Gifts of Gab

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Gave a speech at the community center in Inazawa (稲沢市民会館) today. Two and a half years ago I spoke there for the first time. What a difference came from that space of time.

Originally, I was asked to speak in English about Seattle for the first speech. A member of the international friendship society was slated to help translate. On the day of the event they asked me if I could deliver my speech in Japanese. Always aiming to please, I gave it a whirl. Needless to say, I stumbled through, needed a lot of help, and was pretty tense the whole time.

Today’s speech was proposed from the beginning to be given in Japanese. Naturally, having advance warning helped, but most of the change came from my level of comfort in Japanese. Often on Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays I go all day without speaking any English. Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean that nothing is said; on the contrary, a lot of conversation rolls off the tongue. In comparison, two and a half years ago, if I had a day with no English, it probably meant the day was pretty quiet.

Normally the friendship society sponsors speeches given by foreign nationals about their country and culture. For example, in August one Uzbeki doctor and one Vietnamese doctor will speak about their countries. Today was not normal – and not just because I was the one speaking – as I was actually speaking about Japanese culture. We drew a decent crowd, so maybe the idea worked out.

My speech was titled “What I Love and Why” (私が大好きなこととその理由), with the subtitle “My Interest in Japan, Japanese Language, and Japanese Life and Culture” (私は日本や、日本語や、日本の生活、文化などが好きです) Interest was mainly promoted along the lines of my study of stone seal carving (篆刻) and Japanese calligraphy (習字・書道).

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and asked me to come back soon. Once I learn more about proper, polite language for giving a speech, I might try that out; however, I prefer a more conversational style for speaking. All of the guests were being very respectful and asked their questions in keigo (警護). This facilitated the need for my translator help me out a bit.

Conventions in Japan call for the speaker to receive an envelope with cash in it called osharei (御謝礼). Today was no exceptions, but their were other gifts for my gabbing, as well. One committee member gave me beer and edamame (枝豆), another gave me travel recommendations for my upcoming trip to Korea, and someone else passed on some photos from my planning/onsen (温泉) trip. Yet, the most amazing present was from a guest that couldn’t come.

On the planning trip I visited a shuji exhibit put on by a teacher in the area. We arrived after she had left the building. We encountered her across the street from in the parking lot. My (surprisingly aggressive) handler harangued the artist into returning to the exhibit and keeping it open for me to view. She stayed there and talked with me a lot about her style, her choices of rakkan (落款), and her school.

Last night, my handler was having dinner with the shuji teacher. She asked my friend which of her works I had liked the most. Upon hearing the reply she offered it up as a gift. Fortunately it wasn’t a piece that sold. I was shocked when it was presented to me. (Knowing the price tag on the piece – 50,000 yen – added to my disbelief.) I’m not very good about thank you notes, but I’d better follow through on this one.

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2 Responses to “Gifts of Gab”

  1. Sunkissd1 Says:

    Of course I’ve only seen you in very small groups, but you are a good speaker and tell interesting stories.

  2. びっくり Says:

    You are quite kind, but also, you had the benefit of hearing me in my native tongue. Expressing feelings and detailed experiences in English is simplified by my vocabulary, grammatical tools, and incessant practicing. (That last one’s a nice way of saying “talking too much”.)

    Using Japanese to express this stuff is still an awkward task, but it gets easier with (incessant) practice. 😉

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