Kojima Nobuo’s The American School – A Review
The short story, “The American School” by Kojima Nobuo gives a somewhat humorous outlook on the fictional (yet probable) account of several Japanese English teachers who have been forced to visit a newly founded American school in Japan soon after the end of World War II. The plot centers around four main characters- Isa is the protagonist who has been forced to teach English simply because he knows a few words and phrases but hates the language because he cannot pronounce it well. Shibamoto is head of the Japanese procession visiting the school (though we do not know much about him as the narrator rarely gives us his point of view). Yamada is an overachieving suck-up who speaks English well enough to carry on with the American troops and thus thinks himself better than Isa (placing him in the position of the antagonist), and Michiko is the only female in the group, who interestingly enough speaks English better than Yamada. As their procession moves along to the American school, the reader has the opportunity to see both Japanese and American cultural characteristics; by the interaction between United States troops driving by in their jeeps and the native people walking along, as well as the behavior of American children at the school.
One example of this would be how the Americans appear to be brash and impatient in contrast with the Japanese and their ways. For Instance, Yamada has an encounter with an American soldier in a jeep who, when he finds that Yamada’s leader is running late for his appointment with the U.S. officials, throws his hands in the air and drives off saying sarcastically, “I am truly very sorry to have kept you waiting”. This rushed, “must-be-on-time” attitude, verses the more easy-going nature of the Japanese seems to epitomize, if you will, a cultural difference between the west and the east.
Another instance showing differences in cultural characteristics occurs later. Isa and Michiko are inside the school waiting in line for a tour when Michiko sees two students holding hands in “mutual infatuation”. Michiko says, “Look at those two over there- how disgusting!” which shows that either Michiko has never seen two amorous individuals hold hands before, or that holding hands publicly was not something generally accepted in Japanese culture during that time. Kojima Nobuo generally hints at such cultural rifts and does not usually come outright with assertions to lampoon either culture. In this way, he shows tact in assuming that the reader is smart enough to make his or her own assumptions and judgments. When Michiko falls in her high heels and the Principle sees what has happened, we know that he is the epitome of a smug, arrogant American as he says, “Ah yes. The old kamikaze spirit.”
In conclusion, “The American School” is a short well-written, sometimes satirical story that helps one ponder a few of the many differences in cultural characteristics between Japan and the United States during the end of the Second World War.