Botchan/Chapter 3

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My teaching began at last. When I entered the class-room and stepped upon the platform for the first time, I felt somewhat strange. While lecturing, I wondered if a fellow like me could keep up the profession of public instructor. The students were noisy. Once in a while, they would holler “Teacher!” “Teacher,”–it was “going some.” I had been calling others “teacher” every day so far, in the school of physics, but in calling others “teacher” and being called one, there is a wide gap of difference. It made me feel as if some one was tickling my soles. I am not a sneakish fellow, nor a coward; only–it’s a pity–I lack audacity. If one calls me “teacher” aloud, it gives me a shock similar to that of hearing the noon-gun in Marunouchi when I was hungry. The first hour passed away in a dashing manner. And it passed away without encountering any knotty questions. As I returned to the teachers’ room, Porcupine asked me how it was. I simply answered “well,” and he seemed satisfied.

When I left the teachers’ room, chalk in hand, for the second hour class, I felt as if I was invading the enemy’s territory. On entering the room, I found the students for this hour were all big fellows. I am a Tokyo kid, delicately built and small, and did not appear very impressive even in my elevated position. If it comes to a scraping, I can hold my own even with wrestlers, but I had no means of appearing aweinspiring, merely by the aid of my tongue, to so many as forty such big chaps before me. Believing, however, that it would set a bad precedent to show these country fellows any weakness, I lectured rather loudly and in brusque tone. During the first part the students were taken aback and listened literally with their mouths open. “That’s one on you!” I thought. Elated by my success, I kept on in this tone, when one who looked the strongest, sitting in the middle of the front row, stood up suddenly, and called “Teacher!” There it goes!–I thought, and asked him what it was.

“A-ah sa-ay, you talk too quick. A-ah ca-an’t you make it a leetle slow? A-ah?” “A-ah ca-an’t you?” “A-ah?” was altogether dull.

“If I talk too fast, I’ll make it slow, but I’m a Tokyo fellow, and can’t talk the way you do. If you don’t understand it, better wait until you do.”

So I answered him. In this way the second hour was closed better than I had expected. Only, as I was about to leave the class, one of the students asked me, “A-ah say, won’t you please do them for me?” and showed me some problems in geometry which I was sure I could not solve. This proved to be somewhat a damper on me. But, helpless, I told him I could not make them out, and telling him that I would show him how next time, hastily got out of the room. And all of them raised “Whee–ee!” Some of them were heard saying “He doesn’t know much.” Don’t take a teacher for an encyclopaedia! If I could work out such hard questions as these easily, I would not be in such a backwoods town for forty yen a month. I returned to the teachers’ room.

“How was it this time?” asked Porcupine. I said “Umh.” But not satisfied with “Umh” only, I added that all the students in this school were boneheads. He put up a whimsical face.

The third and the fourth hour and the first hour in the afternoon were more or less the same. In all the classes I attended, I made some kind of blunder. I realised that the profession of teaching not quite so easy a calling as might have appeared. My teaching for the day was finished but I could not get away. I had to wait alone until three o’clock. I understood that at three o’clock the students of my classes would finish cleaning up the rooms and report to me, whereupon I would go over the rooms. Then I would run through the students’ roll, and then be free to go home. Outrageous, indeed, to keep on chained to the school, staring at the empty space when he had nothing more to do, even though he was “bought” by a salary! Other fellow teachers, however, meekly submitted to the regulation, and believing it not well for me,–a new comer–to fuss about it, I stood it. On my way home, I appealed to Porcupine as to the absurdity of keeping me there till three o’clock regardless of my having nothing to do in the school. He said “Yes” and laughed. But he became serious and in an advisory manner told me not to make many complaints about the school.

“Talk to me only, if you want to. There are some queer guys around.”

As we parted at the next corner, I did not have time to hear more from him.

On reaching my room, the boss of the house came to me saying, “Let me serve you tea.” I expected he was going to treat me to some good tea since he said “Let me serve you,” but he simply made himself at home and drank my own tea. Judging by this, I thought he might be practising “Let me serve you” during my absence. The boss said that he was fond of antique drawings and curios and finally had decided to start in that business.

“You look like one quite taken about art. Suppose you begin patronizing my business just for fun as er–connoisseur of art?”

It was the least expected kind of solicitation. Two years ago, I went to the Imperial Hotel (Tokyo) on an errand, and I was taken for a locksmith. When I went to see the Daibutsu at Kamakura, having wrapped up myself from head to toe with a blanket, a rikisha man addressed me as “Gov’ner.” I have been mistaken on many occasions for as many things, but none so far has counted on me as a probable connoisseur of art. One should know better by my appearance. Any one who aspires to be a patron of art is usually pictured,–you may see in any drawing,–with either a hood on his head, or carrying a tanzaku[1] in his hand. The fellow who calls me a connoisseur of art and pretends to mean it, may be surely as crooked as a dog’s hind legs. I told him I did not like such art-stuff, which is usually favored by retired people. He laughed, and remarking that that nobody liked it at first, but once in it, will find it so fascinating that he will hardly get over it, served tea for himself and drank it in a grotesque manner. I may say that I had asked him the night before to buy some tea for me, but I did not like such a bitter, heavy kind. One swallow seemed to act right on my stomach. I told him to buy a kind not so bitter as that, and he answered “All right, Sir,” and drank another cup. The fellow seemed never to know of having enough of anything so long as it was another man’s. After he left the room, I prepared for the morrow and went to bed.

