“You’re a strong Janken player” is what one of my students said about me (as translated by the English teacher). The funny thing is I have learned how to win or lose at Janken in Japan on purpose.
Janken, for those of you not in Japan, is Rock, Paper Scissors. Japanese people have an incredible chant that goes with it, I don’t completely have it down and I’m pretty sure I’m mis-pronouncing the words when I do say them.
Different from home though, is the fact that EVERYTHING can be decided by Janken here. Which team are you on for a sports game? Janken. Who just won the card in the game we’re playing as a class? Janken. I’ve even heard rumors that it’s used in Japanese business meetings (obviously I’m not present, so I’m not so sure).
Anyways, I figured out that I can decide whether to win or lose when I was first playing with students shortly after arriving. It was about a week after school started and all the elementary students from my four small schools came together at Shimokanayama Elementary, for a grand total of 29 students.
On this day, we had a big tournament where each time you won, people hooked onto your back and you kept going with this train of people behind you. Well the first few times I didn’t really have the chant down and I didn’t know when to show my symbol. So somehow, I ended up with paper. Then I realized I was winning each time. My elementary students were always playing rock first.
I thought, there’s no way, someone has to play something different. But can I win the whole thing only playing paper? Sure enough, who was the winner? Me. So in a battle against teachers and students, the foreigner who was playing for the first time in Japan won. Awesome!
Today, we played a game that used it as well. It was a game where we had flash cards laid out and the two teams were starting at either end of the line, when they met they had to say “Dom!” then Janken (used as a verb here). The loser went back, their team started from the beginning, and the other team continued. The goal was to get to the other end.
I based what I played on where we were in the line. If I was less than half way through, I would play paper and win, if more than that, I would play scissors and lose, giving the students who aren’t native English speakers a fair chance. Most of the time this theory worked. My team never did get to the other end, but I did find a few students who played something else and won or lost when I wasn’t expecting to.
At the end of class, students share their impressions. One girl commented that I am a “strong Janken player.” I had to laugh on the inside because she must have just met me each time when I was “winning” rather than “losing.”