Friday, 26 October 2012


To a greater or lesser degree, the current era seems to be have a slight fixation on the English language. I don't completely understand this mindset and I secretly hope this changes under Chinese rule, but for now English speech contests are a fixture of school life at all levels of education, and I suspect most of you will be familiar with them. For the battle held at my university, which is aimed at English Club members and has been conducted annually since the 1960's, competitors are free to choose any topic on which to pontificate, though it is tacitly agreed that the winner will speak on something profound like disaster relief rather than, say, their favourite flavour of condoms. They speak for seven to nine minutes, after which they must respond to teachers' questions for three.

Starting last week I was quite happy to sit down with some members of the English Club's Conversation Section, with whom I am primarily affiliated, and spend some time correcting their speeches and working on their delivery. I can't help but observe that I've been involved in this club for less than a month and have already become one of its more powerful and respected members without even intending to. That can't just be down to my English; I do have an Alpha personality, that's just fact. I must have been born under the sign of Ayn Rand with Richard J. Daley's blessing. I'll try not to brag, but I've accumulated some English scholastic achievements and won a number of extemporaneous speaking competitions, so I am decently qualified.

In the meantime, they conducted club activities as usual, though with a twist: To provide the 3kaisei (third-tier members), who are usually responsible for organizing each day's katsudou, with additional preparation time, the 2kaisei and 1kkaisei would each create and execute a slightly more involved activity of their own, with which they would strive to surprise and impress the rest of the section. They undertook the challenge with the desire to entertain and the fear of embarrassment weighing equally on their minds.

I made use of my usually unhelpful outsider status to observe both groups in their planning stages, at which point I realised that they had come up with strikingly similar ideas. Both reported in to the club Kaichou, so that we were the only two fully aware of these parallel plans. Kaichou is tiny, disorganized, a sort of nervous and awkward kind of cute, and possessed of an unnerving resemblance to one of my ex-girlfriends, except better-looking. She's also very much a tekitou na yatsu, so when I, drawing from myexperience, suggested it might be better to subtly steer the two groups in slightly different directions, she kind of shrugged and said “Well...maybe it'll be ok?”

The 2kaisei did their thing last Tuesday. Each member of a group of six was randomly assigned a role, either a travel agency employee or prospective customer thereof (mine was がめついOL – covetous female office worker). We then had five minutes to consider how we wanted to play it, and would then be basically made to do improve comedy in a foreign language. Since I was the only native speaker in the room and it fit my character, my group told me to just talk as much as possible, as fast as possible, for as long as possible, about as little as possible. I'm surprised Clubber Lang didn't materialise and knock me unconscious, that's how good of a job I did, and I kept the audience paralyzed with confused laughter.

At the end, the best sketch was determined by ballot. As it turned out, my group won! The comments came flooding in, many of them in praise of me and my performance. And then:

“Don't let Rude Boy do all the talking. Rude Boy, don't talk so fast. Besides me no one in my group could understand. Kaichou.”

I didn't let that stop me from helping her with her homework from the International Law class, one of those taught in English. I even provide this service free of charge, because it's a good chance to practise my technical Japanese, and becau...ok fine, I do it because she's adorable. You know what? Shut up.

The day after a sort of dress rehearsal before the rest of the section, all Club members from all three sections gathered on a Saturday to settle their differences with talk. In fact, I was the only non-official English Club member present and also the only attendee not wearing a suit, though it might not have made much of a difference even if I owned one, because it's not like I could just blend in anyway.

The one guy I got to see had clearly worked hard on the pronunciation points I'd provided him, and during Question Period he was quick on his feet and even managed to get creative, his wry smile betraying the fact that he knew he'd just done something clever. And you have to hand it to the little 1kkaisei girl who was so nervous she couldn't even look anyone in the eye, but swallowed her fear and did it anyway; next year she's gonna do great, I'm sure of it.

In fact, every competitor was impressive, though the judges less so. One was an earth mother-looking older lady from the UK, who seemed to desperately want every competitor to succeed and asked probing questions that seemed to reveal a genuine interest in every topic broached. The other was an older Asian man from the United States, likely of Japanese descent, a bit of a bullying dick who deliberately phrased his questions to make them difficult to answer or even understand. Neither was particularly effective at the task they had been assigned, as you can guess.

During halftime, every competitor who had not yet spoken, individually and without noticing any of the others, decided to get in some last-minute practise in front of the window:

Only one member from my section placed, and even then only third. Pity. I really wanted Kaichou to win...obviously.

The following Thursday brings us to today, when the 1kkaisei did their katsudou for the rest of the section. It was a little less developed and significantly less entertaining, but was still a lot of fun. I had agreed beforehand to judge this event, with my magical native-speaking powers. Minutes before go time, I rescued Anarchy in the UK from having to perform, promoting him to judge with my magical Kansai-ben powers. This was actually a calculated move on my part, as I'd realised the day before that I didn't want my decision causing social controversy, and by making it more of a “panel” arrangement I could deflect some of the responsibility for the verdict.

Teams were tasked with creating a sketch utilising a list of phrases. Criteria for judgment was supposed to be mainly humour and general flow, with more detailed considerations such as number of phrases utilised and pronunciation kept as nudge. Unfortunately, I neglected to ask for them to submit the phraselist prior to the event, and so while I had suggested more useful (if stilted) serifu such as “You can't be serious!” they had come up with keepers like “I love you more than anyone in the world,” “Hold me tightly,” and “I like these kind of things.” Though one sketch involved a car accident, most followed the vein of the winner, which depicted a love triangle, and the second place, in which a pronoun mishap gave birth to a lesbian relationship, depicted by two men.


  1. Hi!
    Just want to say that I found your blog very interesting! Japan is awsome!
    Señor H, Sweden

    1. Thank you very much! And yes, Japan is awesome ^-^