I WAS ELEVEN YEARS OLD, growing up in Florida, and my fifth grade teacher was the toad-like and perpetually pissy Mrs N.
Once, on a field trip to Tallahassee, I was perched alone on a bus seat when Mrs N came scowling down the aisle. The bus jerked, and Mrs N stumbled and fell onto the empty space next to me… right on my hand. She didn’t seem to notice, and ground her warm, blubbery cheeks onto my fingers. I began to sweat, beyond repulsed. Finally – like a wolf in a trap gnawing its caught leg – I yanked my paw free from her ass. Mrs N snapped her head around to face me, her eyes giant with scorn. She got up. She sat in a different seat. I never looked her in the eye again. And I never forgot the atrocity of that moment: her old ass, my innocent hand.
So when – fifteen years later, as I was preparing to move to Japan to teach ESL – a friend suggested I read a blog called The Gaijin Chronicles, I was flabbergasted to learn about kancho. I hesitate to explain this – no one ever believes me – but here goes:
Kancho is a common schoolchild prank in Japan. Schoolchild A clasps his or her hands together so that his (or her) index fingers point outward, and then sticks said index fingers into the unsuspecting anus of Schoolchild B. Also? Sometimes Schoolchild B is not a schoolchild. Sometimes Schoolchild B is an ESL teacher.
Now look. I’m the bi-racial child of immigrants and have lived in four countries; I am down with the cultural relativity. But I will never understand what could make children want to touch their teacher’s ass, let alone penetrate it with their fingers. Leave a tack on your teacher’s seat. Put Visine in her coffee. Throw her overboard and listen to her scream. But your fingers in her ass? Back in my day, we didn’t want to know our teachers even had asses. No, I told myself, while packing up my apartment, kancho can’t be real.
Seriously, I told myself while riding the Osaka Loop Line to my first day of class, there’s no way a kid would ever want to get near their teacher’s ass.
Kancho, as I’ve had to explain to many horrified friends and relatives, is real. It’s not about sex; the chief elements of kancho are surprise and fear. It’s simple childhood fun, and while you are teaching English in your Japanese city of choice, kancho will be part of the student behavior buffet.
To reiterate: It’s not enough that you actually have to teach; you have to dodge fingers up the butt as well.
People say that being targeted as the recipient of kancho is a mark of acceptance among Japanese schoolchildren. That’s sweet; I’d still rather get a box of chocolates. For those of you who’d rather encourage alternative means of “acceptance,” here is how to protect your ass in a Japanese classroom.
Never turn your back
Rule number one for keeping your nether region innocent is to discourage all potential intruders. (Ladies, some of you may remember your mother teaching you this technique in Save it for Marriage 101.) The easiest way to do this is to face front at all times. Smart ESL teachers in Japan learn how to walk and write on a board backwards – face front, write with your arm swung out to the side, and move across the board like a turtle on its back. Smart ESL teachers keep all of their materials in front of them, so they don’t have to turn their backs for a second.
Don’t tempt the beast
It may be tempting to play with your Japanese children – they are, after all, deceptively cute and silly. But beware of courting violence. I once tempted a kancho attack by asking my five-year-old students what costumes they planned to wear for our Halloween lesson. Sassy young Miho said she planned to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She’d been annoying me all lesson so I attempted revenge: “Sorry, Miho, but I’m already dressing up as Belle. You’ll have to be the Beast.” She shrieked in outrage and lunged toward my groin but – natch – I was facing her so she made do with yanking my shirt open. How to protect your hooters from Japanese children? That’s a different story, but you can start by not having such, ahem, rage-inducingly attractive ones, like me. And it’s probably not wise to taunt a five year-old when you’re an adult.
Learn the lingo
Japanese children tend to plot in pairs, and since they think you – a foreigner – don’t understand them, they’ll plot right in front of you. If you’re not planning to learn Japanese while living in Japan, then at the very, very least learn the Japanese words for “teacher” and “kancho.” That is, sensei and kancho. (Fun fact: kancho is the Japanese medical term for enema.)
