October 30, 2009

My Sensei Achieves Her Dream

I call her The Great Enabler. Kyoko-sensei has been my Japanese teacher for well over 12 years. She has praised, cajoled, and expertly shamed me into studying enough Japanese such that I can live and work in this society. In that sense, she has been a tremendous influence on my ability to thrive here by giving me the means with which I have found the most important elements of my life in Japan. And I am still learning from her. So, half of this post is an homage to Kyoko-sensei, who is an excellent teacher and a truly warm and gracious lady. The other half is about achieving dreams.

During one of our recent lessons, one dream that Kyoko-sensei revealed to me was that she had always wanted to visit Vienna, the city of music, and wear one of her formal kimonos to the opera. What an amazing image, I thought: a Japanese cultural symbol to be proudly worn right in the epicenter of classical music in Europe. She knew that I had lived in Vienna when I was a junior high school student because, over the course of our lessons together, I had shared still-vivid memories of my time there. “We are both foreigners in Vienna, sensei,” I teased her, as I mentioned the heurigers in the 18th district, the lovely walk from Karlsplatz to the Stephansdom, famous coffee houses I knew of but had never visited, and other enchanting spots. Naturally, she corrected my sloppy grammar and questionable logic during these rambling conversations with patience and care, as she always does.

Japanese is a high-context language, meaning that it is formal and indirect, where one word can convey lots of information and much is left unsaid. This ambiguity happens because most Japanese people already know what to think and how to respond from years of cultural interaction with each other.

But I find that, occasionally, there is a certain beauty in being direct. I am pleased to tell you that my sensei made her dream a reality. She attended a concert at the Vienna Opera in a gorgeous formal kimono. Later, she enthusiastically conveyed her impressions of Vienna and the places she’d seen in a graceful, flowing monologue that made me happy because it was clear she had enjoyed herself tremendously. Thank you, Kyoko-sensei, for the gift of language you have given me. It is gratifying to see my wonderful teacher so satisfied for having achieved one of her life’s dreams.

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