The junior high school I attended had the high school on the same premises. Both students shared most facilities and some extracurricular activities. The school held a welcoming assembly for the first-year students in junior high and freshmen in high school. It was for school’s extracurricular activities to recruit a new member and all activities were introduced on the stage.
The main show was a play by the drama club, which was a huge hit. The cast members were the high school students, who performed a dramatic love story so well in glittering dresses. I had never seen a play at a theater before and I was struck by the power of the stage. It was beautiful, glamorous and dreamy. I couldn’t believe this somber Catholic school had a brilliant drama club like that. It was like Hollywood suddenly appeared in my school.
Since it was a girls’ school, the male parts were played by female students in male attire. They were so handsome and students of the female part were so beautiful. The whole first-year students were fascinated by the play and had kept talking about it in rapture for days after the assembly. The drama club was a joint extracurricular activity of junior high and high school. As I had been searching for the way to be cool at school, I thought I now really found the answer: join the drama club.
The club accepted interim members before they joined formally. I took part in an activity as an interim member after class. Almost 100 first-year students were there as the interim members. The senior high school students taught us voice exercises and tongue twisters. Among them I spotted the cast members of the play. Although they had been stars at school, they looked ordinary girls in the school uniform without the costume and makeup. We had practiced voice exercises and tongue twisters for the whole week and almost 100 new comers got down to six. They were just attracted by the glamor of the stage and couldn’t stand steady, inconspicuous everyday training. I was one of the surviving six because I knew there would be long training days before getting on the stage, and also because I believed the drama club was the only hope to become cool. I decided to join it formally…
I spent almost the whole first year at the private junior high school as an uncool geek. Every get-cool scheme of mine had failed. Neither breaching the school rules nor joining the drama club worked. I hadn’t come up with a new idea and had hung around with my not-so-cool friends. One day we were having a hilarious time at recess with tongue twisters I had devised. I had made a list of oddly sounded words on a piece of paper and read it out quickly in front of my friends. I seemed to sound so funny and they laughed hard. As we were making a racket, other students began to look at us curiously. Some cool girls from rich families approached us and asked what was going on. They never came near uncool girls but I drew their attention this time. I showed the list and demonstrated my tongue twisters, which didn’t appeal to them at all. They sneered and left. But I realized one thing: cool girls starved for laughter because they put on airs and kept their countenance every day. If I could make them laugh regularly, they might like me and include me in their circle.I commenced my assaults in earnest. Since then, I had behaved in a silly way whenever I passed by cool rich girls at school. I made funny faces, walked by dancing weirdly, or mimicked a TV comedian. At first they just looked at me in dismay, but they were gradually interested in me. They stopped and talked to me, “You’re so funny!” Then I would press an insurance laugh with haphazard puns or gags. Since I didn’t have a talent for making people laugh basically, I was out of comic materials so easily. I had to use the fact of a farmer’s daughter to make them laugh. This last resort of mine really succeeded. Soon one of the cool girls asked me to have lunch together, and I was invited to her circle. I officially joined the cool group at last. That acted like magic and other students stopped mocking me completely. In the end, after so many trials, to be the class clown was indeed the solution to be cool at school for me…The effect of being in the cool and rich group at junior high school was much bigger than I had expected and was almost magical. I was no longer a geek at school. Other students’ attitude toward me changed dramatically and they even respected me. I jumped into the whole new world.The girls in the group looked through a teen fashion magazine and chatted about its contents zealously at lunchtime. It looked like an adult life to me, as I had never been interested in fashion, let alone talked about it with my friends. After school, they would hang around the downtown area in the city, looking around the shops or having a snack at a fast food restaurant. I had seldom been downtown and I felt like I started a city life all of a sudden. Walking by elegant shops had never been my usual habit, and as for a fast food restaurant, I had never stepped into it before. On weekends, they would go to the movies together. My way of spending time outside school completely changed and it was almost like I began to live in America. On the other hand, there was a huge set back to be a part of the group. It was horribly costly. My scant monthly allowance didn’t last more than a week while other girls from the rich family didn’t have to care. A coin jar in the dining room in my house became empty quickly. My younger sister’s stash of money in her desk drawer had been shrinking steadily by my regular stealing.One of the girls in the group had a friend in a boys’ school and he invited us to his school’s homecoming. Since ours was a girls’ school, it was an exciting opportunity to meet boys. There, the boys asked us out after the homecoming, but I was the exclusion among the group. No one asked me out. While they were headed for a fast food restaurant, I went home, crying.I would do anything to stay in the cool circle, including acting a totally different person by giving up being myself…
