Expatriates are celebrities
By DMITRI RAGANO
Blast Osaka Bureau
SHIRAHAMA, JAPAN -- Americans thrive on celebrity culture. Everyone
craves their moment in the spotlight. Whether we win the lottery,
write a rap song about big butts or blow up a government building with
a truck of fertilizer, we are all waiting for our fifteen minutes of
Well, I finally got my fifteen minutes -- not on film or in the sports
arena but as an English teacher in semi-rural Japan.
Life as an American living in Japan is as close as many of us will
ever get to celebrity status. Many people in the United States think
Japanese are racist and resentful towards Americans due to reports in
the media. They can believe that all they want. The truth is any
American in Japan who doesn't have a nose ring or break the law on a
regular basis will be treated with generosity to the point of
Upon arriving at my junior high schools, the cheers from my students
were deafening. My name echoed up and down the corridors. I tried to
pretend I had actually done something impressive to deserve such
Remembering the Sean Connery character in "The Man Who Would Be King,"
I knew my days were numbered. I knew it was only a matter of time
before these kids figured out I wasn't God. And my Waterloo came: on
Sports Day is an annual festival held at all Japanese schools. I knew
my students had big plans for this day. I had seen them practicing for
months, shuffling around the athletic field with an intensity rarely
demonstrated in the classroom.
I got the impression that every Sports Day required a few human
sacrifices because, as events of the day unfolded, the body count kept
increasing. After a human pyramid collapsed, a few kids emerged
howling in pain. I was shocked at how casual the teachers and parents
dealt with these injured kids. "This is no big deal," one teacher told
me. "Last year a girl broke her arm."
When it was time for the relay races, I could see the kids eyeing my
size 13 1/2 running shoes with fear. But the truth is, despite my
height, despite my demigod-status, I was a lousy athlete in my school
days and remain so. You could start a bonfire with the benches I
warmed in junior high school.
And in the relay, when I seized the baton from a scrappy, pint-sized
chemistry teacher, I began running and experienced a discomforting
sensation -- I wasn't moving nearly as fast as I thought I should.
I could see that sinking look on the students' faces as I rounded the
track. After the race, first-year junior high school students
approached me with a look of profound disillusionment. The kids, who
had previously shown little interest in speaking to me in English
said, "Teacher. Not Fasto."
And so I knew from that day on, there would be no fooling the kids. I
was just another average schmuck, despite my height and my striking
resemblance to Tom Cruise.
The parent-teacher party that evening - featuring housewives belting
out karaoke songs, parents throwing a drunken principal at the
ceiling, and smashed glasses and whiskey bottles everywhere -- offered
some inebriated consolation.
But there was no getting around it -- my fifteen minutes were over.