Am I A Bad ExPat?

12 Hours on a plane from Newark to Tokyo, I had just awakened from a NyQuil induced coma. A speckled hand attached to one of the few original surviving Flight Attendants still able to fly the unfriendly skies handed me a customs form, an immigrations form, and asked, “Moving to Japan? You’ve got to sign up for an Ikebana class? You’ll love it!”

“Sounds great!” I lied.
And so began 8 months of harassment to enroll in Ikebana.

Ikebana- the art of using flowers, along every other part of the plant, in a very clean arrangement. Not limited to the lone act of dumping multitudes of flowers by varying color schemes in a vase, space is a crucial element and must also be incorporated in the design. Ikebana is practiced in silence so that reflection and the attainment of zen may be achieved.

When’s the last time you made a stick bend unnaturally and float serenely in a bowl without falling over? Sounds like a recipe for a giant fit followed by stomping and
door slamming.

The first two weeks in Tokyo were a blur of orientations, but somewhere along the acclimatization process a blonde woman appeared with a course guide. Encouraging me to “dive in and meet people” she pointed first to the Ikebana courses. Plural. Wouldn’t building my social network be thwarted by the silent environment I reasoned? In terms of non-verbal communication, I have mastered several negative postures conveyed through facial contortions expressing anger, disgust, dismay, and complete exasperation when directed at the Offspring which usually illicit varying levels of reaction, however, I’ve never thought about expanding my repertoire in order to build an actual positive relationship based on facial expressions alone.

Anyway- How could I reach a zen state while wrestling with climbing vines determined to climb my arms not my vase? I’ve stuck a few flowers in vases before- large numbers are required in order for them to stand erect- how does one accomplish this with just one or two and a branch here or there?

I demurred.

After a couple more months in Tokyo, I’d met several people, and realized I was one of the few who had not partaken in at least one Ikebana class. If any of you move to Tokyo, and elect not to participate in Ikebana, don’t tell a soul for Hell hath not fury like an Ikebana class scorned. Leagues of Ikebana supporters descended upon me.

To which, the Ikebana aficionados decided to whet my appetite with a thorough explanation of several forms which would most certainly pique my interest:

Like the Sogetsu Style: Or the Ichiyo Style:

A Little Something I Could Learn To Whip Up

Or how about Ohara Ikebana?

I appreciate Ikebana for its beauty and simplicity but I certainly don’t want to ruin it for everyone else by actually doing it myself. Even if I am the only ExPat that hasn’t taken a class…Really- it’s better this way.

This has been a good lesson for me. Although I appreciate the art form, I don’t want to learn how to do it.  I still  like the same types  of activities- I just do them here- in the Japanese way.

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49 Responses to Am I A Bad ExPat?

  1. The arrangements certainly are beautiful and if you just want to admire them why not? I know they say when in Rome and all that…but hey. Sounds like the others attended the classses just for a quiet life LOL in attempt to be SEEN to fit in…Do the Japenese pressurise you to attend these classes?
    PiP 🙂

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    • amblerangel says:

      No- it mainly comes from other ExPats and culture coaches. I think that once you move there are a lot of classes offered in traditional arts that people “encourage” you to take- many people take them in an attempt to get to know the culture even though they have absolutely no interest in the subject material at all- and I think- end up wasting a lot of time on things that are boring to them and in the end have a a negative end result- they don’t enjoy their overseas experience. Personally, I think you shouldn’t stray to far from your interests- there’s not enough time to waste doing stuff you don’t enjoy- no matter where you are!!!

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      • I agree. I think an overview is useful so you know what things are…but you don’t have to immerse yourself in it.

        I am researching different aspects of Portugal…I find it enjoyable but I just scratch the surface.

        So really it’s the Do gooders rather than the Japenese…who are pressurizing you.

        Good luck to being your own person 🙂
        PiP

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      • amblerangel says:

        Hahahahah!!!What I’ve found is that other than the drastic change in location, my day to day life hasn’t changed that much- the time constraints remain. I still have 2 children that demand the same amount of time that they did before I left the US which kept me very busy- and still does. They still need to eat- damn them, still need clean clothes, etc. The amount of free time to explore/site see, spend on “me” is the same as it was- therefore, I’m just as picky about how I spend it as I was before I left. I find now that I have to even more careful not to “jump in” because something sounds “mildly” entertaining- it really has to match up with my existing interests- I don’t have any extra spare time- do you find the same thing?

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      • My problem is filling my days. I took very early retirement and to be honest I’m bored. I live just outside a small Portuguese town with an aging population and no activities.
        To be honest I don’t know what the Portuguese women do except cook and look after thier families. I have loads of hobbies but I’m still looking for a challenge 🙂 I don’t want to go Ga Ga yet!

        I should imagine the cultural side of Japan is quite fascinating but as you say you still have everyday life to contend with.

        I am a bit of a rebel myself, and “bulk” against organised expat activities…not sure I would survive in Japan 🙂

        PiP

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      • amblerangel says:

        I hear you- I rarely do the organized activities because I don’t like sticking to anyone else’s schedule. BUT- if I didn’t have kids- I think I’d hit the road- travel around Japan more- maybe even- gasp- go into Thailand, China, and Korea- see more of the surrounding areas. Hike more, travel more, dive, fish…. What about your photography? Where’s that taking you?

