A Typical English Lesson in Japan, or
Combine Cartoons and Weed for a Pleasant Afternoon

Have you smoked marijuana before?

Hearing this question is one thing; hearing it in a crowded café with a dozen people within earshot is another. And hearing it said in such a simple, straightforward, curious and completely non-judgmental manner made me giggle at what should have been a rather offensive inquisition.

Student #1 and I had our weekly chat in a "traditional Japanese coffee house," as he calls it. I call it a strange Victorian-meets-crazed-art-nouveau-rip-off lounge, complete with velvet chairs and tiny tables that my gigantic knobby knees refused to slide under no matter how I folded my legs. It was filled with the bluish haze of cigarette smoke, the dim buzz of polite conversation, and incongruously bright chandeliers.

We had a pleasant meeting as always. Student #1 was the first one I ever met since beginning my English-teaching career oh-so-long ago, and he is still my most regular and most favorite. His speech has improved ten fold since our first rendezvous, which I can’t take complete credit for – the man studies as hard as he works his salaryman job, so he is his own maker.

Back to the conversation. We talked about the differences between turn on and turn off, turn up and turn down, turn in and turn out, plus turn around and a few others that have slipped my mind. After we spent an hour on the grammatical junk that is my passion, we began with the usual blah-blahing to help him practice free conversation.

That’s when the marijuana question came up. Of course the directness was mostly due to his inability to form more subtle inquiries since he is not yet adept at the delicate maneuverings of the English language (though such maneuverings appear to be gross, fumbling screams in comparison with Japanese and other more refined languages), but this didn’t distract from his boyish lovability. Plus he was quite free about sharing his own drug experiences, mostly relating to professional snowboarding in the States. I confided that my little brother is also a snowboarder and thus I am acquainted with the correlation between the two pastimes, which made him grin.

He also gave me a Disney calendar for Christmas, then invited me to Tokyo Disney for our first lesson in January.

Mickey Mouse and pot talk, the makings of a fine afternoon despite the ache in my legs from sitting like a pretzel. I know the only reason he is happy learning English from a 20 year old college student is because he wants to show me off in public, but I have to make a living somehow.

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