During the two years I spent teaching English in Japan, I became a master of the “jiko shokai” which is Japanese for “self-introduction”. The self-introduction is a weirdly important and (no surprise – because almost everything is) formal part of Japanese culture. All shiny, new employees must stand in front of their new boss and co-workers and explain themselves politely while wearing their very best black suit. I too was required to perform said task in a variety of staff rooms and once even at city hall for then-mayor of Osaka. However, because of my total lack of Japanese language skills it was completely acceptable for me to get up there and pronunciation-ally butcher the few fill-in-the-blank sentences I had been instructed to memorize before I moved to the land of the rising sun. My first year in Japan, when I was still new, not only was it acceptable, but I was actually often praised for introducing myself like this (or at least I hope it sounded something like this): “Good morning. It’s nice to meet you. I am Vanessa. I come from Canada. Please be kind to me and help me. Thank you.” Not exactly gripping stuff but I kid you not this won me smiles and got me in good graces.
Then there were the jiko shokai I gave to students; the ones I mastered. I never did learn enough Japanese to beef up my staff room self-intro much, but when it came time to win over classrooms full of Japanese teenagers I was graciously permitted to use my native language, and visual aids. Japan is a rather ethnically and culturally homogenous place where many families share similar structure, traditions and experiences. I soon discovered that the way to pique the interest of these students was to bring up all the things about myself that made me different from almost everyone they knew. Having a tan complexion and curly hair was a good jumping-off point. Then there is the fact that I have several siblings, I speak two languages fluently (neither being Japanese), my dad is one of 15 brothers and sisters, and I’ve traveled to more than 20 different countries. By the time I started my third academic term there, I knew just how to combine these random facts, the accompanying photo evidence, and a confident delivery so that it all added up to me being as fascinating as a pop star. Students wanted pictures with me, they baked me sweets, one fan-girl-student wrote down the date of my anniversary with my boyfriend. Once, a student even touched my butt because she just could not help herself. That’s when I hired the bodyguard. I was a wiz at introducing (read: selling) myself as supercool and I did my best at maintaining this image because it made it that much easier to keep the kids engaged in my lessons.
Now, as I sit here thinking about how to introduce myself on my blog, my impulse is to make a PowerPoint presentation to tell you about my unique hobbies, my favourite food, my last vacation, and show you pictures of my family at Christmas. That probably won’t make you want to touch my butt and keep reading my blog though, will it?