– the magical variety mystery show

This week our class has been more than extraordinary. Since the 12th of May we have known that the ryugakusei, or exchange students, have been going to come to our college. I tend to hijack those who are happy to be hijacked so that my students can have some kind of exposure to English that is not just my English, and so that both the exchange students and the Japanese and college students (not all are Japanese, though the vast majority are) can get exposure to other cultures too.

The students are close in age to one another, just a year or two difference, and there is plenty of socialising that goes on after college (as evident by the empty seats in the classes in the day, or the dark circles under the eyes of the students if they do come. However, Japanese students hardly sleep, so that might be part of it too).

The class is a music class and there are some very talented musicians within in it. That is not to say it is a class whose purpose is to produce music, but more-so it is a class in which we use music as a means to converse in English, or to use English.

They have two major assignments per semester, and this was the first one: putting on a variety show. Within that variety show, the planning, the presentation, the explanation, the instruction, I wanted the students to use as much English as possible. That’s not to say that the actual musical content had to be English. In fact, I wanted them to incorporate Japanese culture in a way that would be interesting for the visiting students.

The students needed to work together, in English, to determine what they would do, how they would explain it, when they would perform it, how long the overall show would take and so on. Though I was there for guidance, keeping them in English and general dictatorship duties, it was their baby.

We only had three classes of preparation. The classes meet once a week for ninety minutes, and the students have other classes and commitments, of course. In the first class, they formed their groups and they determined what they would do. In the second class they told the other groups what they would be doing in an information sharing activity, and they also determined how they would make the class interesting for one another if the exchange students did not come (attendance was voluntary).

They also needed to figure out the optimum order of the schedule. Three hosts were picked, by myself and the class. These three needed to determine the ultimate schedule, taking in everyone else’s suggestions. They also needed to determine the logistics. Who would clean? What food would be bought? Would money be needed and so on.

There were some problems at this time as one of the class members, as fitting with a music class perhaps, is on the prima donna-ish side, and had no problem dismissing the other students ideas vocally and loudly (in Japanese, mind you), and not co-operating with them at all.

A schedule was nutted out and I printed it. The following week we went through a nuts and bolts run-through, figuring out the technical details, hopefully avoiding the pitfalls. We especially had rehearsals for the more difficult to teach activities (such as musical chairs and the memory game. Remember, it is easy for you or I to teach these, but the students have to figure out how to do it in a language that is not their own, and to a class of 30 or so). The students again discussed what they were going to do and how they were going to do it.

On the day, the students in the class prior to the music class prepared the room (in theory! Their team leader was the prima donna.) This involved shifting desks back, putting out chairs. Other students came to the class and wrote the schedule up on the black board.


You can see Son Goku from the animation Dragon Ball Z in that programme. Dragon Ball Zwas a running theme. The girls who were going to teach a local Niigata Obon (honouring the ancestors – a bit like Halloween) dance were putting on their yukata and jinbei and running through final instruction.

niigata dance two

The students who were using Youtube and power point had quick run-throughs to make sure there were no technical glitches and to make sure that they knew how to use the computer. Food was put out, name tags dispersed, and organised chaos reigned.

Probably twelve exchange students, if not more, visited us. They are from a pretty elite college in the States, training in aeronautics. Our school can be described as liberal arts at the best. I love our school fiercely, and the students, but if there was ever a more disparate mix of students in terms of opportunity, and maybe determination, this is it. We get the chance to do things that other schools don’t, though, due to not having the pressure to maintain a prestigious reputation.

A fellow teacher and her son joined us. Both have American passports and nationality, but were raised in Japan. An older member of the community, Terao, also joined our class. He is a student in another class of mine.

The hosts introduced the show, or tried to introduce the show. Three students. I will call them Maki, Motoki, and Manabu. Only Maki and Motoki are feature in the picture below.



The first act was Manabu singing a ______, a traditional working song, or a story telling song about a working lad from boyhood to manhood. Manabu wore a yukata and was extremely expressive. He naturally is a bass, apparently, but he sang the song in counter tenor, he is also a ham, and said prima donna, so it was definitely his moment to shine, and shine he did. 


