400 Years of Japan-Mexico Relations:舞書楽


This year is the 400th anniversary of diplomatic and trade relations between my two beloved adopted nations: Mexico, with which I fell in one when I was 12, and Japan, with which I fell in love when I was 19. And oh, what a love affair both have been!

On Thursday, December 5, we were fortunate to be able to attend a performance entitled
「舞書楽」—  MaiShoGaku, or “dance, calligraphy and music,” written and performed by Irene Akiko Iida, choreographed by her and Arturo Tames, with music by Alejandro Méndez.

The piece is the story of the inner struggles of a Buddhist monk to achieve enlightenment, struggling with the elements of water and fire, using the discipline of calligraphy to work through and free himself from emotion. Accompanied by taiko drumming and some incredible vocalizations, it made for an evening far from the norm here in Mazatlán.

As always, thank you CULTURA Mazatlán, for helping us retain our cultural connections with the world in which we live.

A Lazy Saturday Bike Ride

Frigates wtih fish
After a most wonderful Mothers’ Day yesterday, which went from early morning till early this morning, we were more than happy to sleep in a bit. Thus we got a late start on a Saturday morning bike ride.

This is our favorite time of year: quiet, without crowds, perfect weather. The sky was blue, the air was warm with a light breeze. We biked down the malecón and around downtown to run a few errands. Below are a few of the sights that caught my fancy (you can click on any photo to see it larger, and then click through a slideshow if you’d like).

I always love to watch the fishermen and their boats or pangas. It reminds me of the Izu Peninsula, in Shizuoka, where I lived in Japan for so many years. Somehow, fishing villages worldwide share so much in common. (Again, you can click on any photo below to enlarge it, and then click through a slide show if you’d care to.)

Today there were so many birds out and about. They were loving the fishermen, and the tourists and others who were buying fish who were willing to feed a bit of their purchase to a poor, starving sea bird. As if…

The sun was just a bit too tempting for Greg. He laid down for a bit, enjoying soaking it in. Soon it will be too hot to enjoy doing this, but for now, it’s absolutely perfect!

Relaxing in the sun


Reminders to be Fully Present: 24 Hours in Mazatlán

Photo by Hiroki Fuse Masuda, Danjiri Matsuri, Sumiyoshi

Photo by Hiroki Fuse Masuda, Danjiri Matsuri, Sumiyoshi

It is the beginning of matsuri or festival season in Japan. I have been seeing so many wonderful photos from friends, and I am longing to be there with them. My longtime work colleagues are having an “OB/OG-kai,” (“old boy-old girl reunion) in a few days, and I sooooo want to be there with them.

My beloved sister-cousin hasn’t been well, though she is most strongly on the mend! Her daughter and family are with her on her farm today, and they are making rhubarb pie. Thank goodness for Facetime, but I want my “beam me up, Scottie” device!

They say home is where the heart is. Fortunately, I have many loved ones in many places—as do many of you.

And life is what we make it. In those moments when we are missing loved ones, craving to be somewhere else, or in multiple places at the same time, the universe stops us up short. Pay attention! Look around! Enjoy this moment, now, right where you are!

(You can click any photo below to see it larger or view a slideshow with captions.)

This morning we woke up a bit earlier than our usual on a Saturday, in order to take Danny up to Anglo Moderno so he could take his SAT tests. Poor us, we were forced to greet another beautiful blue-sky day on the ocean, with good coffee, serendipitously meeting good friends, and taking a walk around a part of town we don’t visit every day.

After that, we drove south along the malecón for a few errands downtown, of course delighting in a few sights along the way.

The final photos above were taken yesterday, during our “palapa Friday” tradition. Fresh seafood and coconuts on the beach, to cap off a busy week of work. La vida dura—life is tough. Thank you all for enjoying life with us, wherever you are!

I almost forgot! I also took some video of the gorgeous morning. Here you go. Enjoy!

Cultural Differences that my USA/Japanese Self has Experienced in Mazatlán

What are some of the major cultural differences I’ve experienced over the four years I’ve lived in Mazatlán? Surely, as an interculturalist, I should have some insight.

Too often, of course, our professions don’t serve us well in our personal lives; we don’t practice what we preach: the handyman’s home goes untended, the cobbler’s kids don’t have shoes. I trust that’s not blatantly true for me.
First, some qualifiers:

  • The below are gross generalizations. Everything is situational: for every truth the opposite is also true, in a different context or manner.
  • Observations often if not usually tell us more about the observer than about the observed. My perspective is as a USA-born person of a certain age, with a decade-plus of life experience in Japan. That is my bias or starting point.
  • I love differences, and the process of trying to figure out how to navigate new situations. Thus, my thoughts below are not intended to insult (every culture has different styles and habits, as does every person), but rather to explore and try to understand. I am still very much learning and would welcome your insights/teachings. Thanks.

No worries/I belong here: Come into a class or meeting late, even when it has two minutes remaining, and sit down, conveniently, in the end chair, expecting everyone who is already seated to shift their seats (rather than waiting for the class to finish and the next to begin). Push through, nearly pushing someone out of the way, even if the person pushing is a host or retail store employee and the person being pushed is a customer. It’s not rude or inconsiderate; it seems to be a mentality of “we all belong here.”

