News Details Page


#32 “Biri Gal” Strikes Back

In the fall of the year 2023 that saw the 50th anniversary of Erica Jong’s 1973 novel Fear of Flying, I could have a chance to talk with Ms. Sayaka Kobayashi nicknamed as “Biri Gal” (meaning a problematic girl who has the worst score among the classmates, wearing mini-skirts and dying her hair blonde) featured in a popular movie entitled Flying Colors (2015) with Ms. Kasumi Arimura as the heroine. While she was called a loser throughout high school years, her encounter with Mr. Nobutaka Tsubota of a cram school revolutionized her life and made it possible for her to enter Keio University.


 Deeply impressed with her potentiality and family history, Mr. Tsubota ended up    by publishing a biographical novel of Biri Gal, which became a bestseller and  whose film adaptation Flying Colors received multiple awards. Internationally  well-known now, Ms. Kobayashi continued learning and started writing her MA  thesis on cognitive science in education at Teachers College, Columbia  University. Thus, on September 8th, 2023, our president Dr. Kohei Itoh and Ms.  Sayaka Kobayashi had an exciting dialogue at the library of Keio Academy of  New York, with the headmaster as a discussant. 

 To tell the truth, I have long been unfamiliar with the personality of Ms. Sayaka  Kobayashi. Enjoying the film version of Mr. Tsubota’s biographical novel, I almost  believed Biri Gal to be a fictional character. However, meeting her in person and discussing Fukuzawa sensei’s An Encouragement of Learning with her, I felt convinced that she is one of the implied readers of the text. While Fukuzawa sensei starts by reconfirming Thomas Jefferson’s axiom “All men are created equal” and encourages the readers to make a difference by learning, Ms.Kobayashi made a difference by learning and entered not only Keio University but also the graduate school of Columbia University. 


Chatting with her at Matsushita Hall and headmaster’s office, I find her radical.  questioning of “natural aptitude” very intriguing.  On one hand, some teachers discourage  students from pursuing their interests, simply because the students don’t seem to have a  natural aptitude for them. On the other hand, once a student’s talent blossomed  somehow in the field of his or her interests, the teachers redefine them as endowed with    a natural aptitude for the talent from the beginning. Now what is at stake is the concept of  the natural. Is it possible for us to easily distinguish between nature and culture? What  you have long considered to be a natural aptitude might turn out to be the cultural effect  of learning.  As Donna Haraway pointed out in the Foucauldian fashion, nature and  culture mutually (but not equally) construct each other; one pole of the dualism cannot    exist without the other


This is the reason why Ms. Sayaka Kobayashi’s new autobiography Biri Gal Became “Biri” Once Again (Kodansha, 2022) is none other than a literary and cultural descendant of Fukuzawa Sensei’s An Encouragement of  Learning (1872) written 150 years ago.