Part 2
I should point out that I do not consider myself to be an expert on China, but I have visited the country more than a dozen times, typically for periods between 10 days and 2 weeks. I have traveled with Chinese friends a fair amount, mostly within eastern China, and I have been off the beaten path there on many occasions.

I have had amazing experiences in China and I have found good friends there, but I have strong and uncomfortable feelings about some of the disturbing things I have witnessed.

I presently avoid spending time in China. The main reasons I have lost interest in entering the country is that I am fearful of the staggering pollution levels and I don’t enjoy the food poisoning I frequently experience when there.

It is also not so pleasant for me moving through a society where the government is so obviously ‘out’ about its role as the enemy of its people. Government intimidation is deeply embedded in the culture and it is tedious how often it is encountered in day to day life.

Chinese Guitars Part 1 introduces this topic and covers broader issues. It is recommended that you read Part 1 first if you have interest in this topic.

In Defense of Complacency
How bold would you be if generations of your family grew up in a country like China?
Would you stand up and risk your life to fight that which seems normal?

Your father and his father accepted the oppression.
You watched them accept it as you matured and became an adult.
You may have a family of your own now that you care about more than anything.
Would you risk the abandonment of your family to fight the oppression?

The oppression in China largely exists because those in power who oversee and control your life want to maintain their own comforts and maintain the status quo that benefited them and their families for so much of China’s recent history. It is easy for them to convince themselves that staying the course is the best course for everyone. These manipulators in positions of authority are not evil. They are simply chimpanzees looking out for their personal banana supply (as we all are to varying degrees).

As infantile as the reason is for the oppression that denies you the simple freedom to speak and read about whatever you want, the power that backs up the oppression in China is real and the will to use that power to vanquish disobedience is evident all around you.

Would you be willing to choose to die or accept life in a concrete cage as a likely reward for fighting or simply speaking out against this oppression?

If you had a family to take care, would you be bold enough to stand up against the manipulators in power. It becomes a more difficult question to answer when you factor in that most Chinese are able to survive and feed their families under the authority of their present overseers.

The Chinese choose to adhere to a system that generally defines them as beasts of burden, not human beings. I do not condemn individuals who accept their role as managed livestock or nearly worthless and expendable creatures. Though they are choosing their fate by choosing to follow their masters, many Chinese are not able to see the choice they are making. Some do not see the villainy of the system and persons that manage their lives because it is the world they grew up in. It is all they know.

Many or even most Chinese people are fully aware that their governmental system at all levels is a quagmire of corruption and full of bad people with bad intentions. Most interestingly though, many believe all governments of the world are as corrupt or more corrupt than their own. A lifetime of propaganda and media control can be incredibly effective in shaping the minds of human beings, even when it is being spewed from a source that is known to be a perpetual and committed deceiver.

For the Chinese, it is normal to be counted by their government as less than human, or at least less than what the free world defines as human. I am sympathetic to their plight and forgiving of their complacency, even if I also hope more of them somehow find the courage to reject the confines of intellectual and artistic tyranny.

In fairness to the ‘bad guys’, the leadership class in China, there is a kind of forced stability in society that can be maintained when people are not allowed to object to human rights violations within their own country and not allowed to share and pursue knowledge or cultural progress. Even if the people of China one day find freedom before the sun expires or evolution puts something else in our place, it is unlikely to be a pretty site politically. There may be incredible and never resolved turmoil as a result. I am sure some of the intellectuals within the leadership class of China use that thought to console themselves as they continue to support policies that define the Chinese people as creatures to be herded and manipulated.

So, will my first guitar be made in China?
Possibly, but I really would prefer that my guitar songwriting efforts not be connected to a ‘Made in Tyranny’ product. It would soil the experience for me if I had to look at a ‘Made in China’ stamp every time I picked up my instrument to tinker with a song idea.

If my first guitar ends up coming from China as so many lower priced guitars do, I will be a hypocrite, but it will definitely be serious motivation for me to save my pennies and get better in a hurry to upgrade to a guitar made outside of a tyrannical regime’s borders.

I sincerely hope I can find a guitar that I can afford that was not made in China.

-Kin’en

Chinese Guitars – Part 1

We wear Chinese-made clothing.
We use Chinese-made phones.
We eat Chinese-grown food.

Are we also willing to play guitars made in China?
For a long while, China was the country outside of the US where I had spent the most amount of time in my life. My frequent 3 month trips to Japan in recent years have now put Japan in the #1 spot for ‘foreign country I have spent the most time in’.

Mostly because I know China a little, I do avoid buying a few things made there, but it is extremely difficult to do and I cannot claim to be an activist on this subject.

I mostly just try to avoid food products grown and processed in China for safety reasons. Though in Japan, even that option is out the window because so much of Japan’s food comes from China. And people do sometimes get very sick from Chinese food here.

Dangerous cheaper ingredients are sometimes added to food products by unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers who then ship the food to Japan and other countries, and within China as well. Some of the toxins are found, especially when the toxins create immediate health issues instead of long term health issues and a connection to the Chinese source is easier to make.

