My school is so large that it gets two ALTs. ALT being a native speaker of English assigned to a school. I am here every day, the other person on Mondays and Fridays. Last year we had an intelligent young lad whose Japanese was exceptional. He left because we are only on a two month contract right now. Understandable. His replacement is a very nice lady with no bad intent in her, I think, which makes me hope that she never reads this. Is her name really Ms. Kubota? Close enough. Should I begin the mystery from the deep end or start into it slowly? When everyone who works for my company went to the board of education to do our greetings, she was very concerned about how much Japanese we would have to speak. She struggled to make it through her meagre two sentence introduction. I felt bad for her. Not everyone has to come to Japan speaking Japanese. I didn't find out until a little later that her last name was Kubota. Curious. Not crazy though as there are plenty of Japanese men in America. When we broke up into independent meetings with our schools she went over her resume. She has been teaching in Japan for over twenty years and has two junior high school age children. Indignation. Indignation but not condemnation. True I have a bias against non-Japanese in Japan rolling over and playing dead, but we all have different priorities in life. I postulated theories. It could be that her husband is a great English speaker, so too are her daughters and everyone gets by fine and her focus is on her family. So I broached the topic at school:
"Your husband must speak English well."
"No. He tried to study for a little bit, but...."
"Really? How do you guys communicate?"
"Well you talk about the same thing every day anyway right?"
"Hmmm. Your daughters must be very good at English."
"That is very kind of you, but no, they can't speak English."
"So how do you talk to them?"
"Oh, you know, it is pretty much the same thing every day."
But I don't know that at all. That is crazy. Is it not? What is your life? Don't you at least get curious and wonder, "What are these people who I live with saying?" Even if you were set on the laziest mode possible, wouldn't twenty years of living somewhere penetrate your brain? Am I wrong to find this perplexing? Realize that I am not being that demanding here. If I were to say it in English, her level would correspond to someone who couldn't say "This is a table." or "How's the weather?" This is beyond odd. There is also the- inevitable with me- political aspect. I have put in a long time yelling that people who aren't Japanese shouldn't be treated like tourists or part-timers and here is someone who has dedicated themselves to being completely comfortable with being non-functional. Can't play with it. Can't win with it.