“Nyaaa-go!” Screamed the slightly portly, middle-aged man dressed as a cat, his brightly coloured t-shirt somewhat detracting from his fearsome countenance. “Nyaa-go,” repeated the three women dressed as mice in a slightly higher pitched tone who then promptly collapsed into well-rehearsed giggles.
This was the opening act in the auditorium at the local International Friendship Fair.
The moral of said story, at first glance, appeared to be quite simple; if you’re a mouse and you meet a cat that says, “Nyaaa-go,” start running as fast as your wee little mouse legs can carry you.
Evidently, having missed this advice from the mouse teacher earlier in the play this performance wasn’t about to be about the savage mauling and devouring of three little mice as a hundred or so children looked on in terror as prop blood squirted from the stage, tiny mice bodies twitching in the spotlight.
No this was much lighter Japanese fare. The motto essentially being, if you overload your unknown foe with kindness, in this case more fruit than he can possible carry, you will have successfully prevented them through your excess of gift giving from snapping your tiny mouse bones. Saved from your ignorance by sweetness. I took it to mean, if a stranger offers you sweeties, offer them a whole advent calendar and there’s no way they’ll do anything untoward to you, that’d just be rude.
As the tale of the practical, moral-phobic mice drew to a close it was time for the high school debate teams to take the stage. Obviously, with this being the International Friendship Fair, one cute event would just roll into the next.
So the ‘The Death Penalty in Japan’ it was.
Actually, this was why I was in the audience. Specifically the front row, feeling probably about half as nervous as the eight teenagers on stage who were about to take to their feet one by one to debate for and against a moral quandary that would no doubt send there heads spinning in circles. Not because of the ethical aspect but rather the fact that it was all to be delivered in English. Hence my presence as a judge. Not an especially well titled one mind you.
“We have ______ san, the Principal of _________ school, then ___________ a undergrad at___________ studying English and finally… Matt!’
My nerves and embarrassment of that particularly stunning introduction aside, I should relay something to you just to give a sense of how nerve-wrackingly difficult this event would be for the kids.
One day, having spent the past three hours studying Japanese in a coffee shop in town I strode into my local bar feeling far too pleased with myself for the short lived burst of effort and energy in a more studious direction. Immediately I was met by the following sentence from a non-English speaking Japanese friend, “Masshu, Masshu, according to this Russian newspaper aliens are coming to Japan next year!”
I hadn’t the faintest idea how to even begin discuss a subject like this in Japanese. I know the words for Alien, UFO and space but I certainly can’t discuss the finer points of alien abduction or conspiracy theories in Japanese.
So now think about these kids. Yes, if they are taking part in a National English Debate Competition it’s fair to say they’ve been born into a certain amount of privilege. Yet that doesn’t lessen my sympathy for the task they faced. Some of these kids were still clearly streets ahead of their fellow teammates; due to time spent abroad or international parents some kids could run linguistic rings around the others. Though inevitably it would all boil down to their own hard work, as our judgement was to be based largely on the strength of their arguments, not linguistic merit.
Now even if one or two teenagers particularly stood out due to their linguistic prowess I was thoroughly impressed with them all. The argument alone is hard enough but finding the words to express oneself eloquently in another language is incredibly tough. To do so in front of a crowd is brave and admirable.
If I had been similarly confronted by this situation as a teenager or even now I think my response would be the same.
Just shout, “Nyaaa-go” and make a dash for stage left.