My Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students class went on a field trip this weekend and we got to learn Taiko drumming from some local experts. After the lesson, we ate some well deserved okonomiyaki, which is a Japanese savory pancake with a lot of different things mixed in. The field trip was great and I would highly recommend taking the class. Learning another language can give you a look into the culture it’s from. For example, Japanese is a very rigid language and people phrase sentences in indirect ways to avoid offending anyone or starting a conflict with them. These principles are also seen in the emphasis placed on collectivism.
Taiko drumming requires everyone to be coordinated. It embodies the concept of wa, which means harmony. It has a long history in Japan because of the country’s past as an agricultural society. In farming communities, the whole group must work together to survive, so it is beneficial to focus on the group as a whole and not each individual’s needs. I noticed the importance of synchronicity as I was watching the other group of students drum. When one member lost the beat, others followed and the whole song got off track. This showed what happens when one person is not in harmony with the group. The teachers embodied how a person can be in harmony while still being different from the group during their demonstration. All of their actions were different from one another, but their individual sounds came together to produce a beautiful song. I thought it was interesting to see a physical representation of harmony.
Wa is a difficult concept for me to understand because of the very different values in American society. Little by little I am adjusting to the collectivist culture of Japan. Experiences like the taiko drumming help me see the merits to the unity and harmony emphasized here.
I enjoyed the okonomiyaki experience because it wasn’t the same as other restaurant experiences I’ve had in Japan. The grills and do-it-yourself nature of the cooking reminded me of Korean barbecue restaurants. I have not seen okonomiyaki restaurants in the U.S., but it seems like people would enjoy them because Korean barbecue restaurants are very popular. Figuring out how to cook okonomiyaki with everyone else was a really fun experience. New situations are more fun when everyone takes mistakes in stride. There were definitely a couple times we dropped an ingredient or did not flip them completely correctly, but we had fun doing it and laughed at our mistakes. The okonomiyaki tasted different than most of the food I’ve had in Japan. I previously thought of Japanese food as just sushi and noodles, but after this I’m looking forward to finding some different foods to try. Seeing a new part of Japanese food culture was a great learning opportunity.
The drumming and okonomiyaki reminded me to not take myself too seriously and to embrace all the missteps that often come with trying new things. The experience taught me more about Japanese culture, especially the collectivist aspect.