Things kids say

The aim of this post is to illuminate a bit of what is accepted behaviour in schools in Japan, and to debunk the myth that all Japanese kids are well behaved. This is a myth that I believed before I came to Japan, and while these things are all relative, if you have this impression, you haven’t worked in a Japanese school. I’ve worked in a few. Some of my ALT friends have had schools where students vomited in class because they were drunk, or where all the staff hid in the staff room when one of the cars in the carpark was blown up. We’ve all had kids we’ve seen smoking. One of my Japanese friends reckons everyone he knows has been a student in a class where the teacher has had enough, said something like 「じゃ、勝手にやってください」(Fine, just do whatever) and basically thrown their hands up and gone back to the staff room.

These things are probably true of schools in many countries. Anyway, here are some things some of my students have said to me or about me, without being rebuked, in my presence. I think they’re remarkable mostly because I think these are things most students wouldn’t say to most teachers in Australia. There may also be a bit of subconscious (??) ‘well it’s a foreigner, so it doesn’t matter’ idea, but I think it’s largely that teachers put up with a lot.


‘How old are you?’

‘妊娠しとる?’ (Are you pregnant?)

‘Very slim.’

‘Nice body!’

「ゴミ箱」’It’s in the bin.’ (when asked ‘where is your worksheet?’)

‘Are you married?’

‘How many children do you have?’ (Was quite impressed with the English on that one)

‘Do you like me?’

‘Do you play sex?’

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ (Also ‘Are you boyfriend?,’ ‘Are you have boyfriend?’)

‘I’m オッパイ oppai!‘ (boobs) – when asked  ‘how are you?’

‘I’m デブ debu!‘ (fat) – when asked ‘how are you?’ When I failed to react, he did a big belly gesture in case I wasn’t getting it.

‘先生、ピアスはゴルドボール!’ (Your earrings are gold balls! – lit. the word for balls, yep as in testicles.)

‘あ、アメリカ来た.’ (Oh, here comes America.) – This one was about me, not to me.

Kids’ parents have said about me in my presence:

‘かわいいですね!’ (She’s cute, isn’t she!)

Teachers have said:

‘Wow, you can use chopsticks well!’ (All foreigners know this phrase well.)

‘You’re prettier than you look in the photo your company gave us!’ (From a school principal at my initial introduction to the school, with my supervisor.)

‘Don’t they drink milk in America?’ (this was not said to me, but was one teacher asking another after I took my milkless lunch tray from the staff room)

‘So, are you going home to America for the holidays?’ (By a teacher who had helped me teach an Australia lesson about myself)

Hope this post hasn’t been too whingey. Sometimes it gets a bit frustrating, but can be quite funny, this job.


3 thoughts on “Things kids say

  1. This is very strange, Cathy. It is such a contrast to the seemingly generally observed strikingly good manners and considerate behaviour and speech of the Japanese people who I have seen. Is it that teachers are regarded poorly, or foreigners are regarded poorly? Is it that some people in any society do not conform to norms (i.e. some people seem to have no ‘class’)? Or are different behaviours considered rude in Japan, c.f. western societies? Curious indeed!


  2. Interesting…. and surprising. Although knowing ijime is such a problem, I guess it’s not that surprising 😞 do you think many Japanese kids are indulged? I work in a primary school in Melbourne and no one has ever said stuff like that to me. All my Japanese friend’s kids are delightful, but I don’t see them in a school setting 😜


  3. John: To some extent, teachers do get a bit of a hard time. It seems like kids don’t see such a barrier between themselves and teachers – maybe it’s part of that thing teachers parenting more than the parents?
    Of course it depends on the teacher and the kids in question, and not all kids would say all of those things by any means. I also think kids wouldn’t say most of these things to/in front of just any teacher. With a Japanese teacher they could expect some sort of repercussions, but with an ALT, it’s sort of seen as, well they’re foreign, they don’t know about social customs/manners because they’re not Japanese. Or maybe they don’t realise foreigners are real people, we just seem to exist to be goofy clowns. Or maybe we just don’t count as a real teacher.

    Blossomkitty: I don’t know if indulged is the word, but behaviour like this is tolerated/ignored a lot. They don’t do it if their parents come to visit, but most of the time teachers seem to turn a blind eye to the kids who go around saying ‘boobs, poo, dick’ just for fun. Kids wouldn’t say those things TO other teachers, but they think I don’t speak any Japanese and that they can therefore say anything they like. I’m also not supposed to discipline them, although I do have dobbing power. I once got a kid yelled at for saying ‘ugly woman’ in my vicinity – not sure who it was supposed to be about but I figured it wasn’t the sort of language the school would want to encourage. And yeah, there is no shortage of bullying, unfortunately.


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