I was able to experience traditional Japanese culture in a new way with week. Contrary to the usual temple trawling and day trips (not that I'm particularly adversed to either) I was able to become more than a spectator when I had my first music lesson in Japanese. It all happened when Shaq's parents came down for there weekly visit from nearby Komatsu. Shaq's mother as a master of both the tea ceremony and ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) is deeply envolved in the old japanese arts centered around Kanazawa. When she heard that I was particularly interested in Japanese folk music, she arranged for me to go down it a local music school for a taster day of two traditional instruments; the Shamisen, a three string jaoanese banjo; and Koto, a ten string instrument that lies horizontally and is played like a piano. After receiving a rendition of several famous folk songs by a local teacher I decided to take classes in both. More than just an education in music, this would also improve my japanese listening skills as the classes were only offered in Japanese and my teacher could not speak a word of English. That being said, they had experience teaching foreign students and so a combination if repetitions and wig language was used when instructions weren't fully understood. As a result I got ninety minute of musical education with the added bonus of a freeJapanese language class!
So language perks aside, how was my first day at the language school? An enjoyable experience, though in all honesty progress was varied. I found the Koto quite easy to pick up given it's vague similarity to the piano whereas the shamisen was much more of a challenge. While at the end of the first ninety minutes I had managed to strum out two basic melodies with the former, I was still frustratedly banging the shamisens ivory comb against the strings, unable to beat out more than a single clumsy line of flat sounding “music”. The performers at Japan's summer festivals clearly make this look much easier than it is, perhaps I'll leave it to the experts.
The koto, national instrument of Japan.
The shamisen. Played by a professional, beautiful; played by me, like banging your head on a wire-mesh fence.