(Every Friday, I am going to post some aspect of Japanese that I have noticed in the past week. Noticing is part of second language learning related to conscious language learning. You can learn more about this in Richard W. Schmidt’s paper The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning. In my posts, I am simply going to give chunks of context that I have overheard rather than go into a complex linguistic analysis.)
The adjective suffix -っぽい/-poi is equivalent to the English -ish.
It was the last day of school before the winter holidays. Most of the kindergarteners had gone home at eleven but those with busy parents or who had to stay for my English class remained. We all ate school lunch/kyushoku in the Plum/Ume classroom. It was hayashi rice that day, a dish that is essentially a tomato-based spiceless curry. M-sensei sat down a little after we said ‘itadakimasu’ and instead of focusing on the plate in front of her, began looking around at the students. We had all just sat through an hour long lecture about what to do (and not do) during winter break (don’t stay inside just because you are cold or you will become like a pachiko player or even if the strange man in the park wants to play Yokai Watch with you, say no and find your mother). It was concluded with a presentation about how to behave during the New Year holidays and discussion of how the Rooster is replacing the Monkey on the Jikkan Junishi/Chinese Zodiac. Obviously, this last bit of the talk was still on M-sensei’s mind because instead of eating, she began guessing the students’ Zodiac animal, based not on something practical (like when they were born) but on their appearance.
“You there, Jun-kun, you are definitely a monkey.”
“No, that’s wrong.” Jun-kun was polite in his denial, a natural recourse considering M-sensei’s reputation as the meanest teacher in the school. But it was the last day of regular school and even the meanest teachers are giddy on that day.
“No, you are definitely a monkey. You are very monkey-poi. Just look at your face. And your ears, the way they stick out like that.” Jun-kun, sensing a trap, just smiled and ate with more gusto.
“Hey, hey, Megumi-chan. You are a rabbit, right?”
Megumi-chan shook her head, “No, I’m a tiger”.
“A tiger? How can that be? You are very rabbit-poi. So cute with those big eyes and always that bow. Very rabbit-poi.”
“No, I am a tiger.”
“Huh. Well, T-sensei is a tiger too. I guess you are a little T-sensei-poi, now that I think about it.” She continued going through the students and eventually even the teachers, though she was just teasing everyone, in her own way. She skipped me since we have never gotten along (I tend to comfort her students when they are standing out in the hallway, crying, which she thinks undermines her authority). Would she see me as I am, hitsuji-poi, aka sheepish? Or would she see something of the boar in my face, the snake in my actions. I was glad when T-sensei sat down at the piano to play the ‘gochisosama deshita’ song and we were all released from her attention.
I had to eat kyushoku with the office people again today. As with most aspects of my job, I prefer to be with the children but during holidays, I am downstairs, feeling awkward and eating as quickly as possible in order to excuse myself and slip away. Yesterday though, the Boss was really animated, I suppose having spent his entire morning yelling at teachers must have energized him. He was talking about the girls in the afterschool program/gakudou who were really into poking people in the ribs. They did it to everyone, he said, even the teachers. It was really strange. Not getting much of a response, he hopped up and demonstrated on T-sensei, who happened to be eating with us.
“Oh, oh, teacher”, he said in falsetto, as he poked T-sensei, “oh, oh, poke, ha ha, poke”. Of course, since the Boss usually just sits in his chair grumbling this sudden action took all of us at the table by surprise, especially his attempt to act like an eleven-year-old girl. “Girl students can be tiring,” T-sensei said.
“Very strange behavior,” N-san agreed.
“Disturbing,” O-san added.
“Right?”, the Boss said, glad that everyone agreed with him. “I mean, they are acting weird. Most girls by that age are adult-poi. But not these girls. They are kimoippoi/weirdo-ish.”
Then he proceeded to demonstrate how my own daughter, who does not like to be poked, ever, reacted to these girls when they tried it on them, which involved him slapping T-sensei about with both hands. This, of course, made me a little proud, just because my daughter is very good at defending her personal space (the result of growing up with three brothers in a small house). At the same time, I wondered why it was so strange and creepy, the way the girls were acting. The boys also do that but it was not mentioned. The girls were obviously violating their prescribed role by being immature, like the boys. Because if I was going to use the -poi to describe their behavior, it would be more accurate to say they were acting boy-ish (in the general Japanese perception of gender roles) but obviously when that happens, it is so disturbing to the adults’ sense of social norms that they describe it as creepy. I personally don’t see the harm in the girls’ play and find it more disturbing to watch a man who sleeps in his office and doesn’t change his clothes for weeks, hopping around the lunch table, acting very eleven-year-old girl-poi.