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      • Travel sounds great…I’ve always fancied Thailand!
        Photography is just for fun I’ve never studied it and recieved the camera Christmass 2009. If I was still in the UK I would enroll on an evening course…actually I would enroll on several courses including creative writing. Funny, never thought about writing until I became involved in blogging and connected with so many aspiring writers.
        So apart from trying to avoid Ikebana classes, looking after the children etc…what are your interests/hobbies?

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      • amblerangel says:

        Painting- oils mainly- which I haven’t done here due to time. Writing since I’ve been here due to space constraints! Apartments are tiny- I want to try to document what’s going on for the kids because they won’t remember a lot. Travel- junking (digging around antique stores and junk stores) diving, fishing, biking, wondering around areas of town that I haven’t been, hiking, snowboarding, running, I like to knit but haven’t done that in a long time…. those are the main ones…. You should enroll in those classes in Portugal. I’ve thought about doing that here for painting – will probably try it in September…

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      • You have a great range of hobbies! It’s certainly a great idea to document your stay for your children 🙂

        Unfortunately, they don’t have classes in Portugal…well they may in Portuguese. This is half my problem. Hey ho…well better sign off now it’s 23.30 here and I def need my beauty sleep. 😦

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  2. 2summers says:

    I agree. It’s very beautiful but I would suck at it.

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  3. Angela says:

    Dear Amblerangel,

    Since moving to Tokyo 2 and a half years ago and starting my ikebana classes with the Ichiyo School (The Best!) I can honestly say that with hand on heart it has been one of the best experiences whilst living here. I am artistic anyway and have always enjoyed working with flowers, but this has opened my eyes to a whole new way of “arranging”. The “tricks” that my Sensei (he is the one in the photo you show of the Ichiyo School above along with his son) has demonstrated to me how to contort and gently persuade some branches which is absolutely amazing. If it isn’t your thing, don’t bother taking the classes, but if you are slightly artistic and have a curious mind about the Japanese art of flower arranging, then take a short course and see if it takes your fancy, I for one am absolutely thrilled that I did. I often end up with enough flowers at the end of a class, that I can take them home and produced something both for inside our home and outside in the hallway for my neighbours to enjoy.

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    • amblerangel says:

      AHH- Angela- I’m so glad to get a comment from someone who can does Ikebana! I added the Sensei’s picture from Ichiyo’s school because that was my favorite of the Ikebana style. The great thing about learning how to do it is that once you leave, you take the learning with you. I’m also glad to hear that you are still around!

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  4. Bob says:

    Please correct me but isn’t the whole idea based around creating balance between empty and full space. To make harmony out of the pieces that one uses?

    I could see western minds trying to jam as much stuff as possible into a piece to make it look full. Congrats for having the balls to try something so different to our way of life.

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    • amblerangel says:

      Honestly? I haven’t been interested enough to go beyond just enjoying the displays themselves- which I do really enjoy LOOKING AT. And I do marvel at how they manage to make these objects float miraculously in midair.

      I’ll stick to eating my way through Japan- it is something I’m quite good at, is an excellent way to appreciate a new cultural experience, and usually doesn’t cause a fit on my part.

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  5. Lisa says:

    I admit to taking one Ikebana class just before I left Japan and wishing I had started earlier. But, I completely understand your point of view. I had friend who took everything they could: ikebana, dance, tea ceremony, etc. While I went to a few of those things in a workshop form (sometimes because of work obligations) I concentrated on learning Japanese and talking to people. While some of the Japanese did participate in those activities, many of them didn’t. So, doing traditional Japanese arts doesn’t make you more Japanese. For example, while I was in Japan, I went to Kabuki and Bunraku performances because of my interest in theater. My friends and students (of all ages) would often ask, “well wasn’t it boring?”. LOL I think the only thing you need to do to really learn about a culture is be open to experiences, take pictures, observe and listen–all of which you do amazingly well.

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    • amblerangel says:

      THANK YOU Lisa! I appreciate hearing what you did and were successful at- proof of what I’ve thought was the right approach. Do what is of interest to you. By the way- Offspring #1 was a poisonous mushroom in a Kyogen performance a week ago- very enjoyable! We haven’t made it to Kabuki- I haven’t been able to convince anyone to go with me- I may have to do that on my own. I can just imagine the looks you got over the theater experiences….. I would like to learn how to do my voice like that- did you learn?

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      • Lisa says:

        I didn’t learn while I was in Japan, but I left Japan to pursue my MFA in directing at the University of Hawaii, Manoa because they do a lot of Asian Theater. I learned Kabuki voice there, as well as some Japanese dance. I also directed a Kyogen which was lots of fun. I won’t lie, watching both Kabuki and Bunraku in Japan had some boring moments. I actually fell asleep briefly during the Bunraku because the movement is magical and the Japanese is really old form. But it was still fascinating. Kabuki can be really exciting and the audience is almost as much fun to watch as the performance. You should definitely try to go. I bet Kathy (if she ends up in Japan) would go with you.

