One of the odd things I’ve noticed is that there is a collective hatred against celery among kids in Japan, who deem it too bitter to be likable. This comes as odd to someone who grew up in American snacking on the low flavor but otherwise satisfyingly crunching vegetable and always heard about broccoli and brussel sprouts as the evil veggies children refuse to touch (but even then, that generalization hardly seems accurate). That’s not to say kids refuse to touch it, but it has to be prepared right. When we do gumbo classes to teach kids in Matsue about their Friendship City relationship with New Orleans, the kids feel assured of the celery not being too offensive because they skin, finely chop, and saute them thoroughly and discard any unnecessary portions of the innocent vegetable. When it’s sold in stores, it’s more common to find it sold by the single stalk than the bundle.

The thought of eating it raw, much less covered in peanut butter ala ants-on-a-log, came as one the greatest shocks among many in a class I gave last summer about the role of peanut butter in US culture–which, if I do say so myself, was brilliant.

As a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations on the JET Program), I often give very general introductions in Japanese about the US at large, and if I go to an elementary school, it’s usually a brief presentation. With presentations at community centers I usually have a longer period of time to work with and go into more depth. However, twice a year or so, I get to design my own classes about American culture topics at the Matsue International Community Center.

These have been as broad as a six week “road trip” across the cultural geography of the US, to a three-part class diving into my liberal arts background by presenting the history of Japan as seen through high and low art forms of the US, to a one-shot class presenting Christmas and other winter holidays as celebrated in the US with a special focus on how Americans like to prepare hot cocoa. Like the idea of peanut butter on celery, the idea of marshmallows in cocoa never occurred to many of the Japanese participants, but they found this idea much more appealing.

Seeing as I’ve given many, many presentations to a variety of audiences in my time here as a CIR, I’ve had my share of both feeling like a rock star and feeling terribly awkward. My Japanese is usually very good and has improved with daily use, but there are times when I don’t express myself as clearly as I’d like. There are times when the reception is so good that we go overtime with questions and discussion, but other times when there is a heavy silence and no indication of whether my audience is listening respectfully or sleeping with their eyes open. It doesn’t bother me now as much as it used to, and I’ve noticed that people don’t always smile when they’re engaged in and enjoying something.

On that note, it’s February–that means JET interviews are coming up soon, aren’t they? I wonder if I have any nervous CIR hopefuls digging through the internet for advice on how to pass the Japanese portion of the interview, psyching themselves out like I was doing three years ago?

To those hopefuls, I say, “Relax! You’re going to be stared down by an audience with a genuine interest in what you have to say, but the way you read their body language will betray that completely. You’re probably going to make mistakes with your Japanese, but the important thing is to communicate effectively, not to be perfect. Your professionalism already got you to this stage, but to leave an impact, you’ve got to relax and be easy to get along with.”

And, go figure, that’s the same advice I’ve give incoming CIRs who pass the interview stage. After all, starting work was only slightly less nervewracking than the interview itself.

Now I’m mostly nervous about scaring kids with stories about celery.