Member Profile  – David Shield

The Society is fortunate to have many talented individuals within the membership base.

This month we are profiling Mr David Shield.

AJSQ Member David Shield Reflects on his journey with Japan.

People often ask me how I got interested in Japanese culture, this is a surprisingly difficult question for me. There has never been a point in my life where it wasn’t around me. As one of Queensland’s first Japanese teachers in the 1970s and 1980s, my mother was constantly bringing things she had borrowed for her classes from the Consulate General of Japan home.

Recently, I saw the same set of Girls Day dolls that I remembered from my childhood. They were on display in the residence of the Consul General of Japan in Brisbane. I sometimes wonder if they still have the box my father and I made when I was nine for their Boys Day kabuto. As I grew older, I worked my way through mum’s collection of books on Japan and learnt Japanese as a vehicle to better my understanding of the culture.

At 16, I started Aikido and I achieved Shodan by the time I was 21. But there was always something else to learn, an unanswered cultural question that would bug me and I knew I had to seek answers.

Then in 2009, I moved to Oyama city in Japan, and I let my inner Japanese culture geekiness run wild. First, it was Iaido, where I eventually become a 4th dan. This lead me to Kyudo and of course, I kept studying Aikido as well. But I always had more questions and more things I wanted to try. I moved away from martial arts to focus more on creative arts. I started Sogetsuryu flower arranging and also became a regular attendee at local tea ceremonies, despite never being formally trained. When someone told “no foreigner could ever sew a kimono” I found an elderly lady to teach me, and now I make kimono, yukata and hakama made to measure for myself and my friends. But I also learned what has become my greatest love, the koto.

I remember being so nervous in my first class that my picks nearly fell off my hands from the sweat. But it was the first instrument I ever picked up that just made sense. The notation made sense, the layout of the instrument made sense, it was just right and I took to it like a duck to water. The sound was like the soundtrack of my life. When I saw a silent snowdrift in Niigata, I could almost hear rokudan no shirabe playing on the wind. When I hiked the sacred peaks of the dewasanzan I could hear the piece higurashi on the breeze even as it’s namesake the Japanese cicada chirped in the forest around me.

When I finally decided to move back to Australia in 2018 to do a Masters of Japanese Translation and Interpreting at UQ I brought my instruments home with me. To the somewhat bemused looks of the people working at customs in Brisbane airport. All wrapped up, my kotos looked more like mummies than instruments. Even now I still practice every Friday with my teacher in Japan, thanks to the wonders of Skype. I still get a bit of a kick out of knowing that an 86 year old Japanese woman with a beehive of hair who refuses to use a smartphone, took the effort of learning how to use the internet for me.

I am currently sitting my intermediate certificates but one day I hope to be a teacher in my own right. So, the real answer to how did I get interested in Japanese culture is I always have. And I always will be.

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