I called All Nippon Airways this morning to book a flight from Osaka. Their English call center is located in Los Angeles but their staff is still always Japanese, speaking very good English. The call was extremely formal and polite as I would expect, very routine in every way. And so at the end it caught me off guard when she asked me, "So you're living in Japan?" I thought perhaps this was related to visa issues and purpose of travel; information that she needed to complete the reservation. I explained a little to her about my status here, hoping it would clarify, and came to realize she simply wanted to ask me about Japan. "It's getting cold in Japan now, isn't it?" she said, "Here it is still warm." Yes, it is getting cold here. But it's always warm in L.A. isn't it? I wonder what she must be experiencing, learning to live in America. How long since she's been home. If she has any plans to return. Why she left. But there was no time for that, or rather, our lives were not meant to be opened to one another so fully in such a way. Only a few bits and pieces to remind one another that we are humans, not just players in one of life's many transactions. I was grateful for her unexpected breach of protocol. We left with a cordial ending, an unexpressed understanding of missing what the other has.
Something that I carried to rehearsal today. Our guest players are not from Japan, nor are they accustomed to the amount of rehearsal or the pacing that is normal here. There is more of it, and it is much slower with lots of repetition. Nothing is left to chance, there is no danger of it being under-rehearsed. Compared to the western pacing, it can be a little tedious, but one sort of gets used to it. And in Japan, this is just how it works. And the Japanese orchestra members never seem to become impatient. They are always so respectful of the process. But this group of middle-aged men from Germany, principals in their sections there and seasoned musicians, are noticeably irritated. It's such a clash of cultures and I can feel the dissension. But where does such an attitude go? What can be gained by sighing or making comments to colleagues? Japan seems so pure of this sort of attitude and egoism. There seems to be no irritation in orchestra playing, whereas in the states it is normal to have some skepticism of a conductor. It is a difference. I wonder if the Japanese members are aware of frustration of the German guests, if they know what these underhanded facial expressions mean. Do they have a basis for interpreting this type of expression? Unfortunately, I think they do.
In many ways, it isn't easy to be a foreigner in Japan, likely because of this sort of clash. There is a lot of anti-foreign sentiment in tradition and practice. But at the very least, there is the face of courtesy. Perhaps that isn't always a good thing, but it is at least gentle to meet it. I wonder how it must be to be Japanese and meet the difficulties of America. I miss my country very much, I miss the feeling of belonging in a place where there really isn't such a thing as belonging in the same way that there is in Japan–but I imagine it must be quite hard to come to America. As much as I don't feel that I belong here, I have respect for those that do and for the way that this culture has found to live together. I wish my friend at All Nippon Airways all the best as she learns to live with a winterless winter. I will try to take care of her country in her absence for as long as I'm here.