Everyday thereafter I attended at the school and worked as per regulations. Every day on my return, the boss came to my room with the same old “Let me serve you tea.” In about a week I understood the school in a general way, and had my own idea as to the personality of the boss and his wife. I heard from one of my fellow teachers that the first week to one month after the receipt of the appointment worried them most as to whether they had been favorably received among the students. I never felt anything on that score. Blunders in the class room once in a while caused me chagrin, but in about half an hour everything would clear out of my head. I am a fellow who, by nature, can’t be worrying long about about anything even if I try to. I was absolutely indifferent as how my blunders in the class room affected the students, or how much further they affected the principal or the head-teacher. As I mentioned before, I am not a fellow of much audacity to speak of, but I am quick to give up anything when I see its finish.

I had resolved to go elsewhere at once if the school did not suit me. In consequence, neither Badger nor Red Shirt wielded any influence over me. And still less did I feel like coaxing or coddling the youngsters in the class room.

So far it was O. K. with the school, but not so easy as that at my boarding house. I could have stood it if it had been only the boss coming to my room after my tea. But he would fetch many things to my room. First time he brought in seals.[2] He displayed about ten of them before me and persuaded me to buy them for three yen, which was very cheap, he said. Did he take me for a third rate painter making a round of the country? I told him I did not want them. Next time he brought in a panel picture of flowers and birds, drawn by one Kazan or somebody. He hung it against the wall of the alcove and asked me if it was not well done, and I echoed it looked well done. Then he started lecturing about Kazan, that there are two Kazans, one is Kazan something and the other is Kazan anything, and that this picture was the work of that Kazan something. After this nonsensical lecture, he insisted that he would make it fifteen yen for me to buy it. I declined the offer saying that I was shy of the money.

“You can pay any time.” He was insistent. I settled him by telling him of my having no intention of purchasing it even if I had the necessary money. Again next time, he yanked in a big writing stone slab about the size of a ridge-tile.

"This is a tankei,"[3] he said. As he “ tankeied” two or three times, I asked for fun what was a tankei. Right away he commenced lecturing on the subject. “There are the upper, the middle and the lower stratum in tankei,” he said. “Most of tankei slabs to-day are made from the upper stratum,” he continued, “but this one is surely from the middle stratum. Look at this ‘gan.’[4] ’Tis certainly rare to have three ‘gans’ like this. The ink-cake grates smoothly on it. Try it, sir,”–and he pushed it towards me. I asked him how much, and he answered that on account of its owner having brought it from China and wishing to sell if as soon as possible, he would make it very cheap, that I could have it for thirty yen. I was sure he was a fool. I seemed to be able to get through the school somehow, but I would soon give out if this “curio siege” kept on long.

Shortly afterwards, I began to get sick of the school. One certain night, while I was strolling about a street named Omachi, I happened to notice a sign of noodles below of which was annotated “Tokyo” in the house next to the post office. I am very fond of noodles. While I was in Tokyo, if I passed by a noodle house and smelled the seasoning spices, I felt uncontrollable temptation to go inside at any cost. Up to this time I had forgotten the noodle on account of mathematics and antique curios, but since I had seen thus the sign of noodles, I could hardly pass it by unnoticed. So availing myself of this opportunity, I went in. It was not quite up to what I had judged by the sign. Since it claimed to follow the Tokyo style, they should have tidied up a little bit about the room. They did not either know Tokyo or have the means,–I did not know which, but the room was miserably dirty. The floor-mats had all seen better days and felt shaggy with sandy dust. The sootcovered walls defied the blackest black. The ceiling was not only smoked by the lamp black, but was so low as to force one involuntarily bend down his neck. Only the price-list, on which was glaringly written “Noodles” and which was pasted on the wall, was entirely new. I was certain that they bought an old house and opened the business just two or three days before. At the head of the price-list appeared “tempura” (noodles served with shrimp fried in batter).

“Say, fetch me some tempura,” I ordered in a loud voice. Then three fellows who had been making a chewing noise together in a corner, looked in my direction. As the room was dark I did not notice them at first. But when we looked at each other, I found them all to be boys in our school. They “how d’ye do’d” me and I acknowledged it. That night, having come across the noodle after so long a time, it tasted so fine that I ate four bowls.

The next day as I entered the class room quite unconcernedly, I saw on the black board written in letters so large as to take up the whole space; “Professor Tempura.” The boys all glanced at my face and made merry hee-haws at my cost. It was so absurd that I asked them if it was in any way funny for me to eat tempura noodle. Thereupon one of them said,–“But four bowls is too much.” What did they care if I ate four bowls or five as long as I paid it with my own money,–and speedily finishing up my class, I returned to the teachers’ room. After ten minutes’ recess, I went to the next class, and there on the black board was newly written quite as large as before; “Four bowls of tempura noodles, but don’t laugh.”

