Article first published in October 2004's edition of JETFuel



All Alone In a Burning Building, and other short stories
Why it pays to have a sense of humour in Japan.

by “Sherry Rhodes”


Wham!  Bam!  And my bra’s on the floor.


This occurred about a year ago (while I was still going to badminton club at work), so apologies to anyone who’s heard this story before. 


One day I went into the women’s locker room to change into my sports kit, and when I went through to the tatami1 area I realised too late that my colleagues were having a bit of a gathering around a huge pile of underwear.  (An underwear rep had come to the school and was showing off her best bras and knickers.) 


There was nowhere else to change, and I was already running late, so I decided I could hover in the corner and quickly strip off and put my sports kit on before anyone noticed.  Wrong.


The shorts were on.  The t-shirt was nearly on.  And suddenly:  WHAM!  My t-shirt and bra are on the floor and to my mortification I’m standing there topless in front of several female teachers, including my Head of English.  The “bra-lady” was gleefully asking me what size I was, and insisted on trying to get me into a Japanese bra.  The next thing I know, her hand is down the bra and…um…jiggling me about in an attempt to get the said garment to fit. 


To cut a long story short (in which she also attempted to squeeze me into a corset and a pair of those shorts that push all your fat away from your arse and stomach into other areas), I ended up having to buy two bras before she (and my Head of English) would let me go.  To compound matters, my Head of English made comments about these new bras looking so much better than my old ones (the ones I’d brought new two months before to bring to Japan). 



The Note


My school is predominantly male, so you can guess what the kids are thinking about most of the time.  No.  Not English.


I was asked to cover a lesson for one of my JTEs2.  I was given the worksheets.  All I had to do was distribute and supervise.  Easy. 


Five minutes before the end of the lesson, I’m standing up at the board waiting for the bell to go when a paper aeroplane of vast proportions (ok, made from one of the B4-sized worksheets) comes whizzing past my head.


Mistake #1.  I pick it up.  I notice there’s stuff written on it.


Mistake #2.  I look at it.  It’s covered in a combination of (mostly) kana3 with a bit of kanji4 and some romaji5.  And some rather graphic drawings.


Mistake #3.  I try to make a joke about the size of the penis in one of the drawings.  I then tell the kids I can’t read Japanese, and slip the note into my folder. 


I took the note (carefully concealed) back to my desk, and (after ensuring there were no teachers or students in the vicinity) glanced over it.  The note was a letter addressed to me and suggested a rendezvous time and place.  It also went into very graphic detail about exactly what one of the students apparently wants me to do to him.


Dirty bastards.



....[section removed to protect the not-quite-so-innocent]...  


All Alone in a Burning Building


The rather unfriendly kyoto-sensei6 approached my desk, and yet again attempted English. 

“One person”, he stated, whilst motioning wildly about the room.


Hai7, I promptly replied, having no idea what he was going on about.  Kyoto-sensei seemed satisfied at this response, made an announcement to the other teachers, and everyone stood up and put their jackets on. 


At this point I assumed that they were all going for a meeting, and that kyoto-sensei wanted me to room-sit (a predominant part of my job-description) so that they wouldn’t have to lock the room.


Then the fire alarms started.  Fire drill.

I double-checked with my supervisor (before he beat a hasty retreat) that the kyoto-sensei had wanted me to stay put.  Yes.


So, alone in a “burning” building, I was left to contemplate my fate in the event of a real fire. 



1. tatami - the traditional Japanese fitted-mat flooring

2. Japanese Teacher of English

3. Japanese uses four scripts for writing (all inter-mingled).  Kana  - hiragana and katakana (the easiest) are the phonetic syllabaries, used for Japanese words and "borrowed" words respectively...

4. Kanji - Chinese characters.  The difficult part when reading and writing Japanese.

5. Romaji - The English alphabet.  The easy part when reading and writing Japanese (for us)

6. Vice-principal 

7. "yes"


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