Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Road to Royalty: Tokyo’s Irish Parade Queen Pageant Part 1

*This post is about 3 months late in coming...gomen (sorry)!

[And so it begins...]

In early March, Maya and I headed to a party in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. We were meeting up with two of her coworkers to head to a party. Aside from Maya, I knew no one we were set to meet. We found Anthony and Yukiko at the train station and all of us broke out our iphones in an effort to find this party. Anthony and I walked and talked. I instantly loved him. Of Irish heritage but raised in England, he had lived and taught in international schools all over the world. Excited to meet someone else Irish I shared that I was 1/2 Irish, which was then solidified when I shared my full name. Kathryn Terese Bohan. Does that not conjure up a picture of a shamrock to you?

Still trying to find this party, now seemingly walking aimlessly, a light bulb went off in Anthony’s head and he let out a gasp. He turned to face me and we stopped dead in our tracks. “Ohmygod! I just had THE best idea!” he squealed. He explained to me that in a few weeks he was set to MC the 1st annual Tokyo Irish Parade Queen Pageant and, I just HAD to apply.

I immediately waved him off.

”I don’t knowwwww...I’m not really a pageant person.” I said hesitantly, trying to be polite but knowing that there was no way I was going to be involved.

He persisted, “Kate ohmygod you would be just perfecttttt! I met a few of the girls applying today and they don’t hold a candle to you!”

”That’s sweet, but you met me all of like 3 blocks ago, and I’m sure the beers we’ve consumed on our walk only helped in my favor.” Well done Japan for their lack of an open container law.

But he wouldn’t let up. Ignoring all my resistance, he started hitting me with details of this pageant. The only requirements were that the applicants be...
-20 years old
-Must show an interest in Ireland
-Must be available March 9th and 13th
-Be willing to do 4 other social meetings in 2011
-Must enjoy holding the title of Parade Queen for 1 year
-Must currently reside in Japan and be intending to stay for the next 12 months.

I didn’t even have to speak Japanese. As I had just re-contracted, solidifying my time in Japan until at least July 2012, all those things now officially held true for me. I could feel myself wavering. I had told myself to try anything and everything, and Anthony assured me that I wouldn’t have to prance around in a bathing suit.

“Here,” he shoved his phone in my face, “just look at the prizes.”

·         The winner will become "St Patrick's Day Parade Queen" and will walk at the head of the parade on Sunday 13th March, among many other fantastic events you will be asked to attend throughout the year.
·         Wins a 200,000 Yen Folli Follie Shopping Voucher to use at one of their stores in Tokyo
·         Wins exclusive membership to the Folli Follie VIP members Club Card Program.*less than a 100 people in Japan have this privilege.
·         Have your photo and interview in one of Tokyo's premier magazines.
·         1 night stay for 2 people at the Bay side Marina Hotel In Yokohama
·         1 Case Of Wine
·         1 lady's and 1 men`s wrist watch
·         "Gen Okamoto: Artist/Graphic designer. Print making White Wedding (2008) Etching, Aquatint, Mezzotint"
·         1 Set Of Assorted Oils
·         Pair of Half day tickets with "I Love Canoe" in Minakami
·         Half Day Studio Photo Shoot wit JW Photo including 5 x A4 prints and 1 x A3 print
·         4 snow lift tickets to various resorts in Japan
·         30,000 yen Champagne gift set
·         80,000 yen cosmetic gift set
·         3 x 1 month memberships to Zoader Capoeria academy for you and your friends
·         1 month worth of private 1 on 1 lessons at Tempo boxing.
·         60,000 yen worth of water purifying products
·         5,000 yen BierVana food and drink Voucher
·         Flowers by Garland Fair
·         1 x 18year old bottle of Jameson Whiskey

Fine. I was in.

After a good 25 minute walk around Roppongi, we found the club and stopped outside to exchange contact information. As the iphone waited for me to enter the first name of my new friend, I turned to asked if he preferred Tony or Anthony. I looked over to see an extremely focused Anthony spelling out each letter of my name, he typed, “p-a-r-a-d-e-q-u-e-e-n.”

Oh geez.

It didn’t stop there. EVERY person we meet that night, Anthony was sure to introduce me as the Parade Queen. By the end of the night he was grabbing any guy that walked by ushering him in my direction, screaming, “and THIS is Tokyo’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Queen!!” Then wink at me and walk away. Needless to say, I made LOTS of friends that night.

Lovely night in Roppongi


I showed up to a bar I had never been to in Tokyo for auditions. I knew only slightly what to expect, as is most situations I enter into in this country. Anthony had been a great guide. Giving me tips on what to wear, “casual yet together” he instructed. Got it. I knew there was going to be a panel of 3 people set to interview me, I was going to have my picture taken, and most likely meet some of the other girls. And that was about all I knew.

