Thursday, January 21, 2010

Calligraphy lesson

I thought I'd show a picture I took at the kindergarten yesterday of the children's winter calligraphy homework. And relate some more memories.

In Japan, schools assign homework during the winter holidays and one of the traditional tasks of scholarship is writing a Japanese character in calligraphy for the New Year. Depending on the age of the student, the degree of difficulty changes and the teacher will usually select a character representing the New Year… "Hope", "Effort", "Friendship" etc. (Picture from the Internet)

In the Watanabe family history, every year the kids would come home with calligraphy homework during the winter break. They were to write ONE character on ONE sheet of paper and turn in what they thought was their best work to be posted in the classroom. Easy enough. Unfortunately (for Takumi and Leiya) Tetsu took charge of overseeing their calligraphy homework. Well, maybe he only oversaw it one year because after a major blow-up on my part I refused to EVER LET HIM COME NEAR MY CHILDREN'S CALLIGRAPHY HOMEWORK AGAIN!!! And yes, they were MY kids when I blew up at him. I felt that Tetsu didn't have the right to call them HIS kids!

I don't even remember what the character was but Takumi was probably in 1st grade. Something simple like "tree" or "house" or something. A couple days after New Year's day and before school started, Tetsu sat Takumi down at the low table in our Japanese room and with brush, ink, ink stone, water, newspaper, rice paper, paper weight etc. proceeded to teach Takumi how to write the character. Oh what fun. Daddy's going to spend a few minutes helping me with my homework. HA!

Tetsu's calligraphy is beautiful. There is no denying that. He meticulously controls the heavy pointed brush with precision making characters that look like works of art. (In fact, my mother has put some of his letters to her under glass. She can't read them but they look beautiful.) But you can guess that this means that he is a PERFECTIONIST when it comes to calligraphy.

"Sit up straight on your knees."

"Hold the brush this way."

"You aren't centered."

"Do it again."

And again, and again, and again. And again and again and again for all eternity. I'm sure that's what it felt like to Takumi. He only wanted to please Daddy and make a nice looking character. Over and over and over on countless pieces of newspaper, Takumi was instructed to do it again. And again. And again. As the hours wore on and the poor child became tired Tetsu became more and more irritable.

"You're slouching. You're not thinking. You're not trying."

Over and over and pretty soon the tears started to come.

"If you can't do it without tears then be a quitter. I expected you to be better than that."

So of course Takumi wasn't about to quit. And yes, I tried to smooth things over a couple of times too but the door got slammed in my face and Takumi was accused of being a Mommy's boy and wanting to go crying into my skirts. And I was told to leave the child to Tetsu and let father and son be.

This is called "Sparta Education" in Japan. Rough, abusive, somewhat military education. Insults are thrown out. Psychological abuse rears its ugly head. And it is valued as a viable way of teaching; sports, especially. In the schools of course there are laws but Sparta Education is not uncommon in the training of children and students in their clubs and sports. And remember, Tetsu was immersed in this type of education himself when he was doing judo as a student. The idea is "The teacher is so passionate about his subject that he can't permit error and he so loves his pupils that he doesn't want them to settle for any less than the best." So the calligraphy lesson, in Tetsu's eyes was a lesson reeking in love. As a Japanese father to a Japanese son, one doesn't just give a hug and say "I love you." The sterner, the stricter the father is, the more the child knows that the father is doing it all in love. In theory…
(Takumi's 1st grade classroom at school)

It goes without saying that a finger was never laid on Takumi. There was no physical abuse… Between Tetsu and Takumi… But when I finally stepped in HOURS later…..

"You will not do this to MY child!" bang, I barged into the room.

"This is child abuse." I pushed Tetsu off balance.

"Takumi has no idea when this hellish situation is going to end… It goes on until YOU are satisfied and there is no satisfying you!" I punched Tetsu in the chest.

One of the hundreds of papers that Takumi had written was hurriedly stuffed into his book bag and I pronounced it good enough for the calligraphy homework. I think Tetsu was so surprised that he quietly put everything away and Takumi's calligraphy lesson was over.

Takumi and Leiya have always disliked Japanese calligraphy and they never asked Tetsu to help them again. And Tetsu remembers that day as the one where I committed a little husband abuse for the protection of my son…

"My wife is the scariest person in the world." -- Tetsu

I got permission from Tetsu to write this post.

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