MISTAKES CAN BE EMBARRASSING
Black Belt|August/September 2021
THAT A DIRECTOR OF MY CITY’S OPERA COMPANY WOULD CALL ME SEEMED A LITTLE ODD. THERE ARE PROBABLY SOME MONKEYS WHO KNOW MORE ABOUT OPERA THAN I DO. BUT THE DIRECTOR WAS INVITING ME TO LUNCH, SO OF COURSE, I WENT.
DAVE LOWRY

Shinto tori gates find their way onto the front walls in some American dojo, but that placement is culturally incorrect.

It turned out the company was producing a performance of Madame Butterfly, the Puccini opera that tells the story of a doomed love between a French military officer and a geisha in early 19 th -century Japan. The opera has come under fire for its stereotyped, utterly fanciful depictions of Japanese culture. The local company was trying to anticipate such criticism, and the director asked me, since I serve on the board of some organizations related to Japanese culture, what I thought.

I said most Japanese and Japanese-Americans probably view the opera as so ridiculously fictional that no one could take it as a serious historical commentary. In fact, I’d already heard from some traditional Japanese dance groups whose members hoped to audition for nonspeaking roles in the opera. I pointed out, however, that the promotional illustrations the company had come up with for the opera were “wrong.” The director was confused. One illustration showed a woman in a kimono, holding her infant. She was clearly meant to depict Madame Butterfly.

“You have her hair in a long and straight ponytail,” I said. “That style had gone out of fashion in Japan hundreds of years before the period of the opera.”

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