On Monday, I played Jingle Bells on the koto. Mizutani-sensei tuned it on a traditional Western do-re-mi scale and sounded out the sheet music’s title in katakana. “Jinguru Beru,” she said and beamed at me. I had been playing Sakura Sakura and other Japanese folk songs whose names in Kanji I could not read. Jingle Bells seemed unsuited for the koto, but her eyes were excited, like we were in for big fun. Even with the new tuning, I had to play in funky half notes. This was hard for me and I kept losing my place on the vertical sheet music. I could tell I was disappointing her the same way I disappoint other Japanese people when I don’t know something about American pop culture. Like when my supervisor was shocked to learn I haven’t seen Bad News Bears and that I don’t own any Police albums.
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