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Odd Cultural Moment Yesterday

Odd Cultural Moment Yesterday published on

I’ve been having the kids play a game where they race origami fish across the floor by blowing on them. Yesterday one girl was having trouble getting hers to move, mostly because she was blowing from the wrong angle. She complained to me (in Japanese), “I can’t do it!” I said (in English), “Oh, yes you can!”

The two other girls immediately jumped up and began to chant, “Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!”

“Oh!” I said. “Obama fans?”

“Obama-fan!” they said, and laughed as if this was the second-funniest phrase in the world. (The funniest is “chicken points” – the kids earn chicken points and get to hold the stuffed chicken (and be the “chicken mama”) if they win a game, see. It’s been an extremely successful initiative.)

The girl whose fish would not move crossed her arms defiantly and began chanting, “No, we can’t! No, we can’t! No, we can’t!” The other two girls joined in.

I said, “You know, you guys are way too young to be this cynical about the political process,” which words they did not understand, but which tone they did, for they all rolled their eyes at me. (This class is all ages 10 to 12, incidentally.) And then I had to go grab the class’s lone boy, who was mopily trying to deform the foam ABCs again, and bully him into blowing on his fish.

Where did they learn this? I mean, I assume they’ve heard “Yes, we can!” on the news, but where did they get the “No, we can’t”? Their pronunciation was perfect, too. Is there stuff going on on Japanese TV of which I’m unaware?