What’s really cool, in the situations described above, is that people also have a “live and let live” attitude, they lack the “get offended” gene: they move out of the way, they don’t mind a bit of a push; they expect it and allow that the other person has the right to do whatever s/he is doing. As with anything, there are limits….

Another example would be friends who invite themselves over to your house; they miss you. You prepare for their arrival, cooking up a storm, and then they never show. They don’t call, they don’t apologize. It’s the classic “plan ahead/control/honor obligations” mentality vs. a “be spontaneous/life happens” cultural divide, along with a “follow the rules/be polite” (wait to go until invited) vs. “relationship-first/take action” (I want to see her so let’s do it) gap. Plus the fact that my local friends here don’t expect me to fuss or “host” them the way I like to. Or maybe your friends do call, at the last minute, to explain they can’t come. Maybe you see them a few days later, and you ask them what happened. Huh? When? Oh, yeah; something came up. No offense is given, no offense is taken.

Even though in the situations above Mexicans may seem to lack consideration, in other contexts they absolutely demonstrate consideration: Many people remember amazing detail about your life, and the next time they see you they ask, if you had injured your knee even slightly, “How’s your knee?” Or they kindly remember that in passing you had mentioned your son was going camping, and they ask, “How was your son’s campout?” I know that I myself often forget such details. In this regard the communication style seems so considerate, so detail-specific, and reminds me of Japan. And there is definitely an expectation that I remember the same details: where they plan to go on Christmas break, who they will visit, etc. On that score I too often come up short.

Culture of caution: This is not a culture of trust, but rather, in gross generalization, distrust. People seem to expect you, as a buyer, to make sure the item is in good condition before receiving it, to make sure someone has done a good job if they are working for you. There seems to be little assumption of someone having done well. Even when it’s a very good friend who has done something for you, there is an expectation that you will inspect whatever it is and make sure it is done exactly to your liking. Sooo different from my Japanese-self mentality that this one has taken a whole lot of learning.

Negotiation/complaining: This was also a huge learning for me very early on in living here, because we were buying so many things (furniture, appliances, curtains) and contracting so many services (installs of ceiling fans, painting). I had to learn to voice concern or complaint, to negotiate price and timing. My US and Japanese styles absolutely did not work. I needed to be more assertive than I was used to, while also more social/convivial. There was a fine line: hold the negotiation and discussion of complaint tight, pointed, but with a big smile, a quick laugh, an obvious respect for the other person in wording. Much more firm, repetitive and persistent than I was used to. It felt rude to me, especially because I had heard Mexicans were indirect. This aspect of communication felt very direct, overly pushy, but with a nice veneer of a smile, polite language, and relationship-building phrases interspersed throughout. And lots of repetition and rewording.

Lack of thank yous: People in Asia or Europe often say the US is an “I love you” or “cheerleader” culture, with (often-empty) verbal professions of love, apology, thanks, encouragement. So I am obviously biased. But one of the surprises here for me was I’d give a gift, and the person would seem to like it, but would not express appreciation. Maybe admiration for the gift, or acknowledgement in some way. But I would be expecting thanks. The same for invitations to parties, paying for a meal, etc. The words “thank you” are not nearly so common here in my experience, and I wonder if they don’t add distance, a formality between people at the friend level? That sincere feelings don’t require a formulaic response. There is a similar lack of apologies here. Though that is one of my complaints in the USA as well. When a service person makes a mistake, or a vendor doesn’t meet a commitment, they so rarely take responsibility or apologize for the inconvenience. Again, probably my Japanese-influenced expectation. Whether in the US or in Mexico, my propensity to apologize tends to be seen as lacking in self esteem, when very often it is the exact opposite.

Bright side or enjoyment in the face of hardship: This is perhaps the characteristic that I most love and admire in my Mexican friends. They can be so graceful under pressure. We have friends whose house was built by someone they’ve known their whole lives, incorrectly. The roof leaks. The friend always, sort of, helps them fix it, but it’s never really fixed. They’ve now lived with a leaky house for four years. But they never yell, they never express the heightened emotion or frustration I would expect. When the roof starts leaking again they call the builder and start the process of fixing the leak, over and over again. The patience and tolerance is amazing.

This last fall we had horrible flooding in Mazatlán. Over 51 areas of town were inundated with dirty water, killing two children and destroying many homes and lots of furnishings. People worked all week to clean out the water, mud, and muck, and to dry their things. I saw tears, but I also saw lots of laughter. One family of friends, in the midst of their panic while the flood waters rushed into their home, ran out into the street, hugged one another and smiled for their daughter’s camera, yelling “Happy anniversary!” Definitely an admirable way to respond to something you have little control over. I want to learn more of this dignity and empowerment in the face of adversity!

One of the biggest challenges for me adjusting to life here has been that I CRAVE more cultural informants. I was spoiled: living in Japan for so many years, I was blessed with cultural informants and guides; Japanese loved to teach gaijin about Japanese culture. Even when I lived in Spain, I found loads of people who were more than happy to educate me on a daily basis. That has not at all been my experience here in Mexico. My local Mazatleco informants usually disagree with one another about the most simple things, and they are usually very reticent to “teach,” possibly because they just don’t “see,” that they have a culture, though they are very proud of it nonetheless. This place is not so self-reflexive as the one I spent so many years in in Asia. So, I have the “opportunity” to blunder through things and learn by doing a lot more. 🙂

I welcome your thoughts and insights! Enjoy the day!