Saturday, June 19, 2010

Learning to be Japanese

At my most recent kimono lesson, the only other student there was a new person and it reminded me of how far I've come. Seeing the sensei repeat everything over and over while using hand gestures put things in perspective for me. I sometimes get discouraged during my lessons if I can't remember something, or if my sensei gives me a direction from across the room and upon me not understanding it, comes over to show me. By my own fault, this makes me feel like I'm not good enough for kimono, or like I'll never be as good as my Japanese peers, which is of course not necessarily true. Language and body movement aside, it comes down to skill and maybe some natural grace.

Watching and listening to this new person's lesson reminded me that just because I can't do something here, it's not because I am foreign or not Japanese, but because I haven't learned how to do it yet. This is something that can be so easily forgotten in Japan, where I often feel clumsy, big and like a giant sore thumb. I think it can be easy to get down on yourself living here, especially when you feel so different. I catch myself unconsciously telling myself that the reason I can't do something is because I'm not Japanese. Looking at Japanese people and thinking how well they do something (whether it is kimono or conducting oneself in a social situation) has nothing to do with them being Japanese, and everything to do with the fact that it is simply learned behaviour.

I'm not articulating myself very well so I will just say this: in no aspect of my life here do I feel desperate to fit in with Japanese people, save for my kimono classes. I look at these women and how incredibly natural they look in kimono, putting it on, and dressing others in it. I fret about sitting seiza and looking like the dumb foreigner who has to sit with her legs to the side and even then they cramp up. I worry that my teachers will be more lenient with me than other students because I'm foreign (totally not the case), while at the same time wishing I was a bit more spoon fed because sometimes I don't understand the words they are using and this school is my lifeline to kimono - kimono dressing is taught to us like we have mothers or grandmothers to sew shit for us or to pass on old kimono wisdom. Most of my fears above are unfounded. These women that I admire have learned everything that I admire about them, or had help from elsewhere. They weren't born in kimono and for them, in this day and age, learning about kimono is a choice, not something that happens by osmosis. This is somewhat comforting, especially as I progress in the higher level master class, where the teachers have no qualms about bluntly telling you what you're doing wrong.

7 comments:

julielavoie said...

That's a great attitude. There's apparently a Chinese proverb that says "no one is born knowing how to do anything else but eat and cry".

Therefore, we can learn how to do anything.

Eve said...

You know... I've been reading your blog for a while now, and this is definitely your most articulate post :)

I like the insight that if we suck at something, it's only due to a lack of education in one particular area - and sucking is NOT a reflection on ourselves, personally.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

julielavoie: I think I like that proverb. I'm going to try and remember that more when I get frustrated about not being able to do stuff on the first try.

Eve: Really? It's definitely one of the shortest. Now I've got to worry about all those long rambling ones... :)

kathrynoh said...

Great insight. I have been trying to teach myself to cook some Japanese dishes lately and was asking my Japanese teacher how to make ramen because I can't get the flavour right. She gave me a heap of instructions but then told me she's never made it herself, just watched other ppl make it! It's like yeah, I've done that too... lol.

Sarahf said...

I used to go to Kimono school and spent so much of my time worrying I wasn't elegant enough. Turned out the Japanese girls were thinking the same thing... Great post.

Jen B said...

No, I think you are articulating yourself very well indeed. I'll keep this post in mind next time I hover on a stoop somewhere, wondering if I'm "qualified" to participate...

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

kathrynoh: Go you! I really need to learn how to cook but when I see people who do it well I assume I can never do it. I'm sure they didn't come out of the womb deftly wielding a knife!

Sarahf: It's funny how that works. They were probably thinking the same thing about you!

Jen B: You are totally qualified to participate, so don't stay on the stoop! I know the feeling though, I can be a terrible hesitator. Is that even a word?