When I first start working in a Japanese school I am called upon to do my “jiko shokkai” - self introduction - many times. It’s like a little speech that I long ago memorized for just such occasions. Well, it is not “like” a speech. It is a speech. First I must give it in Japanese before the Japanese teachers, standing at the head of the Teacher’s Room (the “shokuin shitsu”). Next, I have to repeat it in English at a school assembly in front of the entire student body. I understand. I am a new guy at the Japanese school and they are all interested in me, not to mention the anxiety that the principal must have about who exactly he is permitting into his school. My job is to be an entertaining talking head for the students. By speaking to them in English at an assembly they all get to see the strange foreigner.
After that is all over and done and I am ensconced in the school I am often asked a few more interview questions by some teacher to be written up in a classroom newsletter to go home and introduce me to the parents. Typical questions are,
Q: If you could do another job, what would it be?
A: The Keisei Skyliner express driver. (An express train serving Tokyoand Narita International Airport)
Q: What animal would you like to be if you were born again?
A: A green pond turtle.
Q: What is your hobby?
A: Reading and writing.
Q: What is your favorite food / animal / color, etc.?
A: My favorite Japanese food is Hayashi Rice.
My favorite color is black.
My favorite animal is the cat.
My favorite season is Fall/Autumn.
My favorite sport is Ice Hockey. (An outright lie, because I detest organized sports. But I must play along to be sociable.)
Q: What is your blood type (ketsueki gatta)?
This last question is really big for Japanese. Everybody here knows their blood type. I don’t know mine. Why should I? If I go to the hospital and need blood the doctors will check my blood type anyway, even if I tell it to them. But for Japanese blood type is used as a personality indicator, like handwriting for the French, or a horoscope sign for North Americans. By comparison, many North Americans know their horoscope (“hoshi uranai”) sign (I am a Gemini) even if they do not believe in the rognostications of the daily newspaper horoscope.
Japanese are always surprised when I say that I do not know my blood type. And, they are again surprised when I say that most North Americans know their horoscope sign. (Japanese are vaguely aware of the twelve Greek horoscope signs. But for them the twelve animal signs of the Chinese zodiac are more familiar and important. My son and I were both born in the Year of the Tiger. My wife was born in the Year of the Dog, and my daughter in the Year of the Chicken, or Bird. 2007 is the Year of the Boar.)
So, to smooth things over a bit I often lie straight out and say that my blood type is an extremely rare “X” type. At first no one believes me, but I can weave a convincing story, and if I keep up a convincing story with a straight face people will believe almost anything. That’s true everywhere.