Through participating in the Community Involvement Project we are asked, as ethnographers, to take away from our experiences and be able to discuss an aspect of Japanese life. Studying calligraphy in a classroom with no more than four or five elementary school students at one time and one teacher made for easy observation, but it’s actually how my teacher went out of her way to deal with me that I find most interesting, and is what I want to briefly talk about without revealing too much of her personal information on the internet.
A calligraphy teacher for elementary students is someone who teaches basic techniques, and an elementary student practicing calligraphy tends to just want to get the lesson over with as quickly as possible. How then, should a foreigner interested in learning more advanced techniques be dealt with, if at all, was the predicament my teacher was faced with when I first came to her house and asked to be instructed. Fortunately for me she accepted, and even more fortunately she has worked her hardest to humor all of my unorthodox requests. She helped me write poetry, a Zen koan, and even ancient style calligraphy, all of which are things that she would not normally be teaching. For her, this meant going out of her way to prepare examples for me to practice copying that she’s not used to writing, let alone teaching to someone with barely even three years of Japanese language. Even though I made things difficult for her, she never once complained about it to me.
Her generosity goes beyond even that though. For starters, she gave me the brushes I’ve used for class every week as a present, free of charge. She never seems to mind if, for example, I’ve been struggling and it takes me until 9pm to complete my lesson, meaning that she has to wait longer to eat dinner. After a semester had passed and the New Year had come, she presented me with a lovely paperweight to use with the design of a sheep (the zodiac animal for this year), again all out of the goodness of her heart. The per month rate she charges me is more than fair, and makes it clear that she teaches for the joy of it, rather than to make a profit in spite of all the paper and ink that gets used up in a single day. It’s this character of my calligraphy teacher that not only stands out to me in an ethnographic way because of her dedication to teaching, but also has my sincerest gratitude for the kindness she’s shown me every week. It is to her that I owe all that I’ve been able to learn, and I’d like to continue practicing calligraphy after I return to America out of respect for her efforts.