As part of my year-end review at 2nd grade elementary school today, we did janken in English. For those of you that aren’t aware, janken is the Japanese version of Paper, Scissors, Rock and is ubiquitous in Japan, particularly in schools of all levels.

It’s used to settle all kinds of disputes and make all kind of decisions (even those that are vital enought that they probably shouldn’t be settled by janken, unfortunately). It’s kind of an interesting look at the aspect of Japanese culture called the “Wa” (harmony). It almost makes a stupid kind of sense when you think about it: if someone makes a decision and others think they’re brining personal motives into it, people are going to be discontent and challenge the decision. On the other hand, if you leave it up to blind chance, and mutually decide beforehand that you’re going to do so, then no one walks away with hurt feelings.

So while it’s unfortunately a little overused in schools, to the point that the kids never really learn how to make informed decisions (which they may need to do at some point in their lives), it can also be rather convenient, because no matter what the outcome, the kids always stick by it. Once the scissors have cut the paper, paper has covered the rock or rock has blunted the scissors, that’s it. Discussion is over and everyone moves along with the outcome of the “decision.” That part is amazing to me, that there is never any arguing. The judgment of the janken is immutable.

So anyway, given all this, I figured the kids would enjoy playing the English version and shouting “Paper, Scissors, Rock!!” at the beginning rather than “saisho wa gu(first is rock), janken-pon!!” And man was I right. They couldn’t get enough. Anyway, what made my day was, afterward during lunch, there was a carton of milk left over and four kids all wanted it. So of course, they turned to janken to decide who would inherit the gyunyu(milk).

But to my surprise, they didn’t shout “saisho ha gu, janken-pon!!”, they were shouting “Paper, scissors, rock!!” On their own!! Without any encouragement from me at all!! I can’t believe it, the little bastards spoke English!!

Lo, after a year and a half, the JET Programme has finally accomplished something. Not much, but I’ll take it. Now if I could just get them to stop calling me Sukotto.

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