Dear Family and Friends,
Several years ago, I took a course called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It was not given in Sendai, so once a week I would scoot down to Tokyo for the class. Each day was different and challenging. For example, once we had to copy an Old Master. The original was a painting and in color (but photocopied for us in black and white). We did ours with a pencil and an eraser.
I studied art in university, but that was in the 60s. At that time, the focus was on self-expression, not on technique. I essentially learned nothing of worth. I missed out on such crucial things as perspective, shading, and composition. So, the Old Master’s assignment was really good for me. Not only for learning about technique, but also about looking closely and discovering nuances and subtle details. I am still not good at those things. So, in that regard, I feel rather inadequate, in many areas of life, actually, not only in art.
One of those “other” areas is the Japanese language. I can get about in my daily life and when traveling. But to read and write, to use grammar properly, and to increase vocabulary are truly daunting for me. Even so, I have set myself the task of studying Kanji, a few cards at a time.
At first, it was rather easy. Characters like 山 for mountain, or 水 for water posed no problem. Their shape gave the message. Even though they both had two different pronunciations, I could cope.
As the cards progressed, however, I started getting ones like these: 疑for doubt and 築for construct or build. Obviously, those are more complex to write. Plus, they have more than two pronunciations. Those two are cards 850 and 851.
I have another 650 to go to finish the complete set. I have characters like these to look forward to: 鶴for the beloved bird, the crane, and驚for being surprised or frightened.
Even though all the cards are for elementary or early junior high students, I am beginning to feel rather overwhelmed. In fact, I have already forgotten many, if not most, of what I have studied. And there are so many more to come.
However, I am getting better at reading street signs, labels on food containers, and brief articles. So, I feel there is some progress. But even so, I often live in a fog.
Today when taking a break in my T’ai Chi class, a friend came to me excitedly. Did you see Okada San’s calligraphy in Sendai’s latest show? Here, have a look. Our friend had received a top grade for her piece, so my friend was bursting with delight for her.
Okada San’s characters are particularly bold and clear. So, I asked my friend what the writing meant. He looked rather startled and said, “I have no idea.” Just then Okada San herself appeared, so I asked her. She also looked surprised and said the same.
But then she added, “My task was to copy the text. I recognize a few characters. So, If I want to understand what was written, I use my imagination and make up a story.”
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Here were two well educated Japanese who could not read characters that were very clearly and confidently written. But then I smiled. Ah, if they have trouble, too, then maybe I should not feel so bad at how much I forget and how little I know.
But I am determined to keep on trying. I will learn what I can, and use my imagination to fill in the gaps. That is how I have been getting along in Japan for years. And now I know I have been on the right track all along.