The bar was lovely, and I was surprised how relieved I felt to see shamrocks all over the place. It was so comforting to see something that I related to so much, all these miles away. I was greeted with a warm hello by a few different people, and a beer was instantly placed in my hand. Casual it is then.

I was ushered over to have my picture taken then to the long table to join the other 15 some girls, while I waited to be interviewed. Anthony had told me that they expected about 20 some to apply which was going to be brought down to 12 for the actual pageant. I was there mostly for the experience, at least that’s what I told myself to keep calm. But I wanted to be in that top 12. The final 12 would be taken to TopShop for a fitting. Every girl would be fitted, then given, two outfits for the pageant, one casual, one formal. I figured I could at least get that far.

The girls were great. Every one having their own story as to why they were there. Only one was actually from Ireland, and aside from me and two others, everyone else was Japanese. One girl was a model and brought her lookbook, another had studied in Ireland and loved it so much that she now ran an Irish play house in Tokyo, but I think most were there for the experience, and let’s be honest, the prizes.

In the distance I heard my name called. It was my turn to be interviewed. I stood up, leaving my beer on the table, and was instantly instructed to bring it with me.
This was only getting better.

I was asked basic info, name, age, why I was in Japan, why I was applying for this pageant, what the capital of Ireland was, what would it mean to me if I won. The interviewers were great and it was a very stress free conversation. I left the table feeling confident. Headed back to the girls and made some new friends as we all shared a few more beers.

It was two days later when I got the call that I had made the final 12, and details were put into play as to when my fitting was and a request to send an email with a bit more information. I was still in this mostly for the experience, but the competitiveness was growing on me, I wanted this.

Click here to see the contestants!


The fitting went great, I was so excited to be there! They had already picked out clothes for us and we were working with a personal shopper, who was Japanese but grew up in Canada so she was able to speak any and all languages. She was to make sure we got a causal and formal outfit that flattered us. My casual outfit was 70’s theme and my formal one was a lovely one shoulder greenish dress. The tags were cut off, the clothes were folded and put in a bag, I watched as my name was written in black marker on the bag. And that was it, they were mine.



[Pageant Night]

The night of the event, Wednesday, March 9th, all the girls and Dane, who had organized the entire event and was our go-to guy throughout the entire process, met at restaurant a few blocks from the venue to go over some last minute details.

Dane explained how the night would go.

Our clothes were waiting for us at the venue, as were the hair and make-up people. We had each been assigned an order of appearance number, I was number 12, last. We had each chosen a walk out song, I picked, Lady Gaga, Born This Way. We were coming out in our casual outfits first as Anthony and Nikki (both co-workers of Maya’s) talked to everyone about what we were wearing. Then we were to run backstage and change into our formal outfit, get our hair and make-up touched up, and reappear for our second walk down the cat walk. Upon our appearance this time we were each going to answer two questions.

Anthony had called all of us the previous week to tell us our questions. The first was unique to each of us, the second was the same across the board.

So I have a question for you that I think is really going to bring out your personality,” Anthony explained to me on the phone the previous week. “Great!” I said, “what is it?!”

Ok,” he went on, “What would you say to people that say that girls can’t play soccer?’”

THAT’S BULLS***!” I screamed back on the phone, then immediately clasped my hand to my mouth.

Ok. Hun.” Anthony went on in a calm but sarcastic tone, “Ummm, you can’t say that on stage. In a dress.”
I’m know. I’m sorry. But you know that’s crap.”

Well my dear you have a week to figure out exactly how you want to word that, and I’d advise you to use that time wisely.” I could hear his simile.

I willlllll, alright what’s the second question?” pencil ready, I was taking notes.

Everyone has the same 2nd one and it’s, Why do you want to be the Parade Queen?”

Ugh, I hate those generic type questions.”

I know,” he empathized, “alright Queen Kate see you Wednesday!”

As I hung up I felt myself simile, and without missing a beat, my stomach knotted. Even my body wasn’t letting me get ahead of myself.
I had spent all week at work writing bullet pointed answers to the two questions, and practiced in the shower. I had my answers down, but every time I went to practice the soccer question, I was irked by it, and literally had to practice not yelling out that it was B.S., before proceeding to my more politically correct answer.

