There is a group of 9th grade boys at my school who are equal parts intelligent and mischievous, making them extra troublesome, but all the more fun. These are the students to whom my predecessor, Kelly, taught the word “vagina”. According to her, they had been asking about it all year, as it’s not in the school-issued Japanese/English dictionary. When she suggested that they look it up on the internet, their response was, “No, no, no, no, no. Mother become angry. Very bad.” Being ever so prudent about such a sticky situation, Kelly waited until her last day in Japan to reveal this forbidden vocabulary. My first days at school soon followed Kelly’s last, so all last summer I was greeted in the hallways with “Hello Makkenji-sensei! Vagina!” Recently, these boys have been whispering the word “ecstasy” to each other. I don’t know where they learned it, but I can tell they think it means something it doesn’t by the way they giggle after someone says it.
Another classic incident with this troop stemmed from how difficult it is for non-English speakers to differentiate between our vowel sounds. One day between classes, a throng of boys came up to me in the hallway, led by Y-kun and K-kun, whom I love dearly in spite of (or possibly because of) moments like this. I could tell they were up to no good by the happiness and excitement apparent on their faces. Yuki began counting “One, two, three, four, five…” and then gestured to me, indicating that I was to complete the series. I told them I didn’t know what they were talking about, to which they responded by once again counting to five, then gesturing towards me. This time comprehension dawned, and I explained, “Guys, ‘six’ and ‘sex’ are different,” at which the entire group broke into uncontrollable laughter. I rolled my eyes, but secretly I was proud of the creative use of English.