Monday, October 8, 2012

How I Made History ... a Little Bit.

 Some of my best and craziest experiences here have been because I just said "Yes, ok, I'll do it," despite my fear and reservations. Experiences like the world's weirdest group date, the time I was a rockstar,  hula dancing for Japan, and even the beauty pageant failure. This story is definitely up there with the best of them. 

Last month I was at a local festival, enjoying some eisa dancing, when an older gentleman started to talk to my Japanese friend about me. It turns out he's a sanshin (Okinawa instrument) master and he said, "I want to teach her." So I said, "yes, ok, I'll do it." 

Asato Eisa
 One week later, I was sitting in a little trailer with ten other ojis (grandpa's) and that man handed me a strange instrument and some completely confusing music.

 As I looked down at the lines of kanji that were supposed to represent music notes, and strained to understand what the teacher was saying, my first thought was, "Get out. Run. This is TOO HARD." But then I had a bit of an epiphany. At first, I thought I would have to memorize all of the characters before I could even begging learning to play, which could take weeks for my kanji-challenged brain, but as I looked at a helpful chart my teacher gave me, I realized that if I created a simple code, I could read it immediately and be able to play the songs pretty much right away.

I might go into detail about my little code later, but for now I will just say that it is the best thing that could have happened. By the end of that first class, I was able to slowly pluck away at my first song, and within two weeks I had the song completely memorized. I was then able to learn the words to the song, practice singing and playing at the same time, and, after just one month, perform. 
 Of course, it was more than just the code that helped me, I wouldn't have done any of it if it weren't for this man, my sensei. He spotted some random foreign girl at a festival, invited her to his class, was patient and understanding for four hours every week when she couldn't understand most of what he was saying, and then believed in her enough to put her up on stage in front of his entire community.

Photo by Toshi Nema
 Yesterday was my performance. At this time of year, many communities hold a juugoya matsuri, kind of a harvest festival, with parades, skits, giant tugs-of-war, and music.
Photo by Toshi Nema
 I didn't feel incredibly confident on stage, and there were certainly some mishaps and miscommunications, but despite all that, I managed to play and sing through an entire song.

Photo by Toshi Nema
 You can't see it so much in these photos, but I was panicking through the whole thing. I thought I was just going to be singing along with the other men in my class, but when it came to the song, called Aha Bushi if you are wondering, my sensei and I were the only ones singing, and I was the only one with a microphone. AAAAAAAAAh!!

Photo by Toshi Nema

When I finished playing, I smiled, but secretly wanted to cry. I thought I had done horribly, and was so upset with myself. 

Eventually, though, my friends and classmates convinced me that I had done ok, and the video Neave took showed that most of my mistakes were pretty unnoticeable. 

In the end I was able to relax, smile, and celebrate with everyone--especially my sensei. He was cheerful as ever despite my imperfect performance and said that he was proud of me, and that we had made history by having the first foreigner perform in that little town. A tiny mark in the big picture, to be sure, but an experience I will never forget. Thank you so much, Tobaru Sensei. To make you proud I promise to practice harder than I ever have before.