Back at the restaurant, as I continued to sip my iced tea Dane continued to explain that we would be scored American Idol style. Every girl had been assigned an email, that we weren’t to know until voting time. Every cell phone in Japan has internet, so all the audience members would look to the screen and send an email to our assigned email address. It would be instant. My stomach knotted again. Dane continued,
 `As soon as the winner is announced, the Queen will immediately be crowed and ushered to take pictures with Ireland’s Ambassador to Japan, who will be awarding the grand prize of 200,000 yen (a little over 2 grand) to Folli Follie jewelry store. The queen and top three will be taken over to a backdrop where they will be interviewed for Fashion TV, all the while making sure to smile and be polite to anyone and everyone. Then everyone will get on the bus waiting for you all, to go to BierVana, (the bar where the auditions were) for an after party.`

The following day was another fitting at TopShop for another outfit, this time for the parade and then there was an opportunity for court-side VIP tickets to see Tokyo’s professional basketball team play. Then of course, the following Saturday, was the St. Patrick’s Day Parade itself, again with an early arrival for hair and make-up.

Whoa,” I whispered under my breath.

I know!” whispered Zandra “number 5” and newest friend.

Someone’s life is about to change,” I said and took another sip to calm myself.

I know,” she said again, “this just got bigger that I realized.”

Zandra and I

We packed up our stuff and headed off to the venue...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

United by English in Japan: New Pakistani Students Come to GoChuu

Every Monday and Thursday at GoChuu, my middle school, we have morning meetings with the entire staff. My only participation comes when I stand with the rest of the staff and announce Ohayooo Gozaimasu, wishing everyone a good morning, then sit down and play a game of how much will Kate understand today. I average about 5-10% comprehension of what is actually said. I’ll work on it.

During a Thursday meeting a few weeks ago, it was our Vice Principal’s turn to stand and address the staff. He started saying words I recognized and I started to pay a little more attention. An essentially fluent english speaker, he came over to me after the meeting to see if I understood what he had said, shockingly I had.

Rainy day at GoChuu

We were getting two new students, sisters. One was a 1st grader (our 7th grade) the other was a 3rd grader (our 9th grade). Their mom was Japanese, their dad was Pakistani, they lived in Pakistan and were here at GoChuu only for 3 weeks. They were wearing their own school uniforms from school in Pakistan, and wouldn’t be eating school lunch. Their Japanese was at an elementary school level and they could only write and read hiragana, not the Chinese Kanji characters.

“Oh wow! That is so neat,” I said as the Vice Principal sat facing me, confirming these details of the meeting. Usually their is nothing that pertains to me enough to warrant a one on one conversation in order to confirm details. I was still a little confused as to why he was exactly telling me this.

“I think,” he said, “that they might speak english. I talked to them a little and they seemed to understand me. Maybe they’re fluent.”

“Oh really!?” I was thrilled. In his very Japanese way, he had just told me that they are fluent. It had been so long since I had talked to anyone under the age of 25 remotely fluently. I was surprised how excited I was to meet them. As he left, I quickly wiki-ed “Pakistan” and confirmed my suspicion that english was in fact that one of their national languages. Great!

During cleaning time I went with the vice principle to meet both girls. They were in fact fluent, and darling. Apparently the principle had told them that the school had a fluent english speaker, so the girls knew that I was around somewhere. Both had huge smiles as I walked in, “Hi!” I opened. “I’m Kate.” They beamed and introduced themselves. Misha, was more excited than her younger sister.
“It’s so nice to have a english conversation after a day of Japanese,” she confessed.
I chuckled, “You know what,” I kind of whispered, as the Japanese students watched in awe as we continued with our introduction, “it’s a treat for me too.” I smiled and she chuckled. “I just wanted to come say hi and see how your first day was going, pretty different huh?”

“Ummm, YEAH!” she confirmed.

I smiled. I can remember how shocked I was with everything that was different from American schools. I told both girls that if they had any questions about anything, as to why and how things were done at GoChuu to not hesitate to ask. Their were a few things I needed confirmed by Ian and Sinapi when I first came, so I can only image from a student’s point of view how different everything must be. Both girls said everyone was very nice and they were having a good first day.

I was trying not to completely favor Misha after we introduced ourselves, but it was such a treat to have natural speed conversation with someone. I had to make myself leave. “Alright my dear, enjoy cleaning time and I’ll see you later!” She gave me a look and I chuckled. Poor girl was on toilet duty on day one.

Throughout the week I would come talk to the girls if I was in their class doing a lesson, or say hi in the halls, but I never got a chance to talk to them for more than a few minutes. They were both very mature for their age and such sweet girls, I really wanted to know their story.

Last Monday I got my golden opportunity.

Again the Vice Principle came over to me to tell me that on this day, the 3rd graders were taking exams to prepare for High School and Misha was in the library just reading all day as she didn’t have to take them. He asked if I would do an advanced english lesson with her, or basically anything as she was just going to be sitting there. Sure! I jumped at the chance, I only had 2 lessons anyway.

