under her skirt – when the motive became clear – then it became “uncomfortable.” We talk about the emotions they experienced: surprise, fear, embarrassment, anger. They felt all of these, yet not one woman confronted her molester, even verbally. Culturally, I understand that it’s very hard for them to talk to a man in this situation, but I’m exasperated by their stoic endurance of these despicable acts.
I end the class by saying, “Isn’t it time, ladies, that we speak out and embarrass the men, who are really the ones who should be punished?” Some nod, some hang their heads in yet more embarrassment.
the words molester, obscene phone call, pervert left on the blackboard