When a ‘fast acting’ toxin is found to have come from a Chinese food source, stories appear in the Japanese media as you would expect, but Japanese companies continue importing food from China and the Japanese people eventually stop complaining. They keep buying the cheaper food and the contamination and poisoning cycle continues.

Eating food sourced from China is one of the nearly unavoidable and unpleasant risks I take during the lengthy periods I spend in Japan.

I know boycotting Chinese products in general is not practical for most people, including myself, with such a huge percentage of our lives being supported by Chinese manufacturing as we support their criminal political system as part of the bargain. (Though I do REALLY wish our memories would be longer when China ships dangerous food products outside their borders, so there would be more pressure internally for Chinese food producers to behave responsibly.)

China’s role as a supplier to the world has become so embedded in world culture that the world no longer seems to give much thought to how our financial support of the country is a significant facilitator for the ongoing corruption and criminal behavior of China towards its citizens. We have been complicit in China’s crimes for so long that we don’t even pause to consider our own immorality in the relationship.

Incidentally, though I was born in the US, I am not ‘pro-American’ in my distaste for communist China. Patriotism is often a disguise for bigotry and ignorance and could be legitimately classified as evil if there was such a thing as that silly fairytale concept in the universe.

Show me someone who blithely proclaims themselves to be a patriot and I will show you someone who is very likely an idiot (or at least someone who is incapable of introspection).

I am actually ‘pro-Chinese’ as in pro-people. Some of the strongest personal connections in my life have been with Chinese born persons. You and I are diminished when our brothers and sisters (technically cousins) are forced to live as heavily manipulated creatures as they are in China.

For those who say that the Chinese are content and happy to embrace the limitations and injustice that is imposed upon them by their government in exchange for a measure of economic prosperity in this moment, I promise you the people who have been extinguished by force and who are presently locked in prison for expressing views that differ from their government, did not and do not feel that way.

I hope China will one day be a country that we can feel good about buying musical instruments from, but I fear that day if it comes will be many years in the future.

-Kin’en

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Chinese Guitars Part 2 »

I don’t like the idea of ordering a guitar online.
I presume they are packed well and guitars received through the mail generally arrive in one piece, but I would prefer as I suspect most people would to pick out a guitar in person and touch it and pluck a few strings before taking it home.

Even if my evaluation would not be as valuable as an experienced guitarist’s, it is easy to find suggestions online about what to look for when trying out a guitar. I also think it could be helpful for a person to feel as if they found a real connection with their guitar before they buy it.

No Guitar Stores in my Town
Though I am in Japan at the moment, I am planning to buy my first guitar in the US during a lengthy upcoming visit back to my home country, when I plan to get this project fully underway.

There aren’t any guitar stores to my knowledge up in the mountain resort area where I live when I am in the US.

Though I am sure I could find many guitars in Denver down in the low country ‘Kansas extension’ portion of Colorado, the gas for a round trip drive to Denver would cost more than 25% of my entire guitar budget.

Unfortunately, my returns from Asia usually result in me getting back to Colorado too late in the evening to get much done in Denver before I drive up to the mountains.

Additionally, when your limited time in America is spent in a community that might be described as one of the best versions of paradise the US has to offer, Denver is not a place you are typically too excited about surrendering a day to. With the exception of airport run drive-bys, I am pleased with the fact I have managed to go years at a time in the past without making a dedicated drive down to the city.

Money is a concern, not only because I have to be careful (a significant portion of my income is dedicated to making sure I can freely get back and forth from Asia), but also because I imagine in the not too distant future I will be wanting to buy a nicer and more expensive guitar than whatever I start with now.

I hope one day soon I reach a level where I would not even consider buying a guitar without playing it extensively first. For example, the idea of buying a new snowboard that I have never demoed is absolutely ridiculous to me. Still, for my first ‘getting the ball rolling’ low-end affordable guitar, I do expect to buy online and price will be one of my biggest considerations.

If a person does choose to buy online for pricing, geography or selection, it would seem wise to me to buy from an established guitar dealer with a good return policy. I imagine a good online mail order retailer’s business model must take into account customers doing due diligence with guitars after they have them in their homes and before they commit to keeping them.

-Kin’en

After a sake museum tour with new and old friends in Kyoto and dinner later at a ramen restaurant in the Gion entertainment district, I bolted over to an area with several guitar stores located here on the east side of Kyoto.

Incidentally, I am not a fan of ramen shops in Japan because the Japanese tend to package disease and illness with ramen purchases here.

In most restaurants in this country, nicotine addicts are allowed to freely pollute interior spaces as they use their drugs via the tobacco burning fume inhalation method. The majority of Japanese restaurants allow drug addicts to contaminate the air, but the crisis is especially prevalent in restaurants that serve traditional Japanese food such as ramen.

