Life on the JET Program: Adventure of the Headless Fish

So you're sitting at a desk in one of your students' classrooms, lunch tray in front of you as you watch thirteen-fourteen-fifteen-year-olds ladle rice and soup and meat onto small dishes. They are wearing aprons, caps and masks.

After everyone is served, everyone puts their hands together. "Itadakimasu," proclaims a chosen student.

There is a great scraping of chairs; the girls, holding their bowls of food to put some back into the pot; the boys, to get any and all of the leftovers. Then the fight begins. (It's always louder in the older students' lunchrooms.) "Extra milk! Extra pieces of fish!" The boys crowd around, playing rock-paper scissors furiously. The winner screams his victory, walking back to his seat with fists in the air and two cartons of milk. The losers scream too; one collapses against a wall, clutching it like a fainting maiden; another falls roaring to the floor, arms raised to the sky in supplication.

It's like this every day.

The third dish on your plate is always a mystery; usually some mixture of vegetables. Today, it is potatoes and greens mixed with fish. Tiny fish. Tiny, pale, whole fish, no longer than three-quarters of an inch.

I can do this, you think.

You stare some more. You lift a chopstickfull; there seem to be tiny sesame seeds speckling your food.

They are not sesame seeds. They are the heads of decapitated tiny fish, soft from cooking, mushed into your potatoes.

You really can't do this.

Carefully, you use your chopsticks to separate the fish from the potatoes, and set about eating the latter.

This chopstickfull is speckled with seeds, too. You inspect them, wondering if they are poppy seeds.

They are eyeballs.

My friends, indeed, they are eyeballs.