Picking up new skills

2015 was filled with travels and adventures.
I’m immensely glad I did those trips, but I’ve got a goal for 2016.
My aim is to pick up some new art forms for myself.

Picking up new skills, however, can be a little  expensive.
If I do a little math, I spend about 23,000yen-25,000yen a month on learning what I do.
It takes a chunk out of my wallet.

So what have I picked up?
Mondays, I do Nihon Buyo (Traditional Japanese Dance).
Tuesdays, I do Koto (a Japanese string instrument).
Thursdays, I learn Japanese for N2 level.
Fridays, I do Sado (Japanese Tea Ceremony).

Nihon Buyo
This one has been on my mind for a while. I actually picked up a little bit of Nihon Buyo from the Fujima-ryu while on exchange at Toho Gakuen in 2011. So, this year, when I decided to cut down on travelling like a maniac, I chose to learn Nihon Buyo again.

Nihon Buyo has a very beautiful way of story telling through dance and movement using minimal props. It was one of those things that really spoke to me on a personal level despite my complete lack of hand-eye coordination. (I swear I have issues).

The class, this time Hanayagi-ryu, was located very conveniently in Toyama city at the Kitanihonshinbun Building and costs about 16,000yen for 3 months. Pretty damn worth it.

I suppose the only downside in this is that the lessons are conducted completely in Japanese. As is the case for everything else. So without Japanese knowledge, these classes would be tedious…but hey, they really help in getting my Japanese level up!

This class has been so fun. It’s mostly filled with middle aged ladies and one high school girl. When I entered, I only had a few yukata on me and it wasnt very suitable for Nihon Buyo. The people in the class just started to give me stuff. I got 2 sets of Kimonos, the Kimono inner wear, the Obi, the fan…I’m overwhelmed. One of the teachers at my school heard about me learning Nihon Buyo and gave me another Obi (a different styled one) and tied it for me at school.

The high school girl also helps out with translating any difficult Japanese that’s being used in the lessons. It’s a great environment.

Let me start off by saying that I’m a complete music noob.
To this day, I  haven’t been able to read (western) music scores despite learning them in Primary and secondary school. I never really got around to even playing the school recorder properly.

So, I’m not entirely sure what possesed me to start learning to play the Koto.

Initially, I’d wanted to learn the Shamisen…cuz it was kinda guitar/violin sized and seemed cool. Then I realised…it was made of cat hide…and the strum was made of tortoise shell…and apparently, the cat hide needs to be replaced regularly…so being quite staunchly vegetarian, that just made me go “nope nope nope” real fast.

So then, I was asked if I’d prefer Koto instead…which was made of wood and had synthetic strings. That made me breathe a lot easier. It also seemed a lot easier to play.

…unfortunately, I made one oversight. I didn’t realise that the finger picks used were made of ivory. I was really angry at myself for a long time because I’d assumed they’d be synthetic. I HAD seen sythetic picks sold online…so I hadn’t checked with my teacher in advance until I’d gotten them already. 😦  God damnit.

So people, please please double triple check all the materiels when buying tradtitional instruments. It really sucks to find out the way I did. I figure that all I can do now is speak out about this and move on.

Playing the Koto though has been an amazing experience. The one on one classes are a little pricy at 9,000yen for 4 classes a month but my teacher, Ishida-sensei, is incredibly patient with me. Considering how little I know about music (let alone in Japanese), my teacher has been great at explaining things to me. I’ve already picked up about 3 songs in less than 2 months and I’m enjoying studying music for the first time in forever.

Special mentions to the Eikaiwa I volunteer at every Wedenesday. I first brought up my desire to study a traditional instrument sometime in December. 2 of my students went out of their way to find this teacher for me and one of them also lent me her Koto, so I could practice with it at home.

Japanese Class
Studying for N2 level Japanese felt (and still feels) like a daunting task.

I don’t know if I’ll be ready to take the test at the end of the year.

Previously when I was doing N3, Saeko-sensei had been great with making me do drills and she prepped me really well for the test, so I passed pretty well.

However, she moved to America recently so I had to search for another teacher…and I found Komatsu-sensei!

She’s relatively newer at teaching Japanese and we’ve only used Japanese in all our lessons. At 2000yen per lesson, I’ve begun to enjoy learning the Kanji I once hated and I’m starting to develop my own study method with the help of my teacher.

We address each area of language learning one by one, Kanji, grammar, reading, vocab and listening. I studied about how a Kanji can be identified based on the “root” kanji. Grammar too, has gotter easier to digest…and the ones I have troubles with, Komatsu-sensei breaks it down.

Recently, I also discovered that I’m able to read simple paragraphs in magazines and brochures. So, that was a huge motivator to continue working on Japanese and Kanji in particular.

So, am I ready to go to the next level of Japanese?
Nope. It’s still a long way away…and a steep uphill climb.

Do I think I can achieve it eventually?
It’s most definitely possible with consistant work.

Japanese Tea Ceremony Club (Sado-bu)
I joined this quite early on into my JET stint and I haven’t looked back.

I love maccha.
I love eating wagashi.
I love learning about Japanse culture and I love seiza-ing (lies).

It’s also extremely affordable at about 300yen a month for the wagashi.

When I first joined, I found the teacher, Tsubota-sensei terrifying. He’d say pretty snarky things in extremely formal Japanese or Super-Toyama-dialect. He’s huff and roll his eyes. I had no idea what I was doing wrong and was scared of making mistakes. I also didn’t understand about 70% of what he said.

A lot hasn’t changed, except I’m not so terrified of him anymore. I slowly came to realise that even the Japanese students didn’t understand what he was saying sometimes…so I was completely excused. Now, I seem him as a snarky diva who has started snapping words like “back!” “left!” “right!” and “stand up!” in English. It’s hilarious even as I flubber around.

Teacher aside, Sado-bu has also got me closer to students in the club. When we’re not practising, we talk and chat and poke at each other. The 3rd year students also explain the rules to me very patiently. It’s fun and now that I’ve been at it for a year and a half-ish, I’m starting to understand the rules and reasons a lot more. It’s becoming a lot easier to appreciate the form once it’s mastered and understood.

Final thoughts

Doing all this takes time. I don’t socialise much in terms of partying or drinking (not that I did any prior to this anyway). By the time the weekend rolls around, I want nothing more than to collapse on my bed.

Somehow though, despite all this, I still find time to meet up with friends, and attend festivals and bake as a hobby. I still travel on the weekends or during the holiday periods…a lot less than before, but enough to re-charge.

All in all, it’s been a great experience so far and I’m glad I stepped out of the ALT bubble which is so easy and comfortable for me. I wouldn’t even say that the ALT bubble is a bad place to be, but it would be huge pity if I came all the way here and fail to engage with the local community.