Thursday, May 01, 2014

More lessons for an awkward gaijin

Today’s coffee: Mother’s Day Blend—I’ll just have to pretend I’m drinking it with my mom…

Today’s just been one of those days. I’ve never once thought that I wanted to quit or go “home” to America or anything like that; I’m just tired of being a gaijin (foreigner). Actually, being a gaijin in itself is not so bad; it’s just that gaijin tend not to know stuff that Japanese people know by common sense. I also get tired all the time with very little to show for it. And I feel like a broken record, always whining about the same things and trying to justify my lack of productivity. Thus I am at Tokumitsu for a change of atmosphere, consoling myself with a cup of coffee.

What could it have been this time? We just had a couple days off, and fun time with friends; shouldn't we feel energized? Monday, Keith and I spent the day at an onsen; the following day (Tuesday) we went the rest of the way to Nayoro for the opening ceremony of a new church plant where some colleagues of ours are working. On the way we visited a museum and took in the beautiful Hokkaido scenery. On the way home, Takahashi-sensei rode with us, so we had several hours of time to talk together in the car—some about things at church, but mostly just about whatever came to mind.

Hokkaido eye-candy: Taisetsuzan
At Shiokari Pass on our way to Nayoro
Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon with Tomiko-san (my hauta shamisen teacher) and her other students. We played lots of shamisen, and I had tea with Tomiko-san after the other students went home; I was very encouraged by the time spent together, talking about what it means to be a Christian performer of Japanese traditional music, among other things.

This morning (Thursday), I woke up with a headache and no motivation to do anything. Too much excitement (and use of Japanese language) over the past few days, perhaps? Or maybe just “living as a foreigner in Japan”? Sometimes I forget that things just take more time and energy when living here. I’ve been trying to cope with cup after cup of caffeinated beverages, but…

Along with the fun of learning about shamisen from Tomiko-san yesterday, I also noticed something that had bothered me when I first started learning viola da gamba: because of the years I spent learning the cello, I pick up new string instruments very quickly, but my knowledge of the instrument and its history, and the amount of repertoire I can play are far behind my playing level.

I’ve written before about the Japanese method of teaching: copy what the sensei does, and when you’re a sensei, you might be able to start doing your own thing (a bit). In general, I’ve found this method to be refreshing, especially as a beginner. I don’t feel that I have the knowledge or experience to make my own interpretation of hauta songs just yet, so I’m glad that Tomiko-san is not pressuring me to do so.

However, the other shoe dropped yesterday. In order to preserve the hauta repertoire and see to it that the songs are appropriately passed on to the next generation—and probably also provide job security for teachers—there are very strict rules about who is allowed to teach and perform the hauta repertoire. If I haven’t been taught a given piece of shamisen music by someone with teaching qualifications, I am not allowed to perform it, even if I can figure it out from recordings and sheet music. By the same token, I have no teaching qualification, so I’m not allowed to so much as pass on sheet music. So… instead of playing next week with a very capable duet partner who has studied another style of shamisen but not hauta, I’ll be playing by myself, since I’m not allowed to “teach” her, even if I’m just handing her sheet music. Masahiro-san, who is organizing the concert next week, assures me that Tsugaru shamisen is not as strict… but he immediately understood what I was talking about when I explained the situation to him.

I also found out that the concert next week is completely sold out—over 400 seats. I should be happy… but I had friends who wanted to go but couldn’t get tickets. (Keith will be coming as staff.)

So, I should be grateful that Tomiko-san kindly and thoroughly explained all this awkward stuff to me (I know it wasn’t easy for her), but right now, I’m tired and I still have a headache, and I just want another coffee and a nap. I’ll probably feel better about things tomorrow. Then, after the concert next week, maybe I’ll start working on my teaching qualification.

1 comment:

ilene olson said...

You are an amazing person, Celia. Very brave to do what you do. Please do not be hard on yourself. Forgive yourself your mistakes just like you would forgive someone else. Love you