Though the students were at first suprised by the pitch of the song, and the fact that they didn’t often hear that kind of song, and the fact that it was Manabu singing it, they really appreciated his expressiveness and talent.

watching shin

The exchange students watching Manabu sing.

taking pictures

Manabu’s co-host, Maki, taking photos of him singing. 

 Three of the girls, Haruka, Fuyuko and Akiko then taught the bon odori, or obon dance. I was more difficult to follow than expected, but still, everyone got up and tried, and Manabu in his elegant yukata and withhis natural sense of rhythm helped out with the instruction.

niigata dance one

niigata dance three


There was a memory game directly after the bon odori, which involved the whole class being divided into three groups, standing in a circle, and then saying the singer or band they liked, and the other members having to remember and repeat. It was nice to have the mix of exchange students and Japanese students together, and fun to see how my noisiest students had trouble trying to get other students to listen to them. Hah-hah! They succeeded, though. Our group won, and I had bought some Dragon Ball Z and Hello Kitty knick-knacks from the convenience store, so we even had a few prizes. Everyone really enjoyed themselves. It is to the exchange students’ credit that they try to participate and enjoy themselves in activities that definitely aren’t “street”. The same goes for my students.

After this game, the two Chinese members of the class did a power point presentation on a Chinese group called the 12 Girls’ Band. They had a quick quiz at the end, to which the students knew the answers. Whew. The students, naturally enough, are concerned and self-conscious about their pronunciation and grammar and so on. As teachers, we get used to it. It is another matter for non-teacher future astronauts.




Possibly the highlight was the Dragon Ball Z segment. It was definitely the longest. Three students, Kyosuke, Toshiyuki and Mei used power point and Youtube to explore the somewhat convoluted history behind the popular animation series. One of my fellow teachers says that the generation we are teaching now definitely grew up on Dragon Ball Z. The exchange students really like animation, so the interest was already there.


Presenting the power point (above), and watching the power point (below).


The students distributed the song lyrics to the show. Toshiyuki had hunted down a version in Romaji, and also an Englishtranslation. They had copied all of these. After the presentation was over, it was time for Dragon Ball Z Musical Chairs. Everyone was given a small toy or item to place on the chairs. The reason for doing this was that one of the exchange students is in a wheelchair and we wanted him to participate. He declined, but not to worry. Another student said it was a good idea because it didn’t devolve into the free-for-all that usually occurs in musical chairs, especially with a group of testosterone-laden, animation watching, highly competitive aeronautical college students.


Surprisingly, Fuyuko, despite wearing a yukata, made it into the final three. She didn’t win. I thought the guys might let her. But, you know, refer to the above sentence. Which trumps which? Gallantry or competition? Plus, I know that Fuyuko would have wanted to know that she’d won by her own merits if that had been the case.


It wasn’t over yet! We’d gone through the programme a bit faster than expected. So we replayed the Dragon Ball Z theme song, and everyone sang along.


The exchange students particularly knew the peculiar little English inserts that Japanese is so fond of using, such as Jetcoaster!! and Sparking!!(they’re the lyrics! Don’t ask me!). So, when those parts came on the class rocked with them shouting out the lyrics. You can see from the expressions on these very poor photos of mine that my students really enjoyed the show of the exchange students singing. They liked singing, too, and Terao joined in, too.




Finally, three of the girls who had wanted to sing, but who had seemed to have their spot swiped by the prima donna, finished by singing kaeru no uta ga, or the frog song, the only song that I know in Japanese, a pretty children’s tune. It’s kind of fitting, because kaeru, as well as being Japanese for frog, also means return.

The girls sang it in rounds, which is how it is traditionally sung. Then, all of the Japanese students, my colleague and her son, my older student, and myself, also sang it in rounds. We should have taught the exchange students. It’s an easy tune. Next time

About twenty minutes ahead of time we wound up, which was fine. It gave the students a chance to get some food and to socialise. My computer and the television screen immediately got tuned into some animation. The students worked damned hard and I was very proud of them. I hope that they appreciated the effort that they put into the event as well.

This is a bit of a rough entry. I will post it for now, while it is fresh, and tweak and tighten it when I have a bit more time.

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2 Comments on “– the magical variety mystery show”

  1. T imo Says:

    I completely enjoyed reading this. But I am just that kind of a bookish sort or something. 🙂

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