Because the high school I teach at is the best in Aomori prefecture, my kids are pushed extremely hard when it comes to academics. There’s an on-campus dorm if the students stay so late at school studying that there’s no point in going home, the seniors don’t participate in extracurriculars because it takes away valuable studying time, and there are six major exam periods throughout the school year. For much of the year, the kids are stressed out to the max…but every once in a while, they get afforded a bit of a break to cut loose and enjoy themselves without any academic doom looming over their heads. A few weeks ago, we got afforded one of those chances when all of Aomori Koukou headed out for a field trip.
And oh, what a day. Each year heads to a different place in the prefecture on coach buses, so the front of the school is just one big mass of buses, hyperactive teenagers, and coolers filled to the brim with meat and other foodstuffs. In short: a beautiful sight. Plus, the teachers in charge of corralling the kids are all equipped with bullhorns, which make it even better.
Of course, the field trip could’ve been an utter disaster, but I would’ve loved it nonetheless, just for the sheer fact that I got to wear jeans instead of my normal business attire. It’s the small things…
The 1-nensei year, of which I am a teacher, headed southwest to a park outside of Hirosaki-shi (requisite rural, beautiful mountain view included, of course), where we’d barbecue the day away. When I lived in America, I’ve always liked barbecuing, but I wouldn’t have said that it was one of my favorite styles of cooking. Past Self laughs at Present Self’s foolishness. American barbecues don’t even compare to Japanese ones.
First off, in America, you barbecue hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, sausages, kebabs, and chicken. And…I don’t even know what else people throw on there? My family throws salmon burgers on our grill, and some people do vegetables or fruits, but pretty much 90% of what we grill falls under the “ run-of-the-mill meat” category. (Maybe I’m just not doing it right, though. Sorry if I offend with my “meh, American barbecue” statement.) Not so much in Japan.
Obviously, yeah, the kids were throwing on lots of meat. (Fun fact about Japan: in the grocery store, they sell selections of pre-marinated meat for the express purpose of barbecuing. Grab ‘em and go.) So they had their chicken and their beef, and a few kids had even brought whole fish to grill up.
But there were also kids making pancakes, yakisoba (noodles with cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, and pork), and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes with cabbage, onions, carrots, and other vegetables mixed into the batter, then topped with mayonnaise and other sauces).
Some students even got really creative and cooked up curry and stew. When have you ever seen someone throw together a delicious curry at a barbecue before?! Then again, it really shouldn’t have surprised me. Rice had to factor in at some point.
It’s amazing how cooperative and dedicated the kids are. Everyone is responsible for bringing the food for their own groups (four to six kids), and they have to bring all the supplies for the cooking, as well. It’s awesome to see students whom I’ve only seen in an academic setting don gloves and bandanas and whip up food like it’s nothing. Kids haul everything from griddles and mini spice racks to the aforementioned meat-stocked coolers. (And watching two tiny little Japanese teenage girls manhandle a huge cooler between them is quite the sight.)
Maybe it’s because I couldn’t imagine my high school sanctioning such an event because of the high liability (Though of course we had hiccups; it only took about fifteen minutes before one kid sliced open his thumb.), or perhaps I just don’t think as highly of American teenagers – jaded adult that I now am, awful kids with their awful music and awful shrieking voices – but I was genuinely impressed with how the kids pulled this off. Again, this might just be a reflection on my own character, as I could barely manage non-charred grilled cheese when I was in high school. Plus, it’s just nice to see them genuinely carefree and happy, rather than in their school uniforms and stressing about schoolwork.
And I think that I probably enjoyed the day just as much as the students. After all, any day whose central activity is based on food, I’m a happy camper. Every five minutes throughout the entire day, I was stopped by cries of “Alex-sensei, Alex-sensei, come try our food! We’re making pumpkin/marshmallows/pancakes/curry/chicken!” Don’t mind if I do, kiddos. I’ll taste-test your cooking until my stomach is bursting.