Mats hailed from Sweden, and unlike many foreign ALTs (assistant language teachers), his name was simple for his students to pronounce as it could easily be spelled out as ‘Matsu’ in Katakana, one of the Japanese syllabaries. However, the students at this private Christian school, in their quest to show their skill in English tried to spell his name in English. With the best intentions, they wrote on the board in large letters: “Welcome Mat!”
Mats had a good laugh at this, and explained the other meaning of this expression, being the humble welcome mat that was placed in front of the door in many entrance ways in western homes. The students had a good laugh at this as well, and it helped to break the ice. At Christmas, one of the cheekier students presented Mats with an actual ‘welcome’ mat as a present. Mats accepted it with the good humor in which it was intended.
Students created pieces of poetry, including haiku, about Nobunaga. Others formed groups and wrote skits that told the story of Nobunaga’s rise to the top. One student even did a rap song, while another performed a song accompanied by his friend on guitar. Teachers were most impressed, but even more impressive was the way Mats worked with them and encouraged them to ‘believe in themselves and in the moment’ and forget everyone and everything around them. He would kneel in front of a student and cheer them on.
The kids were told not to laugh at others, and those performing were told to ignore those that did. The students’ confidence increased, and they became more bold and willing to speak out, unafraid of the audience reaction. Usually they were so good and talented that the audience (odd teachers and parents that came to watch his ‘practice sessions’ in the auditorium) simply stared at them in surprise, impressed with the students’ performance.
Some students channeled their inner child and were a little rude in their effort to ‘let loose’. “Nobunaga was no sap, and he planned a cunning trap; but first he needed a nap, and in his nap he took a crap!” The student realized his error. “Sorry… first he needed a nap, and afterwards he took a crap!” He was trying to be funny, and the other students laughed.
“Oh yes, those prepositions are so important,” Mats said. “But we need to be aiming a little higher with our language. Okay? Leave out the crap, so to speak,” Mats suggested.
“Okay,” the student said, still chuckling. The Japanese English teacher looked embarrassed.
Another student tried some poetry but was a little reserved in her delivery.
“Many years ago, in Owari land,
Nobunaga had the upper hand,
And he tried to unify Nagoya plain,
In doing so, many soldiers were slain.
Lots of soldiers lost their life,
And the end of the warlord’s knife;
Such is the price of lasting peace,
Now we live in comfort and ease.”
“That’s very good,” Mats complimented the girl. “Did you write that yourself?”
“Yes, Matsu Sensei, but my mom helped me with mistakes.”
“That's so sweet,” Mats said. “Now can you imagine Owari land (western Nagoya area) back then? Use gestures and let your hand show how wide Owari land was by pointing it out. Use your fist to demonstrate Nobunaga’s strength when you say, ‘upper hand’. Lower your voice when you explain that many soldiers were slain. Sound alarmed when you tell your audience how they died at the end of the warlord’s knife. Wasn’t it a sword? Anyway, smile at the end when you show your appreciation for being able to live in peace and comfort.” The girl performed her piece again and this time she aroused applause from those in attendance. Mats also stood up and clapped. The girl ran off with a huge smile.
“Sweden is a large country between Norway and Finland.”
“No, no… no,” Mats interrupted. “The audience don’t want a map. They want a picture.”
“Er.. okay. Sweden was a cold country, with snow.”
“Come, Takeshi. You can do better than that. Bring it to life. Believe! Be there! BE There!”
“There was a hill… a snow-covered hill, and some trees…”
“Look around you, close your eyes and see with your imagination!” Mats said, and he also did the same. “Now tell the audience what you see. Where are you? BE THERE! BELIEVE!”
“I knelt down on a snow-covered hill in a deep winter. Pine trees lined the hilltops. Snow was falling and I could see a warrior… a Viking, on a huge, magnificent horse! He held a spear and wore a long sword. The Viking had an animal’s fur over his shoulders, which billowed behind him in the wind, and a helmet on his head. I looked around. I was … I am in ancient Sweden!” The boy’s voice began to shake with emotion.
“Yes! Be there. Be there now! What happened next?” Mats urged, not wanting him to stop.
“The soldier turned in my direction… “ Both student and teacher gasped dramatically.
Then Mats and Takeshi disappeared.