I’ve gotten more blisters in the past week then in the past year.
「まめが欲しい？」I ask. 「食べたい？」I hold my hands cupped in front of a student who looks skeptical before giving an over exaggerated smile. 「食べたい！」he exclaims!
My cupped hands unfold, revealing a handful of blisters. 「食べたい？」I ask, once more.
肉刺（まめ） : blister(s)
It’s not exactly the best joke in the book—in fact, it’s pretty disgusting. But I haven’t forgotten the word for blister since. It’s stood my week-long test. If I can remember it after a week, I’m pretty good.
But perhaps the reason I can’t forget it is because my hands hurt like a mother. Not a good mother, you know. One who beats her kids. My mother didn’t do that though, so I’m not sure where I’m pulling this phrase from.
The bamboo horse. The cause of my blisters.
Takeuma falls in a mysterious category of activities that can’t really be described as work or play, though the latter is definitely more fitting. They’re usually translated into English as stilts, which is fair enough. They’re fun to use, I guess.
When I first came to Japan, in a Japanese “Sturbridge Village”, one of those town-museums preserved to look like it did hundreds of years ago, the simple playground included some takeuma for use. Some friends from our group had spent a lot of time trying out the stilts after bulldozing through the museum part of town. I’m more of a history nerd, so the town part was important. Finally coming down to the takeuma, our time had run out and we had to go. I tried them, hoping I could somehow master them in the two minutes we had. Having no physical strength and poor balance, it should have been immediately obvious that it was a futile effort.
Fast forward to last week. On a whim, some students pulled out the takeuma for fun. I remembered my time with them those couple years ago and decided to give it another shot. Lord knows I was just as bad as the first time. Being more fit now than I was then helped me not tire out after the first twenty minutes of failure, but it didn’t make me instantly good at it. Not that I expected results like that.
After the kids all left, I was left outside with my takeuma still in hand. I was determined to be able to do it. The sky above was a smattering of clouds, protecting me from the sun.
That didn’t mean I didn’t get covered in sweat.
After struggling for another ten minutes outside, alone, the secretary at my elementary school looked out the window and started giving some words of encouragement and advice. I couldn’t manage to get more than a few steps, but after only thirty minutes, it was becoming much easier than before. Still impossible, but easier.
Another ten minutes and he came outside to help out. He stood up on another pair of takeuma and started walking around. Perhaps the most useful advice he gave during the entire period was that I shouldn’t be falling backwards—falling forwards was the way to go. It seems so obvious now, that I should be leaning forward on the stilts when they’re already back-heavy, but I hadn’t even considered it. Straight up was how I thought it should go.
A couple other people kept offering advice, which I took as much as possible (sometimes I didn’t understand them, admittedly). After a good hour, I was drenched, blisters on both hands, but finally able to stay up for 10 or 15 seconds before falling. The secretary still stood on his stilts, having not fallen for the past hour.
Two days later, I go back to the school and whip out the takeuma again. The kids were surprised.
And in a little way, I was disappointed. They didn’t see the work that I’d put into getting here. They didn’t see the blisters that pained my palms. I told them that I had worked a lot after school, and another teacher vouched for me. It still doesn’t mean they saw what I’d gone through.
Not that it matters what I went through. I just wanted them to see that, like takeuma, English is something that can be done with a little bit of work and spirit.
And then comes the unicycle. Giving my hands a break from the pain, I decided to try my hand at what half the students can do—the unicycle.
About a thousand times harder than the takeuma, the unicycle is the bane of my existence. An hour of practice with advice and I could still only go about 3-5 feet forward before falling.
The one good thing about my practice was convincing the bratty 1st grader who was trying to learn with me that failing was good.
「なんで？」 She questioned. 「失敗しないほうがいいでしょう？」
「でも、失敗したら、思い切り試してみたという意味があるよ」 I countered.
I kept failing that day, but she saw my progress. By the end of the day, she didn’t say anything explicit, but I saw her starting to make bolder challenges. Maybe it was because I was the only person who could see. Maybe she was just bored. But unlike before, when she barely did anything in fear of making a mistake, she was trying.
Like the takeuma, and Japanese, and my blog posts, I too will become good at it someday.
For the unicycle though, it seems like today is not that day.