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  Japanese Schools of Traditional Arts     

        In Japan, the idea of formal learning and certification in the traditional arts and practices is an ancient process with very deep roots. It came about not only for the purpose of training and educating people but also to insure that traditional skills and practices are upheld. Initially training was only for upper classes and/or the performers or practitioners of these traditions, but as modernization expanded, more common people gained leisure time and could partake as well. More and more people had the opportunity to honor, study and practice traditional skills, as a source of pleasure and relaxation.

        For people choosing these areas as vocations and professions, it was expected that basic qualification standards would be met to either work or teach in a given field.  However, the formal learning and certification process was just as strong a presence among non-professional admirers of these practices that were enjoying the subjects as a hobby or avocation. There is a saying in Japan that translates to "everyone has a hobby" – as in everyone must have a hobby. Even though these activities are pursued for pleasure, enjoyment and enrichment, avocations and hobbies are studied and practiced as diligently as one's profession.  Such formal training for a “hobby” may be unusual or even contradictory to those outside of Japanese culture, but it is a common and standard practice in Japan that is still very much respected and followed.

        While a group that is focused around a subject would usually be referred to as an “association,” “society” or “organization” in the West, it is historically common in Japan to still refer to many such groups as “schools.” They originally were the groups that provided training and apprenticeships in the traditional skills and practices of ancient Japanese culture.  In more modern times, use of “association” or “society,” etc. has come into some use in Japan, but they still function as a traditional school.  There is one (or more) school or organization that guides and governs the learning in virtually every Japanese cultural practice and art: Tea Ceremony, Ikebana, Calligraphy, Origami, dance, instrumental music, painting, embroidery, paper-making ... to name just a few. The use of the term “school” may also describe a particular approach to a subject. For example, there are several “schools” of Tea Ceremony, each of which traces back to a different Sensei who established a following using different particulars within the ceremony procedures. It should be noted that these branching schools of the same traditional practice evolve through decades (if not centuries) of time, and often not until after the founder's death, because of the respect given to a Sensei from those around him – not because someone wakes up one day and thinks “I'm going to start a new school”. It comes only from time, respect and honor.

        Both in past and present time, the learning process for skills engaged in for recreation is as directed and intense as it is for professionals in that art or practice.  There are established classes presented by certified teachers of the school or association. Teachers must have passed a certain number of level certifications within the school to be qualified to teach.  Classes may be held at the school or association headquarters or elsewhere. A student attends class regularly, pays attention (it's not a social gathering; quiet is maintained with the focus on the teacher and material being presented; little or no talking; hands raised to ask questions, etc.), takes notes, follows along by doing as the teacher directs, and diligently practices at home prior to the next class. Very often there will be some sort of annual exhibition, recital or other public demonstration of the year's accomplishments to bring recognition to the school, teacher and students.

        Ranking is a central concept of Japanese society. Schools and associations are no different; they all offer levels of certification by standard examinations. The purpose of certification is not for competition.  It is to encourage dedication to learning and practicing traditional standards and skills, to honor those that have gone before, and to insure that those teaching are qualified to do so (thus preserving and continuing the traditional skills and curriculum.) Not until a student has proven a mastery of the traditional basics through successful completion of several qualification levels is license given to add one’s personal inflection. Privileges granted through various levels of certification often follow an accelerated form of traditional apprenticeship (accelerated, since a true traditional apprenticeship can take a minimum of 80 years). The number of certification levels varies according to the art and skill. Certification levels are granted to all those who meet the criteria; it is  not a "double competition" or what would be considered "juried" in the West. There are not a limited number of certificates awarded - they are similar to diplomas where you are being evaluated against traditional standards, not against your fellow students. Requirements for each level include both time spent learning and practicing as well as demonstration of required skills meeting the school standard. The privileges earned at various levels also vary by school, but it is universal that there is a minimum level that must be attained before one is certified to teach that art or practice. Experience as a teacher and continued study for attainment of additional levels of certification will determine what level of student a teacher is deemed worthy to instruct. As a member of a school or association, a student continues to honor this process while learning and enjoying his craft, and it often becomes a lifelong dedication. Patience and respect is as revered as skill and talent. There is a very firm belief that anything worth having is worth working for, whether it is time spent learning, time spent practicing and gaining experience, and even the funds needed to study & practice and for examination fees.

       Everyone is taught the same curriculum with the same diligence, regardless of  whether or not exams are to be taken. Classes are for the purpose of learning the art or practice, and both students and teachers are there first and foremost for enjoyment from and dedication to their art. It is not required that everyone submit to examination for certification, though many do. Certification is secondary to learning, not the primary purpose. It is the teacher's responsibility to determine if a student is worthy to present for examination. The teacher may invite a student who is considered worthy, but it is that student's choice of whether or not to accept. Should a teacher determine that a student is not prepared to take an exam, that decision is to be humbly accepted by the student; and the student will continue to study and practice until the next exam offering.  If a student is going to present work for a level exam,  samples of the student’s work  will be selected (which usually have been completed as a matter of general course, not done as special work for the exam) and the teacher will collect these along with the examination application & fees, and deliver them to the examiner(s) by the stated deadline (exams are usually annual, but can vary by school). Evaluations are conducted by one or several highly honored Sensei, artists who generally have spent whole lifetimes devoted to practicing their arts. (In many cases, these people may be descendants of revered artisans with skills being passed on from generation to generation, beginning when a child is even too young for regular school).

        Upon a student’s successful passing of a certification examination, it is a long standing practice that the submitting teacher receives an honorarium from the school equal to one-half of the student's exam application fee.  This is a wonderfully unique  and effective system in that it accomplishes two purposes. First, it functions as “insurance” that the traditional skills and techniques will be upheld throughout the basic levels. A teacher has a solid incentive to hold true to the traditional curriculum when teaching basic levels, without infusing his or her own perceptions or interpretations.  (Higher levels may allow more personal interpretation - but remember the Japanese apprentice system: you must earn your qualifications in the historical basics before you are granted the liberty to infuse your own creative thoughts into your work.) This carries over into teaching responsibilities – the instructors teach to the standards of the school, not their own. Especially for early levels, if a teacher is not guiding students in the traditional skills, they will not present or qualify for certification, and the teacher receives no honorarium.  Secondly, the honorarium insures a level standard for classes, and that everyone is taught the same lessons with the same intensity, regardless of who in a class may wish to pursue certification examination. While a teacher may charge for standard classes in a particular art, everyone is taught with the same dedication; there is no distinction in curriculum between those who desire certification and those who do not. The only goal is dedication to learning the art.  No classes beyond the regular school curriculum are required in order for a student to apply for the exam.  Likewise, no costs other than the school’s normal exam fees are necessary, because the teacher is compensated through the honorarium.  At most, a teacher may advise a student to devote himself to more practice, but the student isn't presented with material that is different from, or supplemental to, what is being taught to the class as a whole.

    As a footnote, the Japan Temari Association functions as the certifying school for Temari. There are four levels of certification. The first two focus on basic skills and understanding. The third concentrates on testing one’s knowledge base of the art’s traditional skills, use of them and presentation of them to qualify for teaching. The fourth allows and invites a more personal infusion of expression to foster growth of the art form and carry it into the future. Upon passing the third level, one is considered qualified to teach and may present students for examination (starting with Levels 1 and 2). A qualified teacher receives an honorarium in an amount equal to one-half of the JTA exam application fee for each student that they present who successfully passes the examination. 
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