I teach a chap who’s a bit of a boaster. This is unusual in Japan; people tend to be a bit more self-effacing. They will present you with some home-made food and say, ‘Of course it is inedible shite because I’m not much of a cook,’ or some such humility, so it was quite surprising to hear this fellow consistently brag about how good he is at everything. It was more surprising still to discover that he may be over-estimating his abilities a tad.
I began to suspect this just recently. Having already been told what an accomplished skier, cyclist, marathon runner, cook and mountain climber he is, I had been impressed. I believed him. I had no reason not to. He had a nice bicycle, and he looks fit enough. In fact, I thought perhaps he was probably so good at all of these things that he felt to deny it would be silly – like Lionel Messi saying, ‘I suppose I’m okay at football.’
Later, however, he made a few claims which suggested he might just be overdoing it with the brilliance. When a textbook question asked students whether they had ever won a prize, he began nodding vigorously.
‘You’ve won a prize, Kazuhiro?’ I asked. ‘What for?’
‘One hundred metres,’ he said proudly.
‘Great,’ I said, ‘When was that?’
‘Elementary school,’ he beamed.
I’ll be honest, I was a little less impressed. He’s not far off forty, now.
‘What did you win?’ I asked, not wanting to rain on his parade.
‘For the prize, I mean?’
‘Nothing,’ he said. It was just a race.
‘Oh right,’ I said. ‘But still, you won the race.’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Actually, I was second.’
I let it slide, but, you know, remembering that you were second in a race for eight-year-olds some thirty years previous and then trying to pass it off as a victory might lead some to the conclusion that there are some unresolved issues needing to be addressed.
Fine, though. A one-off feeble boast which might have involved a bit of misunderstanding. That could happen. But then, a few weeks thereafter, the topic of being ambidextrous came up in class and I asked whether any of the students were so blessed. Kazuhiro, naturally, was completely ambidextrous. Either hand for writing? No problem. Sports? Left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot, he cared not a jot for each was as strong as the other. So we did as the book suggested and partook in a few wrong-handed challenges. His name, written with his left hand, was a drunken spider’s stagger home via an ink pot, his cutting a straight line with scissors created a passable representation of undulating snow drifts, and his throwing a paper ball into a bin… well…it took me back to my own elementary school days when I was cruelly and casually informed by a rounders-playing teammate, ‘You throw like a girl.’