Note: Hideyoshi Toyotomi is one of the most famous Japanese historical figures. He was the Taiko, who conquered and reigned over much of Japan in a period after Oda Nobunaga and before Tokugawa Ieyasu, the most famous Japanese Shogun (military leader).

Americans love to talk about how exciting, beautiful, or fun their experiences were in foreign countries. Many people especially love to talk about those experiences with natives of the visited country.

Japanese people are no different. Sometimes they tell me how beautiful San Francisco is or how wonderful Vancouver is. They really, really also love to tell me how trains are never on time, how dangerous it is to live in the US, and how fat Americans are.

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Sometimes I ask children about their parents to get to know them. Most of them say things like “my dad is as tall as you” or “I don’t know how old my mom is.” One time, I asked a 2nd grader about his mom, and he said, “she’s really kimoi.” The other kids around him and I were very surprised, and naturally, we asked him why. He explained, “she likes to pull down my pants and bite my butt.”

That’s really cute, isn’t it?

Japanese people, like us Americans, like to name things after popular figures. Some students are actually called Naruto.

I recently made a friend called Taiwa (大和), which is also read as Yamato, the same as the most famous battleship of the Japanese fleet in WW2. When he was in school, one of his classmates was Musashi (武蔵), named for the second most famous battleship, the sister ship of the Yamato–which was sunk a year before the Yamato was sunk.

Apparently, one time, Taiwa and Musashi collided at school–the nurse said both were fine, and sent them back to class–and the boy that turned out to have broken his collarbone was Musashi, thus validating the known fact that the Yamato was stronger than the Musashi.

After all, it’s not called Space Battleship Musashi.

Sometimes it’s dangerous to play with kids, since they like to mime actions. Once, I was at a bowling party, and this cute little boy was drinking a soda. He had slurped up a lot of soda, so that his mouth was bulging. I pretended that my cheeks were bulging like his, and lightly slapped my cheeks with both hands. A moment later, he did the same. He wasn’t the one to get wet.

Japanese people have a hard time believing things that are new to them, and it’s true for both adults and children. When I tell them that students in the US can actually be held back for poor performance and be forced to repeat a grade, they all say, “maji?!” And kids never believe me when they come looking for someone and I say, “Oh, I ate him. He was delicious.”

The other teachers and I like to play with kids a lot. At lunch, I often fold up someone’s napkin and stuff it in their pencil cases. By now, a lot of the kids are used to it, and they either laugh or do the Japanese equivalent of rolling their eyes and sighing. My coworker, too, once was told by a 10-year old, “sensei, you act like you’re younger than me!”

Some Japanese names are interchangeable between genders, such as Chihiro, as it depends more on the kanji than the pronunciation. A coworker of mine told me how her high school teacher often called out “Chihiro-kun” instead of “Chihiro-chan” when calling out her name. Other names use characters that are more specific towards genders, such as -ta or -ka. Sometimes the kids and I have a lot of fun playing with these combinations: “If you were a boy, would you be Yuto? If you were a girl, would you be Yuka?”