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All Makes and Models. We have it all! Victoria M. Carlos G. Bruno D. David B. Read More. No matter what and how we teach, we believe that what we value the most is beyond our meager ability to describe. We are struck dumb with admiration at the things we value, so we try to teach the secondary things that we think are easier to talk about. Mine is a Western approach — the same method of instruction is apparent even in the Bible, which gives God a name that cannot be spoken, while offering book after book detailing the laws about how to build a temple or what foods should not be eaten together.
My Japanese teachers, who thought that detail was everything, must have felt that precision was so important that it could not be described: only the truly enlightened can be in perfect harmony with the correct form. In the meantime, they must have reasoned, they could at least talk about the value of hard work, something everyone can easily understand. In spite of our shared frustration, though, I have a hard time forgiving some of my former teachers in Japan because they never seemed humbled by the near impossibility of their task.
Many of my teachers felt entitled to be both strict and arbitrary — strict about their own authority and the rules of the system and yet so arbitrary and lax about helping us. The teacher is like the biblical God, whom you cannot name. Students are not expected to question the competence of their teachers or the usefulness of their assignments, any more than Zen disciples can rebel against their master and his koans. Japanese students who study at American universities are amazed that at the end of the semester most universities ask their students to evaluate their teachers.
Even though students in Japan complain to each other 'Japanese art of flower arrangement. Each ie is structured like a family hierarchy: at the top is the head teacher, called iemoto source of the house , and under him are various assistant teachers who, in turn, take their own assistants.
All these teachers are licensed by the ie. A beginner in ikebana or Japanese dance will study with a minor assistant teacher for a few years and then move on to a more advanced teacher. There are various levels of compe- tence awarded along the way, but every advancement must be approved by the ie. Teachers can make any arbitrary decision so long as it can be backed up by the ie.
When my cousin Kazumi studied ikebana , she was disillusioned by the unfair judgments her teachers made every year about who should be allowed to advance to the next level of competence. There were no tests or lists of tasks and qualities that determined the advancements. The year of the Kobe earthquake Kazumi received a letter from her ie advising students to rent a good kimono to attend the annual ceremony if theirs had been destroyed in the earthquake. We would be so happy if you could still come to the annual ceremony in spite of the damage many of you must have suffered, and of course, you can wear whatever you would like.
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Like ikebana, Dutch flower arrangement has different levels of teachers and different levels of competence, but Kazumi sees a big difference between the two. Everybody has the same amount of time, the same number of arrangements to complete, similar flowers in the bucket, and the same group of judges. In the lessons she took — mostly from Dutch teachers — plenty of spe- cific instruction was given about colors, textures, shapes, and the flowers them- selves.
Her teachers looked at her work and gave her suggestions — something none of her ikebana teachers ever did. Until I talked to Kazumi, I was hoping that even though my Japanese friends could not go back to school in their thirties and forties, they might be able to take private lessons or receive training through volunteer work in order to pursue some of their interests. Even in small towns like Green Bay, many people my age can learn new skills, pursue their hobbies, or work for causes they believe in with- out enrolling in school. My Japanese friends do not have similar chances to learn something new or feel useful.
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There are very few volunteer organizations in Japan for nature conser- vation, crisis intervention, helping children, or working with families who are poor or homeless. The few soup kitchens one might find in big Japanese cities are operated by international organizations like the Salvation Army. People who work at them are mostly foreigners. A nice Japanese housewife is not expected to do volunteer work for strangers. Nobody should expect help from total strangers. As for conserving nature, that is the job of biologists. My friends have a hard time justifying their passion for gardening to their husbands and in-laws.
If they were to spend their afternoons taking care of injured wildlife or clearing marshes of trash instead of cleaning their houses and preparing special meals for their children, their families would probably dis- own them. Nice housewives like my friends can take private lessons only if they can be justified as genteel means of cultivating fine, feminine tastes — like ikebana, tea, koto and samisen music — but these are the traditional Japanese arts with the strict ie structure. Joining the ie would involve my friends in another burdensome system of duties and obligations, something they already experience in every facet of their lives.
In so many ways, Japan is a place of no second chances. Many of my friends are in very unhappy marriages. They write to me about the shouting and shoving matches they have with their husbands, about the night they tried to run away, only to have the husband chase them down the street, catch them, and drag them home. For most American women, leaving a bad marriage like theirs would be nothing but happi- ness.
My friends stay because divorce still carries a big stigma in Japan. If they leave their husbands, they may never be able to see their children again. Certainly, they will not be able to marry again and try another chance at marriage. Nobody marries a divorced middle-aged woman in Japan. Life in Japan is like an unending stint at a school where you have to keep tak- ing tests — giving your answers under pressure without help or guidance, know- ing that you will get no second chance if you make a mistake.
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Japanese people have to make many of the big decisions of their lives — whom to marry, what company to join — without detailed information, since it is rude to ask direct questions even at omiai meetings and job interviews. They have no choice but to trust authority and do their best, just as they were supposed to do in school.
If their job or marriage turns out to be a disappointment, they will be given the same vague exhortations they heard from their teachers: keep trying, work hard, pay attention.
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There is nothing intrinsically wrong with trying harder. I know that for them or for anyone else, going back to school does not guarantee a job or happiness.
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Some of my students would be better off if they trusted me a little rather than questioning my decisions at every turn. No one should have power that is unjustified and unjustifiable, regard- less of how convenient or efficient it may seem for the smooth running of the classroom, the educational system, or the country. The problem with the Japanese system, ultimately, is that individual free- dom — to question the teacher, to disagree — is sacrificed for the supposed con- venience and protection of the whole group.
The system works well for people who feel no desire to rebel. The Japanese ie system my cousin complained about does ensure that anyone who perseveres in a given art form will have some recog- nition; periodically, every student is asked to take part in public exhibitions or concerts. But for me — as well as for my cousin — the price is too high.