Oct 9, 2007

Just say “hai”

When I went to Japan, I had a rather difficult time to adjust to Japanese culture. I tell people that I did not just live in Japan for a year, I lived in 18th century Japan. I had to wear kimono every day, and the room I lived in was four and a half tatami mats – about 10 feet square. I didn’t understand very much Japanese language so people were yelling at me all the time because they thought I was not listening to them.

Finally, my sempai (senior student) took me aside and told me that it was better to stop what I was doing and just say “hai” (meaning yes, though sometimes translated as no, and sometimes just an acknowledgement, or sometimes as when calling roll to mean present). Many times I tried to explain myself or offer an excuse when I was told that I was doing something wrong, but a look from my sempai and I just answered “hai.” I often thought that this submissiveness in agreeing with the person scolding me without offering something in my own defense was demeaning and unfair.

I went again to my sempai and complained about how unfair it was that I had to submit to everyone else scolding me and all I was to do was say, “hai.” He then tried very patiently to explain to me that as a new student and a foreigner at that, I had a low status. In addition, I couldn’t speak the language, and didn’t know the protocols of how to conduct myself within the structure of the tea world.
He said that if I wanted to learn about chado, I would have to humble myself because everyone I met there had lived and breathed chado for many more years than I had probably lived. If I resisted, justified, offered excuses or complained, people were not likely to share their knowledge. He told me there were vast riches there about the way of tea, but I would have to become sunao (I looked up in my dictionary and it says obedient, meek, gentle). He said that sunao meant open without resistance, to take in everything as part of my training. To explain, offer excuse, or justify myself showed that I was not open but resisting the learning.

It was a hard lesson for me to learn, with my rebellious nature exerting itself. But I when I began to embrace the learning and just said, “hai” when someone corrected me or scolded me and I really meant it, things started to go better for me. I was given more attention by my teachers, new opportunities opened up before me. I made more friends who were eager to help me out in learning the language.

So next time someone scolds me, I just say, “hai.”

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