Shakuhachi and Japanese

The shakuhachi (sound samples here) is my favorite instrument--especially in modern contexts, such as in more experimental jazz or contemporary world music, which I would characterize as a blend of various instruments throughout the world playing together. I like when instruments are taken from various cultures to create new music that goes beyond their national sources, without losing traces of their own ethnicities.

Tonight I saw a concert that included contemporary Western "classical" (put in quotes because since it's contemporary, it may not be "classical") chamber music and music from Persia and Asia. The latter music was incredible and dynamic, though I did like the Western music as well. But the Persian and Asian blend was very interesting and refreshing to hear in a venue that usually offers Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, etc.

After the concert, I got a chance to greet the shakuhachi player, who is Japanese and Danish. I told him I lived in Japan, and he started speaking Japanese with me--even though I didn't tell him I could speak it. I was pleasantly surprised because Japanese people rarely speak Japanese with non-Japanese (outside Japan), or if they do, they don't initiate it. Many other language groups are happy if people can speak their language, but I've noticed that Japanese people aren't. Sorry, but it seems to be true in my experience. Perhaps that guy initiated Japanese conversation because he's half European, so he's not caught up in the idiosyncracies of Japanese culture. Whatever--it was a rare opportunity that I enjoyed.

What's interesting is that earlier today, I was speaking with some Chinese people about my dilemma: that I know Japanese but don't encounter many Japanese people, and if I do, they would rather speak bad English than Japanese. But when I went to China, I noticed that Chinese people were happy to hear even a few words, and even in Chicago, I can see conversational opportunities if only I spoke Mandarin (don't have much interest in Cantonese). One Chinese chick who speaks good English even said that if I were to learn Mandarin, she'd speak with me. Imagine that.

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