I went to go visit her and she smiled and put down her book when she saw me. “Hey!” I opened, man it felt good to start a sentence with that, rather than Hello.

I chatted with her and it was decided that we would do some kind of advanced lesson, I asked if their was any other subject she liked, after all we had all day. She said math and chemistry. I went to research online. I found some simple math lessons that I figured she didn’t know how to do, but were simple enough to teach in one lesson, and printed those. I found a short story in english that I decided we could read and discuss. I grabbed a blank piece of paper and told her we were going to make a packet and this was a cover for her to decorate, basically buying me time to research a bit more online.

I came back to her with all kinds of handouts and chatted with her as she colored her cover. She was 14, her sister 12. Dad was from Pakistan, Mom from Japan. The girls went to school in English in Pakistan. They were Muslim, their mom had converted. Though told me they never wore head scarves. I was fascinated by the languages they spoke. Misha explained that at home they speak a mix of English, Japanese, and Urdu, though the girls speak only English to each other. I asked exactly why she was in Japan, as I couldn’t get quite a straight answer from any of the teachers, I figured they didn’t really know. Their dad did something with car sales, and they were here visiting him, apparently he lives here in Kamagaya a large majority of the time. Their school year in Pakistan was over and they were here in Japan in a Japanese school for a few weeks to simply better their Japanese.

Then we started discussing how different Japan was from where we were from. I was so interested. I knew how the adults and the working culture differed from the US but I wasn’t sure how the student culture differed.

Her first observation was that the kids didn’t gossip. “Didn’t you have like popular and nerdy kids at your school?” she asked, “Sure,” I offered, “doesn’t everyone?”

“No!” she yelled in shock. “They don’t! They are like, all so nice it’s weird.”
I chuckled. “Do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked. She thought, then confessed she didn’t know.

I know what she means though. The adults are so nice, but sometimes I wonder how sincere they are, or if it’s more about keeping the harmony of the situation. I’m betting on the latter.

“AND,” she went on, “they apologize for EVERYTHING!” I laughed again, knowing just what she means, and again we discussed their sincerity. But I explained to her that moving two inches out of the way for someone and apologizing, doesn’t exactly mean, I’m sorry, but rather acknowledging someones presence. Or at least that’s my theory. I told her, that when I went home after the earthquake, my mom told me that I said sorry too much. Which she thought was hysterical.

She then had another observation, that the kids, or girls in particular, didn’t seem to have really close friendships, citing that they were so formal with each other. She went on, “I mean when you’re with your friends do you apologize to them? Isn’t it implied that you wouldn’t do anything to like hurt them.” A very pointed observation I thought for a 14 year old. And one I agree with, but again that just isn’t their way of doing things. I told her the next theory that I’ve observed, that the Japanese people are very good at having designated roles for designated places.

For instance when they are at school, they are all business, no matter how close they are in reality. She thought about that one for awhile. “Well at least that’s how the teachers are,” I pondered, “when they are at school they are teachers at work, end of story. But outside of school they are just as causal as we are.”

I asked if their are any couples amongst the students. Again she went on to tell me that they don’t seem to have crushes or date or do anything like that. She couldn’t believe it. I asked if maybe their was, but they just didn’t show it at school, and she said she wasn’t sure. The dating life for people my age is pretty much the opposite of anything western and apparently Pakistani as well.

We did the work I printed, but talked most of the day about cultures and how they are different and the same and how we all seem to get things done just in different ways. We even talked about suicide bombers and she explained to me just how people are recruited to become a suicide bomber. We talked about Pakistani weddings, at which point she lit up, as she talked about her cousins weddings she went to. She told me about the current president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and how his wife, Benazir Bhutto, the previous President, was killed during her term. Apparently she was killed in a suicide bombing, then shot. And it is rumored that her husband, was involved to gain Presidency. Misha confessed she was devastated when the former president was killed as she had inspired Misha to gain an interest in politics. Oh, and apparently her son is hot, Misha gave me his name to google. Bilawal Bhutto who is at University in England, incase you're interested.

She was so darling and so bright. It was such a pleasure to spend the day with her, and we had, all in all, a very mature conversation. I was constantly forgetting she was only 14.

I asked her if she could choose to live wherever she wanted, where would she choose. Without missing a beat she answered, “Wherever Justin Bieber lives.”
And just like that, she was 14 again.

Learning something new everyday,

In other news: It has been extremely rainy and hot, a terrible combination. So I got myself a puzzle for all the time I was spending in doors. This is my latest accomplishment...
1,000 pieces baby


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