i have had the good fortune to do a couple of apprenticeships in the past decade. although i`m painfully aware that apprenticeships can go feudal more often than not, especially here in japan, i`ve been lucky to have had good luck with the people i`ve learned from. ( i was also been lucky enough to have been paid a stipend for both.) my first experience as an apprentice was 8-9 years ago when as a fresh transplant to japan i was offered the chance to work at a small bar in town. i already had a full time job plus working an extra day a week beside, then suddenly in the nights after i got off work, usually around 9:30PM, i was scarfing down `ham-rolls` from the grocery store and trying not to choke as i jogged to my moonlight gig at the bar for my shift. the bar master was a very well read guy and we listened to jane birkin cd`s while i polished the glasses. he cooked while i served four roses on the rocks and `imo shochu` from a tiny ceramic crock with a bamboo ladle. we chatted in english about michael moore and vietnam while the regular patrons got drunker and drunker. behind the bar we drank as we worked. i practiced my baby-japanese and watched as the master taught me how to cook toppogi (a crowd favorite) sesame/chili cucumber, and prosciutto & mizuna salad rolls. i never had to endure the strict hazing-discipline or a sempai/kohai relationship - he was a fair boss most of the time and the regulars were an interesting bunch, one named `flower child` would leave to drink cans in the alley and he would return with strange presents for us all like vicks vaporub and hand cream. eventually the late nights working `til 2am and then waking up to a full day of teaching slowly wore on me and i stayed for two months more before deciding that my apprenticeship was complete.
my second experience as i`ve mentioned before was apprenticing as an organic farmer on a biodynamic farm back in canada, about four-five years ago now. the farmer was an amazing person and i learned so much from him, but i loved spending time talking to him and working alongside him just as much. he was very easy to talk to, nonjudgmental and had lived a very full and interesting life. more than that he was a man of such character most of us rarely ever meet. besides learning from him, i met a plethora of farmers and professors at the farmers market and through learning initiatives such as conferences on sustainability organized by the local government. furthermore after my four months on the farm, i attended a few other learning workshops on other organic farms and learned alot there too. i was very lucky that year to be the lone apprentice. i was also lucky that a local monastery of buddhist monks from taiwan who grew their own food sought the farmers help in transitioning to the local style of agriculture, and so we all worked together on a couple of beautiful sunny days and i loved taking lunches together and chatting. the farmer treated me like his own daughter and sharing a coffee, a cold beer, a bowl of ice cream, bag of popcorn on the drive home form the farmers market or whatever was in the cast iron skillet that night were memories that i will hold dear for the rest of my life.
the last two pictures above are of my learning garden. i was so proud to see everything i put in come up so straight, and genki. i was also the caretaker of three houses of chickens for the duration, and seeing the chicks hatch was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. holding a shivering little baby chick in your hands makes you lose your mind a just little bit with cuteness.
i`m a very shy person who doesn`t usually adjust easily so i feel extremely lucky to have had these two wonderful apprentice experiences to look back on, experiences that were easy to settle into and helped me step outside my comfort zone to such positive memories. i recognize now almost nine years later that having the experience of working in that bar was a rare opportunity, something that alot of newcomers in japan would love to do. it certainly let me get a jump on practicing my japanese, and feeling more at home and connected here. although i would add here, that more than this, the best experience i had in japan for feeling settled, belonging to the place and feeling at home, was renting farmland and growing vegetables in japanese soil alongside other japanese people of various walks of life. i got to do alot of chatting there, learning too, and received plenty of free vegetables, seedlings, and cold drinks. lol.
sometimes i wonder if i have another apprenticeship left in me, if i should learn something new this year. i also wonder if any strange and wonderful new opportunities will ever present themselves.