Monday, November 7, 2011

Getting ready...

hiragana chart
I have been been listening to Japanese language podcasts all this week. Finally worked out why my downloads were not coming in and now I have 100s of podcasts on all kinds of situations. It has been a little bit fun to see how much I can cram into my head and what was left from 30 years ago. And I think I wold have learned a lot had there been these kinds of tools when I was studying. The truth of my still being able to speak Japanese is like this old joke:
A doctor has come to see one of his patients in a hospital. The patient has had major surgery to both of his hands.

"Doctor," says the man excitedly and dramatically holds up his heavily bandaged hands. "Will I be able to play the piano when these bandages come off?"

"I don't see why not," replies the doctor.

"Wonderful," says the man. "I  always wanted to be able to play!"
1978, signing a painting
I never was able to speak Japanese. But 35 years ago I did have nearly 200  words and phrases - all not very useful conversational vocabulary gleaned from studying haiku and Japanese calligraphy as an art student and as an associate of a very eccentric artist who taught us all some seriously naughty to downright vulgar things to say. Last time, I listened, a lot in Japan. And every time I ventured to say something,  I found my foot in my mouth because I had managed to be very offensive - even when avoiding all the crazy things I had been told to say. My gaffes were mainly due to creative use of a limited vocabulary and even more limited grammar niether of which covered the words needed in formal and informal situations.

So, I loved the discipline of sho-do where my mistakes were quieter.  Wikipedia says, "Japanese calligraphy was influenced by, and influenced, Zen thought. For any particular piece of paper, the calligrapher has but one chance to create with the brush. The brush strokes cannot be corrected and even a lack of confidence will show up in the work. The calligrapher must concentrate and be fluid in execution. The brush writes a statement about the calligrapher at a moment in time (-Hitsuzendo, the Zen way of the brush)." I liked the high stakes, no going back process. My favorite poem and possbily the only one I had memorized well was by Basho:
Old pond ya
frog jumps in
the sound of water.
The calligraphy sample below of the poem is from this website:  I studied calligraphy at Kaji Aso Studio, where, very long ago, I was a founding member. Their catalogue lists Calligraphy like this:
Introduction to Japanese Calligraphy  “ The Art of the Brush” Japanese calligraphy is presented not just as an art form and an exercise, but as a unified aestheticism and life enriching practice. Enjoy the simplicity of this art form that is so close to dance in its expression.

Fire by Kaji Aso
Above is sample of Mr.(as he preferred to be called) Aso's  work, Fire, sumi on rice paper. I do remember the practice of calligraphy fondly. 35 years later,  I am reduced to copying out hiragana like a kindergartner as I prepare to travel in a land where I will be functionally illiterate the minute I step off the plane.

Luckily,  I am not going to  Japan to write or recite haiku. I will be talking about storytelling and how it is a powerful, underutilized tool to promote literacy and help ELL learners gain proficiency. And I am presenting my talk in English. Phew!  It is my hope that it will also foster an enthusiasm for English in Japanese youth for it is a required subject from the time they are five. Wish me luck.
poem, Basho

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