It’s that time of year and the festive season is fast approaching which means that it is time to have a culture clash in class. I remember first being asked by students what I would be doing for Christmas and after replying that I didn’t have anything in particular planned I would get a grin from them. It took me a while to work out that for most of my students ‘Christmas’ did not mean Christmas in the sense that I was used to. Rather it meant ‘Christmas Eve’ which in turn meant something much different. In Japan it is customary for couples to spend Christmas Eve together and Christmas is seen more often than not as a time to spend with your ‘darling’. The notion of Christmas as a time of religious meaning and family reunion is far removed form the Japanese version that I was exposed to via my students, allowing me an insight into the way that a Western event/festival such as Valentine’s Day has morphed into an almost unrecognizable version.
With the talk of Christmas over the conversation with students often took a natural course towards New Year and what we would all be planning to do. Yet again I was hit by yet another cultural wall when I would ask my students how they planned to spend New Year’s Eve. Rather than the expected answer of binge drinking, countdown and maybe a bit of a boogy I was more often than not told that they would either stay home and eat soba noodles, watch a song contest called ‘ The Red and White Sing Off ‘ or visit a shrine. Moreover, rather than the now traditional New Year’s Day hangover which we see in Britain I was told that in Japan it is a time to spend with relatives and to eat a spread of ‘osechi’ food which takes the ritualistic place of my turkey, Brussels sprouts and Christmas pudding.
For me it’s these kind of encounters with my students that get the most smiles, frowns, grins and raised eyebrows. When two cultures collide and crash into each other it allows for a cross communication bar none in the classroom. Students and teacher alike are both eager to teach and to be taught, to learn and understand each other. December is ideal for this to happen. It is a time when both of our cultures are dripping with symbolism, tradition, customs and are rich in cultural reference points, all of which allow for a perfect recipe to create a fun and educational class.
“Yoi otoshi o!!” （Have a Happy New Year!!!）