A year of conscious feedback

Something I’ve struggled with for ages is the concept of giving feedback to people about their products and services. I’m not sure why; laziness is very likely one part of it. But in the past when I bought things from big-name websites I’d delete their survey emails unread. When at a restaurant I’d be at a loss as to what to put on the questionnaires they passed out.

But something’s changed.

Something very big and political has changed, and you wanna talk about “trickle down” anything, that’s what happened to me in terms of giving criticism.

Make a phonecall to a representative. Write a review for a book online. Write a letter of protest or support. Donate to a cause. Comment on the fare at a restaurant to the staff.

Is this a turning thirty thing? Is it a growing up thing?

Who knows, but I’m riding this wave of conscious purchasing and reflection and enjoying it.

I can hear people in the distance saying, “Nobody cares what you have to say. You’re a drop in the ocean. It takes more than just one voice to change anything.”

There’s a grain of truth in that. I’m sure I’m not saying anything original or inspiring when I leave messages or make phonecalls. Still.

Do you have any idea how happy artists are when you reblog their work? How excited authors are to get a review–especially the first review on a given piece of work? 

Staff members brighten when I compliment their service/the food. Bloggers respond with thanks when I post even a brief message in their comments section.

It’s not so much about what I say, but the fact that I said anything at all. It’s that the person who created something or is doing something knows another human being is out there acknowledging them. 

I’m reminded of a line from the musical 1776, where a character is singing, “Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?” 

Yes, we’re here. Yes, we care. And we may not see exactly what you do, but that’s why we share our views with each other, right?

Walking race: blonde foreigner VS hapless Sagawa deliveryman

Who else out there is a fast walker? I wouldn’t call myself speedy Gonzales by any means, but I do tend to wind around the multitudes of people in downtown Kyoto, rather than matching their (glacial) pace. The main streets of Kyoto aren’t all that busy before ten AM, mostly thanks to the department stores not yet being open. It’s a great time to wander around, check out the cafes, and get a feel for the city.

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The laws of omiyage strike again! (It’s good to be a teacher)

The laws of omiyage strike again! (It’s good to be a teacher)

Omiyage is such a confusing thing when you’re the person in the “position of power”, as it were. When you’re friends, or coworkers, it makes sense that there’s a balance between the both of you giving each other souvenirs.

“Ugh,” you groan while on the beach in Okinawa, “I have to buy chocolates for work or the Boss and everyone else will hate my guts.” So you drag yourself to the nearest souvenir shop, select the biggest, cheapest box of individually wrapped stuff you can find, and boom, done. And you’re perfectly content knowing that Tanaka-san in Finance is going to do the exact same thing, as is Rachel in HR and whoever else you deal with on a regular basis.

When it’s friends, of course, a bit more thought goes into it. “Fancy chopsticks! K-chan’ll like these.” “Ooh, a youkai-themed set of sweets? I know someone who’ll go for this.” And again, you’ll be content, because you know that those people also would pick out individual things for you based on what they know you like, so it’s all good.

But if you’re a teacher?

Pictured above are four different gifts: chopsticks from Vietnam, a snowflake from Germany, and tea and soap from Nepal. Each from adult students who apparently thought enough of me to get individual things for me while adventuring abroad.

How do you even respond to that?

I feel like omiyage gets complicated from here, because as a teacher, you’re of course already “giving” the students something- your time, your instruction, your advice, etc. And if you’ve made enough of an impact on their lives, they’ll get you gifts to thank you for what you’re doing for them.

However, at the same time, isn’t it natural that a teacher teach a student? It feels like you’re getting a “tip” in addition to what you’re actually owed–that is, the student’s time and attention to whatever you’re teaching. So I’m left feeling like I need to give something tangible in response.

And yet.

If you’re “higher up” as it were, what’s an appropriate gift? What works?

I’m sure those of you better versed in Japanese culture than I am are out there, rolling your eyes at my lack of understanding- and if you’re out there, please do advise! But here’s what I do to ease my conscience:

Bake goodies.

Nothing crazy- usually simple sugar or chocolate chip cookies. Something I can make without having to go to the store to get special ingredients.

This appeases my American tendencies to “feed people I like”, and the homemade cookies help me feel like they’re “worth” enough to give to the students. The cookies, while simple, still cost my time and attention, and that seems like an equivalent exchange to what they have been giving me.

I’m likely entirely wrong in my assumptions, but students have responded positively enough to the gifts thus far. Perhaps they’re enjoying my clueless American self (or at least the free food), but so long as nobody’s getting offended, that’s what’s important in my mind.

People who live and work in Japan, regardless of your choice of employment- how do you deal with omiyage? Do you not bother with it at all? Do you know every nuance to it? Are you in the middle like me, where you know omiyage is needed but don’t know where to draw the line? Let me know!

Revving the wadaiko engine

Yatai bayashi (屋台林) is a hard song to play, you guys. My group isn’t even learning how to do it at full speed and it’s still kicking our butts. I’ve mentioned before it’s a pretty traditional song. The beat can be repetitive to those who haven’t been exposed to it, and don’t hear it properly played. It can be boring, in fact.

Tonight, I got to see Taiko-sensei show us how he intends for us to play.

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Why I’m glad Taiko-sensei corrected me

In four years of taking wadaiko lessons, I can say that I’m pretty decent at picking up on what my Sensei is teaching us at any given moment. Granted, the teachers I’ve worked with have all been incredible and vivid in their imagery (many times humorously so). I will never forget the Ichigo Miruku rhythm one Sensei taught me, or how another taught me to compare a particular beat (dokko) to how a horse trots.

One thing I’ve noticed, however, is how rarely I’m singled out for correction.

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