I spent my schooldays from junior high to college at a Catholic school not for religious reasons but for my mother’s vanity. She wanted me to attend the most prestigious school in Kyoto in order to brag about it. With no religious background, I encountered quite a few unfamiliar events at school that held Catholic ceremonies regularly. The school often celebrated the Mass, which was an entirely new and different culture to me and I hadn’t the slightest idea what they were doing. Christian students sat in the front row with white lace veils on their heads at the assembly hall. The priest gave them something that looked like a soft snack and they ate it. I regarded it as the believers’ benefits to have a snack during the Mass. The school held the annual Candle Service near Christmas. Before my first-ever Candle Service at junior high, a Catholic sister told us to bring something from home as a donation for the Candle Service. She added for those who couldn’t think of what to bring, that bars of soap would do. I had no clue what the Candle Service was. All I could imagine was I would receive some sort of service from sisters. I looked forward to it because I thought sisters would serve cake or tea like a Christmas party, and I could get it just with a bar of soap. But as it turned out, we just stood in line holding a candle at the dark assembly hall and sang several hymns endlessly to the poor accompaniment of the orchestra club students. While singing, we got on the stage one by one and put a bar of soap or other donations into a cardboard box. When all the students finished putting their donations into the box, the service was over without any cake. The school had a big, tall fir tree across from the entrance gate. It stood by the side of one of the school buildings like a wall decoration. Its top reached as high as the third floor of the building. Judging from its size, it was planted there when two sisters came from U.S. after WWII and opened the school. Around Christmastime, the tree was decorated with ornaments and made the school look beautiful. I was a member of the student board when I was a sophomore. Until then, I hadn’t known that the decoration was a student board’s task. I felt exhilarating for the first time as a student board member. The boring board revived and every member had so much fun decorating the tree together. The tree was too tall to decorate the upper part from outside by a ladder. We got inside the building, put an ornament on the tip of a broomstick and stretched it out of the window of the third floor. Gold tinsel garlands were thrown toward the tree from the forth floor window. It was the biggest Christmas tree I had ever decorated. I had had all those Christian events and classes in the Bible for years until college and yet I never really understood the meaning. I left school, got out into the world, and worked as a musician. Through the years of making music that hasn’t been paying, I feel I finally know why I continue and have spent so much time and energy to create a good song, which hasn’t brought me money or fame. It took a long time to understand, but better late than never, I suppose…
Back in my Catholic school days, a teacher for home economics was Sister Carmela. I was in her cooking class. I had no interest in cooking at all and all I did during the class was giggling with my friends and washing the dishes. I simply couldn’t take anything in the class seriously. Home making seemed ridiculous to me, and to begin with, I could laugh endlessly when I thought about a sister called Carmela teaching how to make caramel.
As I was lazy all the time chatting and giggling, Sister Carmela often had to call my name in front of the class and shush me. She also noticed I hadn’t participated in any cooking but just been doing the dishes. No matter how hard and often she scolded me for my bad attitude, I didn’t obey and kept making other students laugh. Her patience snapped at last and she called me before the principal.
In my school, bad students were close to zero and a student was hardly ever called to the principal’s office. The principal was Sister Mary Catherine who reasonably believed I had done something extraordinarily wrong. But she was taken aback when Sister Carmela told her that I had fooled around during the class. She looked at her face with an impression of ‘That’s it?’ After mildly telling me to behave myself, she let me go. Sister Carmela’s punishment didn’t work and my bad behavior continued.
I was in her sewing class next year. Again, I slacked and asked my friend to make a skirt for me. Sister Carmela found that out when I turned in the skirt pretending I had sewn it. That snapped her completely. She decided to appeal directly to my parents and called up my mother that evening. Over the phone, she told her at length how bad I had been in her class. She blamed my bad attitude on my mother’s lack of discipline. My mother kept apologizing for a long time, but her tone gradually changed. As Sister Carmela strongly criticized my mother’s way of raising a child, my mother suddenly yelled, “I have no reason to listen to someone who has never married nor had a child!” and hung up violently.
