Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Twisted tongues and numb hands

Yet again, I went over to Kurayoshi. My train car was filled with a group of old women, cackling away like canned laughter. I took one Ipod as a remedy. Despite the crowds, I was left alone to my four seats. (Membership has its privileges.) Another flawless springtime sky looked down on those with important things to do, like the farmer throwing buckets of water on his tractor. Daisen looked incredible, a scallop shell on a blue platter. In one of its rivers, a cheating duck sat on a submerged stone. Some kids were playing tennis behind their school. Why is it in Japan, where the government pours concrete like the citizens pour soy sauce, are all the tennis courts dirt?

Once a year, I run a pronunciation workshop for English teachers. They all have good English, and collectively are a pretty quirky group. It's good fun and I'm not made to feel like a language whore. In today's class, Tsutomu (aka Tom) asked why women seem more adept at languages. Besides the obvious--that men are less patient--I theorized that in overtly male dominated societies (all of them?), college men seem to drift toward the "serious" paths of study like government and business, while women go for "soft" studies, like English or music. Later Tom asked the four women in the room why each of them had started studying English initially, and each of them said something like they hadn't gotten into the fashion school of their choice, or they'd changed majors, or they were lousy at sports or math. Without exception, they'd come to English by default. It's always fun to see one of your theories come to life before your eyes.

They all seemed to rue living in the country, with little chance to practice speaking to a native. That word came up again and again. Native. It conjured images of grass skirts and spears. Afterward, we all had lunch together, yet the lingua franca never strayed from the local dialect. I just don't get it.

Since I was in town, I decided to take my first djembe lesson from Arama. Now, I've been around drums for close to three decades, but there is always a place for new styles and rhythms. You just have to make room for them. Like in the old zen story, my tea cup floweth over. It took about 15 minutes to forget all I've ever learned, then another 15 for my body to clue into what my hands were doing. After that, all was steady in my universe.

On the turntable: Nick Drake, "Five Leaves Left"


Setsunai said...

Native. The worst English word in the Japanese language.

I've been through a Nick Drake period this year myself. Funny though, I like Pink Moon and Five Leaves left, but I always go for Bryter Layter.

ted said...

Ah, but if you squint your eyes just so, you can see Bryter Layter!