09 December 2012

Have you ever worn a kimono?

While some of us may have dabbled in paper folding, and even followed an origami pattern or two, paper cranes, animé, and electronics might be all some of us really know about Japanese culture.  

And war.

December 7th is the day Americans commemorate the loss of life and national invincibility that accompanied the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  For many around the world, it is also an opportunity to consider the larger ramifications of war, such as the wipe-out-everything-in-a-split-second atomic bombs later dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I have never been to Pearl Harbor, but my father is a 'fan' of conflict literature and the role wars have played in history.  As a result, I've seen lots of films with real war footage, watched plenty of documentaries, and heard the reviews of countless World War II books.  Distinctly lacking in all of it was a tangible understanding of Japanese culture.  

Have you ever struggled to create graceful swaths of ink that become stories and lessons told in beautiful Japanese calligraphy?  

Have you ever put your nose up close to a samurai helmet, to better see the intricate details?  

Watched a Japanese tea ceremony?  Or participated in one?

Until recently, I had never thought about it that way.  In fact, I hadn't thought much about it, period.  

Then, in November, I had the opportunity to consider these questions first-hand.  I am involved with a local continuing education program for seniors, or as we refer to our members, mature learners.  The Quebec City Lifelong Learning Program (LLL) provides English-speaking adults in Quebec City with opportunities for idea exchange, peer learning, and active participation.  I am one of the two staff responsible for this program, which means I get to organize to my hearts' content, and occasionally, sit in on a session.  

We hosted a Japanese Cultural Series, moderated by the woman in the pink kimono (above).  Miyano Sakai is the chef in charge of the dining service in the school where we work, and she and some of her friends are multi-talented and skilled in a range of Japanese traditional arts.  

We tried calligraphy with Tomoko san, and watched for twenty silent, spellbound minutes while Masami san and an assistant presented a traditional tea ceremony.  Then we tried it! 

We painstakingly traced the lines with ink and brushes held perfectly upright.  We learned to write Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会) which literally translates as "One life, One moment" and is an admonition to observe and cherish the value of each experience.

We whipped powdered green tea into a froth, then presented it to our neighbor who sipped it while eating subtly fruity desserts.  We tied ourselves in knots trying on summer kimonos on special loan to us from the Japanese Consulate in Montreal.  And, we made intricate folds in delicate paper, which almost-magically became paper cranes.

A room full of folks were bathed in color, unfamiliar characters, and a new culture.  Above all, it was a room full of laughter and discovery.

At the risk of sounding superlative, we participated in something extraordinary.  We touched Japan though our feet rested firmly on North American soil.  

Click here to read QCT article about the Japanese Cultural Series.


Carolyn Nersesian said...

This was at the Civilization Museum? I saw the exhibits there before I left Quebec and the tea ceremony. It was great.

Bethann said...

Hi Carolyn, actually, this was part of an adult Lifelong Learning program I co-administer. Check out the link for the details.  It was a lot of fun!

Carolyn Nersesian said...

Ah of course! You look great btw  And I am almost sure that some of those lovely women performed at the museum ... but memory is a funny thing!

Bethann said...

 You're right! These ladies are the very ones who present the tea ceremony several times a month (as part of the samurai exhibit). It was so much fun to try all those things first-hand!

Carolyn Nersesian said...

I can imagine - I am a little jealous! :D I would have loved that too.

Cathy Johnson said...

What a wonderful experience, Bethann.  I love the calligraphy, as well.

Bethann said...

Thanks for your comments!  The calligraphy was really fun, and amazingly difficult!

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