Wabi_Sabi Wrapping it Up!
What a ride! The last two and a half months have been a roller coaster ride to remember. As Wabi_Sabi's drummer, I'll be wrapping up the year with a collaborative live show in Hadano (秦野) AEON mall. The performance will feature Wabi_Sabi and another up and coming jazz pianist, Jacob.
So far we have played 18 live shows, traveled over a 1000km all the way from Niigata in the west to Hamatsu in southern Shizuoka and as far north as Sendai. We stayed in hotels, campers, manga cafes, cars, you name it. We played gigs in front of 100's of people on the street, and live shows in front of empty seats. So goes the life of a performer.
While there have been a lot of things I've taken from this experience, there are two things in particular I'll write about in this post. First is my Japanese, and second is my personal growth as a foreigner in Japan.
Being with Benny and Hiro on the road for days at a time has given me an opportunity to grow as an individual in ways I would have never imagined. My Japanese has exploded to a new level both in my comprehension and expression ability. Having already passed N2 I thought being around these guys would be a piece of cake, maybe a few misunderstandings here and there but I know how speak and get myself understood in Japanese. Boy was I wrong...
I began to notice problems when I was in situations where I had to voice my opinion and simply couldn't, or I had to listen to someone else's opinion but didn't quite get it (I understood the words but didn't understand the meaning behind them), or was understood but everyone had kind of blank stares on their face. This was a huge wake up call; I was faced with the reality that the 10 years of studying Japanese had never prepared me for this type of discourse...how could it have?
If you've read my previous posts you'll know I've passed N2. So it's not that I was a beginner in the sense of my ability, rather I struggled (and still do btw) in my application of that ability in real world situations. It felt pretty good to have passed that test and it still does, but the reality of it is none of it applies to real world conversation without an understanding of the culture that surrounds it. Sure I can speak like a textbook, and I can formulate some pretty difficult grammatical structures but most of this originates in the English side of my brain which means when it finally makes it out of my mouth in Japanese it makes sense but it just sound quirky. This is because my word usage was (and still is!) limited to a very elementary understanding. Words on their own have A meaning, but put that same word into a cultural context and it comes alive with all sorts of different meanings!
So what did I sound like to the Japanese listener? Well, if you've ever tried to have a deep conversation with an EFL student who just arrived in the States you know what I mean. The EFL speaker tends to get drained out in the noise of conversation, or ignored in an effort to avoid uncomfortable conversation. I've done it countless times in the States to EFL speakers but to being on the receiving end of that was quite humbling. It's also quite a psychological drain as you never feel like you can be YOU in front of others. You constantly have this feeling that the YOU everyone sees and hears is not the YOU you know yourself to be.
Since then I've come pretty far, and by no means has my Japanese moved entirely beyond that level but I have gotten to a point where I can finally express myself IN Japanese using cultural memes and expression without the aid of English. And it's amazing how much of a difference it makes. People actually listen to you because you don't sound like a walking dictionary, you sound like them and you relate to their culture.
This has been a huge plus for me. I say this because my cultural intellect has far surpassed my Japanese language abilities, and those two have not been on the same page with each other ever since I moved here. Knowing in mind what I wanted to say and not being able to say it has been a huge practice in humility and patience. I think this is why a lot of foreigners end up leaving Japan. I'm not talking about simple expressions like 'how much is this?' Or 'I don't like that.' Im talking about conversations that require an understanding of the culture in order to be properly understood; deep, meaningful conversation. This brings me to my second growth area.
I've written previously about 'Survival Situations' and how putting ourselves in these situations is what helps grow our language fast and efficiently. This couldn't be more true in my case. But I'd like to write a bit about how these situations also benefits your cultural understanding. Being with Wabi_Sabi has meant that I've exposed myself to the culture and language at a level I've never experienced. Almost every weekend I spend with these guys brings new challenges and new survival situations. Without going into detail, I've had to wrap my head around completely new approaches to conversation, conflict resolution, a multitude of new types of relationships involving close friends, fans, and family, and putting all that together into a narrative that makes sense in my own mind against the backdrop of the ways I would approach these things traditionally in my English brain. Science Mike (Mike McHargue), creator of the popular "Ask Science Mike" podcast always says he has two selves, his spiritual self and his scientific self, and they are always fighting. I can totally relate to this! My English and Japanese selves are often at each other's throats.
English self: "How can you just stand there and take that?!" Japanese self: "Calm down cowboy, this is not your territory or your language."
Getting past the differences in checking out at the grocery store in Japan as opposed to the States has its challenges, but trying to understand how a Japanese person's words translate into care and trust when to my English self they actually translate to borderline mental abuse and manipulation is no easy feat. This is just one example of countless I have encountered since living in Japan, and especially being a part of a professional band and spending a tremendous amount of time with two guys that are passionate and care a lot about making it big in the music industry.
Mike also says that over time, instead of choosing one self as a default, he has learned to live with both. I have not mastered this and I don't think I ever will, but I have learned how to trust my Japanese self more than ever. I have taught my English self to let go of it's exclusive view of the world and to open it up to an alternative view. I still have so much more to experience and learn and each of those experiences will bring new challenges and new survival situations, which translates into a deeper understanding of Japan, its language, people, and culture, and most importantly, my wife.
Wabi_Sabi will be wrapping up our tour here in the next month so we can start recording our next album. Hiro has decided to write an entirely new album which means lots of work for us all. It also means we will all pour our hearts into this album (I was not a part of the current album we are touring). Emotions and spirits will be high and we will surely enjoy sharing our new sound with fans, but with that emotion will come conflict and misunderstanding. However, conflict and misunderstanding are the foundation of progression for you have to fall in order to get back up. And it's up to me, rather both of me (Japanese and English), to build upon that foundation together in mutual trust.