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Monday, February 1, 2016

The Japanese Option

Growing up, I first began playing the accordion when I was six-years-old, switched to the piano when I was 16, taught it when I was 23.

In between I picked up the clarinet when I was 12 in high school (I used to be smarter), tenor sax and baritone saxophone when I was 13… and then because I was bored at school I learned to play all brass, woodwinds and keyboard instruments through high school.

I was good enough to play clarinet in orchestra, tenor sax in band, and baritone sax in stage band, though I would switch off between all three in stage band as required.

I came by my musical talent honestly… that is, aside from the clarinet, accordion and piano, I taught myself… and picked up things easily.

I could play all brass instruments from trumpet to tuba to trombone, but the buzzing and playing gave me a physical headache and so I never played again after high school.

Strings… percussion… I never attempted either, excel for guitar (twice), but couldn't stand the effort it made me put forth and never really tried.

Basically, if I picked up an instrument and could play it immediately without anyone's lead, I enjoyed playing it.

My uncle Harold (dad's older brother) was the conductor of the New Delhi Symphony Orchestra and the Indian Army, and wrote music and recorded and collected Indian folk music for posterity… he had the talent. I had ability, but lacked the drive to be artistic.

I'm no artistic, unless writers suddenly are getting respect. I swear… if I hear one more salesman say "I can write", I'll go back to doing door to sales… which was easy for me, but completely unappealing to my moral sensibilities. My university degree… while a BA in political science, was more about the psychological behavior of political science… which was more along the line of manipulation and control like Tom Sawyer, who could get kids to pay him for the privilege and fun of whitewashing his fence. It just seemed wrong for me to do stuff like that.

While I was a decent enough door-to-door salesman selling people stuff they didn't know they wanted or needed, I got no thrill from it… same for music… same for runway modeling (really… even though I'm no pretty boy)… or even as a newspaper reporter… or trade show organizer.

I might have been good at some of those occupations (forgot music teacher - piano and clarinet), but it wasn't until I felt the rush of putting pen to paper and later skin to plastic keyboard that I knew I found my niche.

I mention all this because the saddest day I spent in Japan was when I realized that for the kids in Japan, they were not afforded the opportunity to diversify their skills to discover just what they might not only be good at, but might enjoy doing.

Hell… I did judo and soccer as a kid… but as an adult, I got to play in a baseball league and found that I took to it like a duck to orange marmalade. I prefer eating over idioms. Now my kid plays baseball and is even better at it than I was at the same age when I played soccer - and I was playing rep then. Maybe it's good that he has ADHD and thus gets bored easily causing him to try new things until he finds something he likes.

In Japan, very rarely does one get a second chance at anything.

If there was one thing I hope that the Japanese manage to take away from the internationalization of it via the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, is that just because you've done something right for hundreds of years, doesn't mean it can't be improved upon.

I know I learned that in my time in Japan about myself - taking some of the best aspects of Japanese culture… surely Japan can force itself ti implement some of the best of the non-Japanese cultural aspects for itself.

Wouldn't it just be nice to try something different for a change?

Hells, forget about drawing your anime and manga the same way with the same colors and the same bloody themes… try moving away from samurai dramas and inane variety and cooking-related programs on TV…

The women of Japan were pretty open to trying something different and exotic… and talking with my Japanese male buddies, I know they would have loved to do the same with various foreign women…

Now all we have to be able to do is stop forcing people to work so hard that they don't even know how to properly enjoy themselves.

And maybe we westerners could work harder, too. See… cultural exchange.

Somewhere tooting my own horn,

Andrew Joseph

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