Academic journal article Liminalities

Imperfection: Embracing Wabi-Sabi

Academic journal article Liminalities

Imperfection: Embracing Wabi-Sabi

Article excerpt

Entry

"I was very isolated. You don't know anybody and I had a lot of time to kill alone in my apartment. I wasn't happy for the first six months and I remember thinking very literally, I am on the other side of the world' and I would picture the world in my mind and how far away I was. I remember also feeling really alone and like ?what if I die here?' I had that feeling a lot.?

-Amy, American High School teacher in Japan

Voices

I heard the sound of my own voice and it made me cringe. It broke the dead silence of the classroom of 50 Japanese students who stared blankly at me. I wondered what in the world I was doing here. A graduate student, I chose to teach at a sister college for one year in a small village in Japan. Having just arrived, I had no practical experience in intercultural education so I decided to rely on all of the information I had read in books about Japanese culture and, more specifically, about Japanese education. "I know where these kids have been,? I thought to myself. "Most probably didn't pass the Japanese university entrance exam, so they're here.? This thought made me feel better. The stereotype of the hardworking and bright Japanese student intimidated me initially. I read about how much time Japanese students spent going to school and the demands placed on them to do well.

I began the class by introducing myself, and then, I described the course: Interpersonal Communication. When I finished I looked up at the group. They stared back blankly. I saw absolutely no expression on their faces at all. I moved on. I asked them to get into groups. After all, everyone, including the literature, told me that the Japanese are very group oriented. Yes, groups should work. Not one student moved.

I asked again. No response. Finally, I walked around the room, physically moving chairs into circles. I asked them to prepare short introductory speeches in their groups. I again walked around the room from group to group, trying to help them get started. In a particularly silent group, I stopped and asked one young woman in the group her name. She covered her mouth with her hands and giggled. I continued to talk at them about the importance of talking with each other. They continued to stare at me. All I heard was my own voice and I wanted to stop, but the intense silence made me speak more. The class ended and I was confused. Was I not clear? I thought group work would have been appropriate.

Teaching went on like this until I got used to the students' silence. I began each class period with a new hope that students would respond to me - if not verbally, then nonverbally. I left each class period drained of energy, wondering what I might do to make myself feel more comfortable. One of my students, Yukiko, came to talk with me after every class period. This was not typical. Most students ran out of the class before I even had a chance to talk to them individually. I began to really enjoy my discussions with Yukiko after class. She gave me insight into Japanese youth culture. We became friends and Yukiko asked me to come to her in-laws' rice farm for a few days. I was a bit surprised at the invitation but was up for the adventure so I agreed.

Yukiko picked me up on Saturday morning and we headed out toward the farm. It was a beautiful day and the rice fields were a brilliant green. My excitement grew as we got closer to the house. It was a large wooden structure with huge doors at the front of the house. When we pulled the family of five came outside to greet us. They smiled and bowed at me. The father motioned for me to follow, so I walked behind him to the back of the house. There stood a rice tractor. It looked like a small American mowing tractor that I had seen before on my cousin's farm. He motioned for me to get up in it. I did as he requested. He pulled out a camera and began taking pictures. I was a bit embarrassed, but Yukiko warned me that this family had not seen very many Westerners before so they might want to take many pictures. …

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