My two CIPs were drawing comics at Studio Miura’s Manga Classroom and helping my host mom run her local nursery rhyme and baby massage class. Despite some struggles to communicate, both became highly valuable experiences.
The manga class was a quiet and relaxed gathering of generally younger people working on their comics or illustrations with occasional advice from the teachers present and also snacks. I thought it would be lessons rather than this sort of gathering, and since I knew no art terms in Japanese or what I wanted to get out of it, I struggled for several weeks drawing and communicating inefficiently. I learned to keep a little list of art terms I heard with me for reference, and practiced mustering the courage to ask questions or to repeat things I didn’t understand. It took a long time for me to settle in, but I learned useful ideas on Japanese panel layout etc. for my manga about noh (but with rabbits instead of humans). I want to improve at trying to ask questions.
For baby massage class, my main job was to sing the English translations of Japanese nursery songs while the mothers followed along and massaged their babies. Apparently Warabe-uta Baby Massage is not so common; combining nursery songs with massage (to promote the baby’s physical health and connection with the parent) is a recent concept. The class was made up of a few younger moms and their babies in a very casual setting: although my host mom sometimes used polite language when giving instructions, everyone generally spoke in casual language as peers, including newcomers. (There was a somewhat similar mix of codes in the manga class, so that I was never sure how to speak, as I was no master of politeness.) I started with mild polite language and slipped into casual (usually accidentally). The classroom was a place for the moms to not just interact with their babies, but also consult my host mom, a chiropractor and mother of a two-year-old, as well as chat together. I was surprised that the atmosphere was so casual, and in turn warm, homely, and open.
The “foreigner” and mixed race population in Japan is said to be increasing, and I got to witness this through a friendly mom, whose husband she said was Canadian, and their baby, whose skin, the moms remarked brightly to my surprise, was “definitely white.” The mom cheerfully started a conversation with me to practice her English and ask where I was from.
I also learned about the heteronormative gender dynamics in the group. First, there were no men in the class. It’s not that men can’t do baby massage –my host mom instructed that fathers could participate too– it seems that it’s just not common, just as mothers are still expected nurse children while the father works (yet my host mom holds multiple part-time jobs besides her husband’s). In addition, the strong female presence was felt when my rather quiet host dad suddenly came in and exited the room of already familiar mothers. Lastly, I saw how heterosexual norms can be imposed on infants: a lively baby boy was paying particular attention to me (perceived female by the moms) and a baby girl, so my host mom remarked that he was being “lovey-dovey” (rabu rabu), even though babies can’t have conscious thoughts. This was in contrast to how my host mom said that my toddler host sister was being “friendly” with or liked me.
In my CIPs, I learned about making efforts to communicate, and witnessed the fluidity of mild politeness and casualness as well as developments and gender norms in the family through casual classroom-like gatherings
Me and the mothers massaging the kids (and a baby doll)
Both attending the manga “classroom” and helping your host mom with the baby massage class sound like they were fantastic learning experiences, even if understandably hard to get used to sometimes (asking questions can be really difficult sometimes, and then on top of that around a much more niche set of vocab and ambiguous necessity for politeness… seriously kudos!)
Getting to observe in such a direct way how a group of people already may start to influence their kids, both in how the moms are the ones who come to the space (designed in part to build their connection with their baby) and how they then talked about their children interacting with each other and you… that also sounds fascinating. Did you talk at all with anyone who attended, or with your host mom, about some of those things you noticed, and if yes how did they react / think about it?
I didn’t talk to anyone about it, but that’s a good idea!
I have never heard of baby massage before but it sounds like a very… healing? experience! Did you get much chance to interact with the babies directly other than singing the nursery rhymes?
A little bit! One baby played with me; he really liked my shiny Kingdom Hearts necklace.
It’s great that you were able to turn your situation in the manga class from a challenging one into a learning experience. It also sounds like you learned more in-depth about the Japanese manga world, by not giving up. I hope the experience also helpful in further exploring the Japanese perspective of art in your own drawings. Have you noticed any changes in your artwork, drawing style, etc. since taking the class?
The baby massage class also sounds like it was quite interesting!
As for art style changes, I don’t think I noticed any in particular, but I tried to be mindful of how thick/thin my lines were. I noticed that my drawing style was not the typical, precise, angular ‘anime style’ I saw around me, but I think was more on a different spectrum of realism and cartoon.