Amateurs are Alive and Well in Japan!
In Japan hobbies are a thing. A BIG THING!
It’s not long after you meet someone that you are inevitably asked: 趣味は？ What’s your hobby?
Here a hobby is like stamp collecting, something your weird uncle Harold did in the 1950s. Wanna see his stamp books? “NO!”, you quickly say. Besides, being an amateur anything just reeks of some juvenile preoccupation, right? Maybe because I’ve lived in Japan and have seen first-hand what true amateurism is, I don’t think so.
In Japan, a hobby is an opportunity to do something simply for the love of it. We’ve forgotten how to do that here.
The french root of the word amateur is amator, which means “lover” as in a lover of something. That meaning, however, often takes a backseat to the more condescending “One who does something without professional skill or ease.”, i.e., a hack. How often have we heard the expression “He’s just an amateur.” as in, “Don’t even bother, he’s not worth it!”
I hereby loudly and forcefully OBJECT! There are many things that can and should be done even if the outcome is imperfect. There’s a tremendous amount of grace and learning that comes from the simple act of trying. Besides, it’s fun.
Japanese don’t labor under the same stigma of amateurism that we Americans do. They take great pride in their hobbies and devote a tremendous amount of time, effort, personal reputation, and money into indulging their passions. Pick any hobby and you’ll find some of the best how-to books, magazines, videos, tapes, accessories, tools etc. available in Japan.
I learned long ago that when you ask a Japanese about their hobby to beware. Personally, I often feel like a hack when compared to a Japanese amateur! While maybe not a “professional”, many Japanese hobbyists I know are darn near that level. They have diligently practiced their hobby for many years making slow yet incremental progress toward achieving hobby nirvana.
It’s like that with the ukulele in Japan too. Instructional methods abound. How-to videos on YouTube are legion. Really good songbooks are everywhere. Japanese love, collect, and cherish expensive ukuleles from the US. They practice. They perform. Best of all, they love what they are doing.
I don’t think American ukulele players are as hung up on being labeled amateurs as other hobbyists are. Perhaps we’ve grown a thick skin because we’re always derided whenever we pick up our small instruments. Or, maybe it’s just the unique joy that the ukulele brings. Whatever it is, I’m glad for it.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for Japanese songbooks, take a look here.
I'm an amateur ukulele player who happens to be fluent in Japanese. I hope that I can inspire you to learn more about the ukulele, Japan, or better yet, BOTH!