Although I am technically employed in Japan as an English teacher, that doesn’t really explain what I do here. I’m not so much an English teacher as I am a follower of bizarre orders.
Give a speech in Japanese! Play baseball with the boys! Sweep the floor! Answer personal questions! Wear polyester track pants! Sing karaoke with the principal!
The latest order? Transcribe the lyrics of an obscure ‘80s song. This had nothing to do with teaching English through music. This was a personal favour for one of the teachers looking to expand her karaoke repertoire.
In true Japanese fashion, she went about giving me the order in the most tentative and indirect way possible. She approached me between classes and asked me what kind of music I liked. I listed off a few bands. She smiled and nodded politely. But I could tell she wasn’t really interested. She was only asking me what kind of music I liked so that I would ask her the same question in return. I took the bait, walking right into her carefully laid trap.
“Oh, I love ‘80s music,” she gushed. She ran over to her desk, grabbed four ‘80s CDs and placed them in my hands. Japanese etiquette required me to “ooh” and “ahh” over the CDs for several minutes.
She took a CD from the pile, flipped it over and read the list of songs out loud.
“Which song is your favourite?” she asked.
I pointed to track 4, “Cum Feel the Noise” by Quiet Riot. She smiled and nodded politely. Once again, she waited expectantly for me to ask her the same question in return. So I did.
She pointed to track 11, “Overnight Success” by Teri DeSario. She explained it was a great song but for some reason the lyrics were missing from the CD booklet. She finally blurted out the question she was dying to ask me.
“Could you listen to the song and write down the lyrics?” she asked.
I agreed, thinking she was asking me to do this as a favour in my spare time. But she wanted the lyrics immediately.
“Now is okay?” she asked. If she thought this was an appropriate way to while away the working hours, who was I to argue?
She led me down the hallway to a small office and closed the door behind us. She ushered me over to a desk that was already set up with a pen, some paper and a CD player.
She stood beside me and played the song, pressing pause after every line. For those of you who have never heard the song “Overnight Success,” here are some of the more profound lyrics:
An overnight success. You hold the key to your happiness.
An overnight success. You have the power to rise above the rest. Yeah.
I put the lyrics down on paper while the teacher hummed and sang along, mangling the words beyond recognition. (Yes, hard-working people of Japan, this is how your tax dollars are being spent.)
Unfortunately, the music teacher caught wind of our little project and asked me to come to his class to teach the students how to sing “We are the World.”
I tried to explain that I transcribe bad ‘80s music, not sing it. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer and so I found myself standing in front of 30 slack-jawed 15-year-olds, singing “We are the World.”
Thanks to my new reputation as an authority on ‘80s music, one of the Japanese English teachers thought it would be a great idea to begin class by singing “Karma Chameleon.” And so, for the second time in one day, I found myself standing in front of 30 slack-jawed 15-year-olds, singing an ‘80s song.
This may sound like hell to some people but it’s heaven to me. I love the absurdity of it all. The more surreal it gets, the happier I am. I like to think of myself as a proud follower of bizarre orders first and an English teacher second.