Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Misguided attempts at cultural awareness.

In Japan, People on April 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I tried out the koto yesterday just to see what it was like. My boss arranged it for me on a lark. I barely mentioned, “Koto sounds fun,” and next thing you know she’s pulling out her address book and making calls. Two weeks later, she’s going along to show me the place and to make introductions and to serve as translator. (Talk about employee benefits.) Neither of us knew what we were in for.

Before I explain all the craziness, I should pause for an educational note for those who aren’t aware of what a koto is. I wasn’t really either until just before I made the offhand comment to my boss. It’s a giant stringed instrument played with bone finger picks. Kind of like a zither. Or maybe it is a zither, since I don’t know the actual definition. I have absolutely no musical training, which is probably starting to show. Wikipedia, bless them,¬†will kindly provide us with a picture:

Pretty, eh?

Anyhow, we went to my new koto sensei’s house. The woman talks fast, really fast, and does not pause for air or us. The first thing out of her mouth was “Are you allergic to cats?” This was before we even hit her front stoop. There is a preserved beehive on a table inside her front door. She does not own cats.

This simple fact became a mystery I spent the entire two hours trying to unravel.

Needless to say, I couldn’t concentrate at all. I kept missing the notes. I couldn’t remember the names of the numbers in Japanese. (My language skills are terrible, but they aren’t that bad.) The leather bands on the picks were too tight. They kept popping of my fingers. My version of “Sakura, Sakura” sounded deranged. My boss, who had planned on leaving early, waited it all out, either looking slightly amused or looking slightly pained.

In all my fluster I only caught fragments of the conversations happening between my boss and my teacher. One was about whether learning koto would make me more marriageable. (Apparently, no.) Another was about whether I would be able to find sensei’s house next week. Most of this centered on the fear that I wouldn’t be able to read the public transport time tables. (I’ve been here nearly two years. Illiteracy hasn’t stopped me yet.) Finally, there was the negotiation over where to find me a practice koto for at home. My boss was given the task of calling every single music teacher in the city. This is not hyperbole. Every one of their names was listed in full. Repeatedly. My boss had to take notes. The aim is to track down a errant koto that sensei had lent to someone, at some point, maybe. Three thoughts: It’d be hilarious to listen in on those those phone calls. Where will I put a six-foot-long koto? My poor boss.

Driving home, when we finally figured out the mystery of the cats, we laughed the entire way.