Friday, May 25, 2007

interpreting Mr. Kawabe's words

It was pointed out to me that Mr. Kawabe actually has not said some of the things that I have mentioned in describing the demo. Well, this leads right into the most complex question of interpreting. One has to understand that it is not only languages that have to be interpreted, it is also cultures. One example: a quite politically incorrect and on the verge of rude statement is often fine in British English for a British audience. The very same statement to an American audience may well be terrible and disqualifying.

Questions were asked to Mr. Kawabe via the moderator Danny Use. Here some examples: 'Why is it that when pointing out the front of a tree there are MORE branches right in front than on the backside. We have been taught that this is a mistake.' 'We were taught that a bonsai ha as triangular crown with horizontal branches and clear negative spaces in between. Why do none of the trees here show that?' 'We were e taught that one first has to decide about the front and you say that tit does not mater what the front eventually will be for many years during development phase. Where is the clue here?' etc. There never was a clear and definite answer. It always was 'look a t nature'. This in my culture would have been worded 'forget everything they told you, don't look at other masters, don't look at bonsai, look at trees.'But he never used these words, of course.

And then it was pointed out several times by Mr. Use and apparently by Mr. Kawabe that general bonsai practices are often questionable. Like demos in two hours 'finishing' a tree. Or making sure your bonsai looks good all the time in your garden etc.

To understand what a Japanese person really says one has to know a lot about the cultural background. It is more important what was NOT said than what was said. You ask a direct question and always get a very vague answer. For insiders the answer was clear. For someone not used to this the answer means NOTHING. A Japanese person says yes and may well mean no. Go figure! So what does the interpreter translate?

To interpret a Japanese bonsai master one can translate sentence for sentence and leave it totally to the listener whether he understands what is meant. This leads to gross misunderstandings. One can also say what an insider would understand between the lines and say it directly if that is appropriate in another culture. Then some can always come back and say' Well, Walter, Mr. Kawabe never said this in that way!' and that is exactly why he never says it in that way, because that is Japanese culture.

I have seen tree critiques with Japanese masters where they were pointing out quite a few problems as far as I understood. And then I find that folks run around and say that the master found no faults and they he was full of compliments. And I have understood (between the lines) that it is rather crap. So who is right?

So how does one interpret? I travel more than three months every year since many years. I live in a German culture while I am coming from the Austrian culture. In Austria I speak to a non-Tyrolean in a different way than to a Tyrolean. I am a constat wanderer between cultures. I am used to say things in a way that the person undertands them. This means saying the same things according to culture differently with different words. Sometimes it means NOT saying things. And then often it means, using many more words than were used originally.

I tend to interpret one culture into the other culture, because I believe that is if much higher value. Sometimes this has to be mentioned though.


lee k said...

a japanese person says yes and may well mean no!
just like english women!

Walter Pall said...


and I always thought it is exactly the opposite.