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      • amblerangel says:

        I love the costumes of the older forms of Japanese theater- well- who am I kidding- I just love Japanese textiles in any form. The translation for the Kyogen was up on a screen- seeing the words, watching the movements, and hearing the performance in the “voice” was hilarious! The audience- all Japanese- laughed through out. I loved it.

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      • Lisa says:

        The one I directed was translated into English, but I had to replicate it from a traditional Japanese production. I might actually have it on video. If I can find it, maybe I’ll post it. It was short but hilarious.

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  6. I have NO artistic talent at all. Good for you for trying it and good for you for letting others do. And Thank you for the beautiful pics!

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  7. Olga SE says:

    Looking at Japanese-style Ikebana gives one no end of aesthetic pleasure. But if I were in your shoes, Emily, I wouldn’t enroll either. For exactly the same reasons you state. Understand you perfectly in this matter.

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  8. Michi says:

    I feel the same way about dressing up for feria and learning how to dance flamenco here. Really…I’ll just stick to the siestas.
    It’s beautiful what they manage to do with the vegetation in Japan… D-Man would love it. He has bonsai plants that he’s meticulously managed to grow over the years, and one time I accidentally sprayed them with what I thought was water but actually turned out to be clear Windex, and I could tell D-Man tried really hard not to scold me. So he bought me parsley and basil plants so that I could learn how to take care of plants (and leave his alone) and they ended up dying shortly afterward. Ah, well. At least I really did try. Theoretically, I’d love to have my own garden…we’ll see how that one goes.

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    • amblerangel says:

      Great example! I’m already good at siestas- I’m trying to convince Spouse Spain should be our next stop.Your most recent post convinced me! I really would love a bonsai tree- but I wouldn’t know what to with it.

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  9. tokyobling says:

    I don’t know if I should congratulate you on being spared the tea ceremony classes in favour of the ikebana, or feel sorry for you and offer you a free drink of your choice in a Shibuya bar! Like all married women in Japan, you just have to do one of those, at least…
    If you really want to get out, the only way is to go further down in the masochist twelfth circle of Japanese Cultural experiences, Kyudo! Prepare yourself for a a couple of years of pain, ache, frustration and humiliation should you ever flee through the route of Japanese Zen Archery (you’ll get the Zen part, after a few years of red cheeks, as well as fantastic posture and the ability to shoot arrows through paper at over 40 feet distance!).

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    • amblerangel says:

      Well- I DID take one tea ceremony class and I haven’t walked straight since. But I have to tell you- the Kyudo is not standard fare in the course list which the funny thing is- it is the most entertaining of all! And probably the most useful in the overall scheme of things…

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  10. Dana says:

    There’s no need to try everything at the buffet, my dear. It sounds like you already have enough on your plate (radioactive spinach and milk, ordering food from the take-out places, snowboarding, taking the fast trains, singing toilets, etc.) anyway! 😉

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  11. You’re not a bad expat at all. If it’s not something you have any interest in partaking in, or something you KNOW you wont enjoy doing- best not to get involved! They say if you move to Malta you HAVE to eat rabbit and horse… but after almost a year, I still cant bring myself to!!

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    • amblerangel says:

      I HAVE to agree with you on that! Especially sensitive to the domestic species around here at the Clampitt house….Thanks for reading! Love your Gravatar! SO pretty and relaxing looking.

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  12. Tori Nelson says:

    Oh. Words. The pictures make it look like quite the fragile, dainty artform… not at all the kind of hobby for a bull-dozing klutz like me 😦

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  13. Oil painting! Would love to see some of your stuff. It’s amazing what one can learn from reading comments!
    Kathy

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    • amblerangel says:

      I didn’t say I was any good at it. I just said I liked to do it! I was actually an Art major in college for a year until a professor told me I would be the poster child of a starving artist. I switched to Biology and Chemistry.

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  14. Beautiful photos! I’ve never tried ikebana before, but feel sure that I would also fail miserably at it…it looks like it requires some degree of coordination and spatial awareness…sadly, I am short of both of those qualities…

    Wendy

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  15. Yeah, I’m with you on this one! I’m not good at arts and crafts, and I’m not really a “joiner” i.e. feel the need to do something to fit in. I know I won’t, so I don’t even try. The odd people which find me interesting somehow seem to find me.

    If you haven’t already, please read this guest post (http://wp.me/pYuZP-Of) which 2Summers wrote for my blog today. She writes about the indoor-outdoor cat issue having experienced both the American and South African cultures. I now get why in other parts of the world, indoor cats are the norm. Clever of me to get her to do it, wasn’t it?! 😉

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  16. I am with you… it’s beautiful, but I would rather appreciate the work of others as I would be crap at it! I have other hobbies to keep me busy 🙂

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  17. kasuross says:

    I agree that you shouldn’t force yourself to attend Ikebana classes. Perhaps, in the future, someday you would like to try but there is no fun in it when you HAVE TO do it. It is ok you appreciate art and the best thing of it is you are sensitive for beauty.
    I saw in comments that you attended tea classes, how was it?

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