I was stunned because it sounded to me the most insulting remark about a sister. She said to me, “Who does she think she is? She has never raised a child herself, and yet looks down on me who did raise a child. You don’t have to obey such a stuck-up person!” And Sister Carmela stopped complaining about my behavior ever since…
Since I became the class clown at school, I was quite popular back then, not only among the students but also among the teachers. When I needed to see a teacher at the hallway in front of the teachers’ office, other teachers would come out of the office to talk with me. They would stand in a circle around me and laugh at my jokes and stories. Inevitably, it was always noisy wherever I showed up.
The vice-principal was a stern, rigid teacher called Sister Maris Stella. She was the oldest sister at school and dressed in a traditional, old-fashioned Catholic gown. She was strict to students and teachers alike. Everybody tried to keep away from her because she always reproved someone for something. She would appear wherever people were buzzing, to shut them up.
She had recognized that I was often a seismic center of the buzz and given me a look of ‘You again’. Every time the teachers were cracking up with me in front of the teachers’ office, she poked her long-veiled head out of the office. That was a signal for the end of the show. Teachers would disperse quickly while I stopped talking. Sometimes we failed to notice her and she stood behind the circle listening to me. The moment someone spotted her, they would walk away. In those cases, she would ask me what I was talking about. I would apologize and leave.
And one thought occurred to me. She didn’t come out to reprove us. She might want to join us. Even after I realized that, I had no way to keep talking once other teachers ran away. As a result, we just kept leaving when she came up. And one day, when we were scattering at the sight of her as usual, she grabbed my arm. She said to me, “That’s it! You hate me, don’t you? I know you hate me! I know, because I hate you too!” Over her shoulder was a statue of the Virgin Mary with a plaque saying ‘Love and Humanity’. It was the most inconsistent scene I had ever experienced.
Months later, there came a general-school-cleaning day. I was unlucky enough to be assigned to the school cafeteria of which Sister Maris Stella took charge. As if she got a golden opportunity, she made a slave of me. She chose the dirtiest floor just for me and made me crawl to clean up thoroughly, yelling “Not enough! Do it over!” repeatedly. I felt her revenge so strongly. Given the hatred and now the revenge, I deepened the mystery of Catholic sisters…
As all the people around me professed Buddhism and Shintoism, I had never been exposed to Christianity until I entered junior high school. The junior high I attended was a private Catholic convent school and most teachers were nuns. Since I had never had any contact with nuns before, they were nothing but mysterious to me. They lived together in a convent next to the school and wore a veil. They were called like Sister Catherine or Sister Patricia although they were Japanese. Until I got used to them, I had always wondered about the small basics. Do they have an ordinary Japanese name? Do they really stay single for life? Are they bold under a veil? Yes, yes, and no, I gradually learned the answers.
I had studied English quite hard to catch up with other students who came from the same convent’s elementary school that gave them a head start in English education. One teacher, called Sister Judith, happened to know that and kindly found a pen pal for me. While students mostly didn’t like sisters, she was an exception. She was popular because she was friendly and beautiful. Students also respected her since she graduated from one of the most renowned universities in Japan and was the smartest sister at school.
The school had the very rigid rules for uniform. If an irregular bag was spotted, it would be confiscated. I carried my personal small bag into school one day in addition to the big uniform bag, and Sister Judith caught me. She said she had to confiscate it and I begged her not to. I promised her I wouldn’t use it for school ever again. She decided to overlook my breach for once out of consideration for my emotional plea. As a stupid teenager, I was defiant to pretty much everything. I believed nothing good existed in this world. So I took my irregular bag out of my uniform bag again as soon as I passed through the school gate after school that day. I was walking toward the bus stop with the bag dangling. Someone called out my name from behind. It was Sister Judith. She didn’t return to the convent as usual and left for an errand on that particular day.
She didn’t confiscate my bag, though. Instead, she was crying. “I trusted you and that was why I let you go. But you betrayed my trust. I’m bitterly disappointed in you,” she said quietly and walked away. I felt it was much better that she yelled at me and took away my bag…