The first one did not arouse any ill-temper in me, but this time it made me feel irritating mad. A joke carried too far becomes mischievous. It is like the undue jealousy of some women who, like coal, look black and suggest flames. Nobody likes it. These country simpletons, unable to differentiate upon so delicate a boundary, would seem to be bent on pushing everything to the limit. As they lived in such a narrow town where one has no more to see if he goes on strolling about for one hour, and as they were capable of doing nothing better, they were trumpeting aloud this tempura incident in quite as serious a manner as the Russo-Japanese war. What a bunch of miserable pups! It is because they are raised in this fashion from their boyhood that there are many punies who, like the dwarf maple tree in the flower pot, mature gnarled and twisted. I have no objection to laugh myself with others over innocent jokes. But how’s this? Boys as they are, they showed a “poisonous temper.” Silently erasing off “tempura” from the board, I questioned them if they thought such mischief interesting, that this was a cowardly joke and if they knew the meaning of “cowardice.” Some of them answered that to get angry on being laughed at over one’s own doing, was cowardice. What made them so disgusting as this? I pitied myself for coming from far off Tokyo to teach such a lot.

“Keep your mouth shut, and study hard,” I snapped, and started the class. In the next class again there was written: “When one eats tempura noodles it makes him drawl nonsense.” There seemed no end to it. I was thoroughly aroused with anger, and declaring that I would not teach such sassies, went home straight. The boys were glad of having an unexpected holiday, so I heard. When things had come to this pass, the antique curious seemed far more preferable to the school.

My return home and sleep over night greatly rounded off my rugged temper over the tempura affair. I went to the school, and they were there also. I could not tell what was what. The three days thereafter were pacific, and on the night of the fourth day, I went to a suburb called Sumida and ate “dango” (small balls made of glutinous rice, dressed with sugar-paste). Sumida is a town where there are restaurants, hot-springs bath houses and a park, and in addition, the “tenderloin.” The dango shop where I went was near the entrance to the tenderloin, and as the dango served there was widely known for its nice taste, I dropped in on my way back from my bath. As I did not meet any students this time, I thought nobody knew of it, but when I entered the first hour class next day, I found written on the black board; “Two dishes of dango–7 sen.” It is true that I ate two dishes and paid seven sen. Troublesome kids! I declare. I expected with certainty that there would be something at the second hour, and there it was; “The dango in the tenderloin taste fine.” Stupid wretches!

No sooner I thought, the dango incident closed than the red towel became the topic for widespread gossip. Inquiry as to the story revealed it to be something unusually absurd. Since, my arrival here, I had made it a part of my routine to take in the hot springs bath every day. While there was nothing in this town which compared favorably with Tokyo, the hot springs were worthy of praise. So long as I was in the town, I decided that I would have a dip every day, and went there walking, partly for physical exercise, before my supper. And whenever I went there I used to carry a large-size European towel dangling from my hand. Added to somewhat reddish color the towel had acquired by its having been soaked in the hot-springs, the red color on its border, which was not fast enough, streaked about so that the towel now looked as if it were dyed red. This towel hung down from my hand on both ways whether afoot or riding in the train. For this reason, the students nicknamed me Red Towel. Honest, it is exasperating to live in a little town.

There is some more. The bath house I patronized was a newly built three-story house, and for the patrons of the first class the house provided a bath-robe, in addition to an attendant, and the cost was only eight sen. On top of that, a maid would serve tea in a regular polite fashion. I always paid the first class. Then those gossipy spotters started saying that for one who made only forty yen a month to take a first class bath every day was extravagant. Why the devil should they care? It was none of their business.

There is still some more. The bath-tub,–or the tank in this case,–was built of granite, and measured about thirty square feet. Usually there were thirteen or fourteen people in the tank, but sometimes there was none. As the water came up clear to the breast, I enjoyed, for athletic purposes, swimming in the tank. I delighted in swimming in this 30-square feet tank, taking chances of the total absence of other people. Once, going downstairs from the third story with a light heart, and peeping through the entrance of the tank to see if I should be able to swim, I noticed a sign put up in which was boldly written: “No swimming allowed in the tank.” As there may not have been many who swam in the tank, this notice was probably put up particularly for my sake. After that I gave up swimming. But although I gave up swimming, I was surprised, when I went to the school, to see on the board, as usual, written: “No swimming allowed in the tank.” It seemed as if all the students united in tracking me everywhere. They made me sick. I was not a fellow to stop doing whatever I had started upon no matter what students might say, but I became thoroughly disgusted when I meditated on why I had come to such a narrow, suffocating place. And, then, when I returned home, the “antique curio siege” was still going on.

  1. A tanzaku is a long, narrow strip of stiff paper on which a Japanese poem is written.
  2. Artists have several seals of stone with which to stamp on the picture they draw a guarantee of their personal work or for identification. The shape and kind of seals are quite a hobby among artists, and sales or exchange are of common occurrence.
  3. Tankei is the name of a place in China where a certain kind of stone suitable for writing purposes was produced.
  4. “Gan” may be understood as a kind of natural mark on the stone peculiar to the stone from Tankei.