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Doldrums at the Shodō 書道 Calligraphy “seminar” of Riga “Takai” 2009

By Oleg K. Temple, August 2009.

Truly, the organizers of this travesty need to procure an unabridged copy of "PR for Dummies" and try to grasp the basic idea at the very least.

Shoddily nailed together by a Latvian Kendo club this event was probably the sorriest display of incompetence I have had the misfortune to witness. The chaps should just stick to their fencing and leave organization of important events to the professionals.

Riga TaiKai Japan Culture Days 2009 was prophesised early in the year to be every Latvian Japanophile's (親日派) dream-come-true. As an avid student of Japanese language and culture, I had been looking forward to the grandly-named event all summer. I called the organizers to see if they would be able to provide me with a press file and offered to come to the different events to cover them. They had no idea what I was on about, but we agreed to discuss the articles and various publications I write for at the Shodō (書道) seminar on the 17th of August. At 20 minutes to seven I was standing by the closed doors of Rīgas Valsts Tehnikums where the workshop was due to take place, I called Vladimir K., the person in charge of the various seminars – no answer. I circled the city block and eventually found an obscure entrance in the back of the building, and then tracked the trail of A4-sized signs through the convoluted corridors to the auditorium.

As I entered, a woman was ardently complaining that the venue was very difficult to find and that some would-be participants were having trouble locating it. The organizer's corpulent assistant retorted "That's their problem — those who find it, find it. Those who don't — don't." Hearing this, I realized that these people are rude and have no idea what they are doing, so I changed my mind about interviewing them and covering their events. I decided to just enjoy the seminar, pay the cover charge and leave it at that.

The participants were mostly female as the men seemed to have opted for the more macho-themed (and free-of-charge) Budo lecture that was taking place parallel to the calligraphy. I chose a seat, got my fude (brushes) ready and eagerly awaited the sensei while drilling Kanji in my notebook. Tick-tock, tick-tock, the time trickled by and the emptiness on my page steadily diminished at the onslaught of my zealous pencil strokes, but not a single Japanese person entered the room.

The so-called "organizer", ego inflated in self-admiration floated across the auditorium like a large jellyfish trying to tickle the ladies' fancies, egging them into casual chats about his trip to Japan. As I scribbled, I could overhear the build up of indignation and irked remarks emanating from the waiting women around me — "where is he, did he fly all the way from Japan only to be late at his own seminar?" they asked. Incompetence ran rampant as confused participants tried to get the "coordinator" to do his job and coordinate. However, the "organizers" remained impervious to the rising gale of complaints and acted with a superior aloofness, bloated with self-importance as though they were doing us all an immense favour of immeasurable proportions by letting us warm the benches of the empty auditorium.

No attempt was made by the "organizers" to apologise or make amends for their oafish, ham-fisted manhandling of the event. I thought: "surely, this seminar (if it ever starts) will be offered free of charge as an apology for making the audience wait so long". Instead, to add insult to injury at 19.27 (half an hour past the scheduled beginning) the "organizer" had the audacity to announce: "Everyone, I've been instructed to collect your payments for this seminar", I said to him: "What seminar?" and was immediately joined by the other outraged participants, all of whom said that they would only pay when and IF the event transpires from promise to fact. "Agent" K. said: "Don't blame me, I'm just doing what my boss told me to do, I am not the organizer, but a participant just like you!". At this stage I could contain my disgust no longer and I told him in Russian: "I am leaving, I might come for tomorrow's seminar, will it be on the same topic?" Over his shoulder he replied: "I think it will be a continuation of today's seminar". I decided not to goad him by asking whether it would be a continuation of today's no-show; instead I asked: "Will it also be in this hall?" to which he muttered: "We hope so..." so I left, followed by several of the others. Half an hour later I decided not to waste any more of my time, going the next day or patronising any of their other "events". I am fully convinced that for some reason, the Shodō sensei did not show up and that the "organizers", instead of telling us the truth, were waiting for the Budo lecture to finish so that they could ask one of the other Japanese lecturers to fill in. They probably thought: "all Japanese people know Kanji and these local yokels will not know the difference between the writing of a Shodō sensei and the hand of an ordinary Japanese person; doesn't matter — just as long as we can pocket their entrance fees." Sometimes it is better when people have no idea who you are, that way they act as they would naturally and show their true colours, indeed, in our age the keyboard is way mightier than the sword...

I had many questions for the Shodō master:

How best to hold the petite brush in my large hand; how to get better balance in my kanji; which kanji to spend most time and effort on; how best to posture while writing; which ink and paper to use and the list goes on.. Of course, I already know the answer to some of these questions, or I think I do, but hearing these basic concepts explained by a master of the art could have shown me new horizons. Alas! My questions will remain unanswered until I can attend a serious seminar, not a sham. There were no masters to meet here, just vain posers perambulating on the locomotion of personal pride. After witnessing this appalling display of snootiness put on by the ignoramus in charge, I felt too ashamed to face the Japanese masters who have come all the way to Latvia to teach their art. I would rather miss the seminars than go and be embarrassed by the troll-mannered "organizers".

The organization was so poor that even the name was mis-released to the press 4 months ago: "Riga Taikai 2009" (大会 - big meeting) was represented as "Riga Takai 2009" (高い- expensive Riga) even in the Arēna Rīga (venue where the grand finale was held) and Riga This Week (the largest city guide in Riga, of which, (need I say?) the organizers have never heard. Big surprise.) event programmes.

On their website, where the English language is mercilessly tortured, they are so biased that even when listing the "kinds of martial arts" of Japan, they blatantly omit mentioning Judo, Karate, Aikido, Jujitsu, Ninjitsu, Sumo and many others. It is obvious that money was the main incentive for this entire charade and perhaps, as a spinoff, some promotion for the kendo club - not the propagation of the Japanese culture as it should have been. These peacocks weren't even aware of the difference between Kanji and "Hieroglyphs" (the word they use to refer to Kanji), but what can you expect from people who can't even properly learn the name of their own event?

Our cultural agenda would be so much sweeter if only wannabes would first learn the trade from real event organizers such as Hermaņa Brauna Fonds (organizers of the "SUMMERTIME — Inessa Galante & Friends" in Jūrmala, where I had the great pleasure to witness a superlative concert by Joji Hirota (廣田丈自) and the Taiko Drummers on the 10th of August 2009).

So let's recap: organizers who lack the adequate skill set to organize a tea party for the March Hare and Dormouse, joined hands with promoters who lack the iq to properly learn a two-syllable word and this unfortunate union gave birth to a flaccid week of epic lameness. Furthermore, they didn't even have the guts to accept the blame for the fetid fruit of their labour... If the rest of the Japan Culture Days were also organized with such blind bias and sloppy inefficiency, I feel deeply remorseful and ashamed for my countrymen. No face-saving attempts were made by the pompous "organizers"; I am embarrassed before the Japanese delegates who were forced to endure and deal with these people.


It became clear to me that the pretentious philistines were just after milking the audience, brazenly ignoring the dissatisfaction caused by the dismal non-event. I was astounded by the poignantly snide attitude of the hosts. The deal was sealed by the slippery, dastardly attempt by the chief "organizer" to slither away from responsibility and blame the fictitious "boss". Indeed, I felt nauseated at this acute display of spinelessness. I elected not to waste any more time on Riga "Takai" 2009. In fact, I will tie a knot here as this clumsy non-event is worth neither my time — nor yours.

© Oleg K. Temple,, 2009

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