Fellow teachers with high levels of Japanese reported thwarting attacks this way. Sean-sensei overheard his students say: “Why don’t we kancho Sean-sensei?” – BUSTED. More disturbingly, Bob-sensei was overseeing a holiday crafts project when he overheard his student say: “Look, I have a pair of scissors. I will kancho Bob-sensei with them!” I don’t think I could make a stronger case for learning Japanese while teaching ESL in Japan.
By the way, the Japanese word for scissors is hasami. Pencil? Enpitsu. Knife? Naifu. You have been warned.
Develop Kancho Sense
During your time as an ESL teacher in Japan, you’ll come to know your students well, and hopefully learn to recognize the look of Kancho Intent. You’ll see it in the creeping eyes, sly and impish. You’ll notice a set of little hands drifting close together, fingers intertwining. Lots of whispering and crafty looks in your direction might mean the kids are making fun of your holey socks… or that a kancho attack is imminent. The highly evolved ESL teacher might also learn to sense a tension in the air behind them – a gathering of tremendous power. Sly like a ninja, cut like a razor blade? For the love of Pete, turn around!
What to do if you are the victim of a kancho attack
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, kancho happens anyway. You drop a flashcard behind the desk and instinctively bend down to get it – KANCHO. Your students bring you candy so you let down your guard – KANCHO. What is there to say? You chose to be awesome. You chose to wear form-fitting pants. You chose to turn your back. This is entirely your fault.
So what next? Japanese attitudes towards finger-driven assault are different than those in the West. Therefore, you will not drag your assailant out of the classroom by the ear and deliver him to the hands of the school director. Why? Because kancho is just a prank – why you ESL teachers always got to be bugging?
I had a young student who enjoyed spanking me every chance she got – a light love tap delivered with joy. She once did this in front of her mother. Her mother’s response was to laugh and say, as if explaining her daughter’s behavior: “Pretty.” It’s diff’rent strokes, homes – so you will not beat the child (although you might want to), but you will also not reinforce the behavior by laughing. So what can you do? Here’s what worked for me:
It was March of 2009 and I was mere weeks away from completing my two-and-a-half years of ESL service with a big English conversation school. I had worn the suits, and rejoiced with students when they passed their exams. My apartment was decorated with crafts from Western holiday lessons; my pockets full of candies from sweet little students. I’d repeated the difference between “l” and “r” so many times I could barely tell the difference myself anymore. I’d been spanked, flashed, and poked in the bosom more times than I could count, but I’d made it through almost two-and-a-half years with my kancho virginity still intact.
That fateful day, I was teaching a mixed group of eight-year-olds. Juuho – a spunky little girl with an old woman’s voice – had been shooting me looks of Kancho Intent all lesson, but I was focused on the lesson, focused on marking off another day in my mental countdown to Freedom-From-ESL. I should have known better. But I turned my back, bent low to pick up a rubber ball that had become lodged behind a cushion during a vocabulary learning game. There: a strange sensation in my right cheek. Gentle, but insistent, and easy to ignore, as I dug between the cushions for the rubber ball. And then: bullseye. Oh, bullseye.
Time stood still. Her young hand, my innocent ass. Giggles crowded around me. I began to sweat, beyond repulsed. If you scream, she will have won. If you ignore it, she will only do it again. You will get no help from the Staff. You are on. Your. Own!
I turned around. Calm. Calm. I walked past my students, picked up a Sharpie, and wrote Juuho’s name on the board: Warning. And then I calmly walked back and continued the lesson. Juuho and the rest of the students were immaculately behaved for the rest of the class, watching me nervously out of the corners of their eyes. Juuho did not get the customary “Well done!” sticker at the end of class; nor did she get the satisfaction of making me jump. Zero incentive to try again. Teacher: 1, Schoolchild: 0.
Of course, when I related this story later to my brother back home, he said: “So let me get this straight, sis. A child put her fingers up your ass, and you wrote her name on the board?”
Yeah. I guess that’s what happened.