Important Note about Drug Addicts in Japan
This particular evening slightly predated my commitment to NEVER AGAIN enter restaurants in Japan that allow nicotine drug addicts to partake of their drugs indoors. Ramen shops, and most other cafes and restaurants here in Japan, welcome and encourage nicotine drug addicts to inflict carcinogens and illness upon children and other non-smoking customers, along with the staff, vendors and service industry personnel who enter their businesses.

Japan is slowly changing and in recent years, if you know where to look, it has become easier to find non-smoking establishments in many cities in Japan. However, you have to be courageous enough to put your foot down when selecting places to eat and drink with Japanese colleagues and friends who are unlikely to understand why avoiding cancer and other sickness is so important to you.

As to why Japan is so backwards and uncivilized regarding their tolerance of death, illness and disease being distributed to innocent children and adult non-smokers throughout the country in myriad public places…

The complete answer is a very sad and long story for another time, but suffice it to say that the tobacco industry has its tentacles deeply entwined in Japanese society and the tobacco profiteers have enormous influence in the media here and even within the Japanese government which has a shameful ownership role in Japan Tobacco.

Japan is thought of by many as an advanced society and in some ways it is. I certainly enjoy many aspects of my life in Japan. However, on the subject of compassion for children and the other citizens forced to inhale lethal and disease causing toxins from rudely shared tobacco smoke, Japan often seems to be about 50 years behind the rest of the so-called civilized world.

And now, back to our story
After I arrived at Big Boss, the first guitar shop I encountered this evening, I spent a lot of time looking at the alien to me six-string devices and after some time a Japanese salesperson took the brave and kind step of approaching a gaikokujin who likely didn’t speak much Japanese.

The salesperson seemed happy I knew a smidgen of Japanese, though he overestimated what I could understand. I made surprising progress with him and also learned a bit about Takamine guitars in Japan, especially when I joined him by his laptop on the counter and we dug around together comparing information on Japanese and English websites. He was amused and seemed somewhat incredulous when I told him how the rest of the world pronounces Takamine.

Takamine is a Japanese brand I’m researching at the moment mostly because I happened to take an interest in one of their guitar models I saw and read about online. It turned out that Takamine is marketing significantly different guitars in Japan than they do in the US.

Amusingly to me, the well-reviewed and attractive mid-range Japanese guitar I was so interested in (and that was also perhaps a little out of my price range) was not even being offered for sale in Japan.

Later, while pedaling in the direction of home, I took a slight detour to pass by another Kyoto guitar store called Watanabe, but the shop had already closed. I will stop by there again one day soon to explore.

-Kin’en

After years of thinking I must one day take up guitar, I finally made the decision to do so.

My first step after deciding to learn was to try to find out more about the many different types of guitars.

Acoustic vs. Electric
As I understand from my initial reading and miscellaneous conversations with musicians from years past, an electric guitar is easier to play and more comfortable because less finger effort is required to push down the smaller diameter strings. Some people even recommend starting with an electric guitar for that reason.

Electric guitars can be set up to play with headphones. Electric guitars don’t make much sound without amplification, so it is easier to practice without interrupting the lives of others.

With electrics it also seems that there is less concern about the environment they are kept in. Humidity and temperature may not be a big concern for an electric guitar body’s solid chunk of wood or plastic, whereas some acoustics made out of thin pieces of wood can have problems in very dry or very humid places if care is not taken in their storage.

My Choice
Though I expect to end up owning more than one type of guitar eventually, I want to start by getting the kind of guitar I am most interested in playing and not base my decision on what seems practical or easier.

I have decided I want to start with a steel-stringed acoustic guitar or more specifically an ‘electric acoustic‘, which is an acoustic guitar with built-in electronics to aid in amplification when needed.

I expect I will experiment with an ‘easier to play’ electric guitar at some point in the future, but I feel strongly that an acoustic guitar is the place to start for me and will likely be more suited to my composition interests.

Also, I don’t want to learn on something that is somewhat easier to play and then be faced with an additional handicap if I should have the opportunity to pick up a regular (acoustic) guitar in my early training. On top of all that, it’s not really appealing to me to be reliant on electricity at all times if I want to get a nice sound out of my first guitar.

Incidentally, classical guitars hold some appeal for me as well because of my interest in fingerstyle playing, but that is not the path I am choosing to take at this time. Classical guitars are acoustic guitars of course, but with notable differences in the neck and strings compared to a steel-string guitar.

I am sure this is an oversimplification of the differences in guitars and there are of course many different subcategories and hybrids within the acoustic and electric division.

Now that I am certain I want an acoustic electric, maybe I have whittled my options down to only a thousand or so different current guitar models.

-Kin’en

“I plan to use the site primarily to share guitar progression observations, a few cool photos, a little audio
and to introduce some aspects of Japan that many people might not be familiar with.”

In The Beginning
Some moons ago as a result of a sudden decision to learn guitar, I started a personal journal online to document my guitar journey.

This ‘sudden’ decision was one that had been in the making since childhood. However, meeting new friends in Kyoto who were already highly capable guitarists prompted me to finally become serious about giving the guitar a serious go.

The Original Plan
I was about to fly back to the US for a few months and wanted to challenge myself to see what I could accomplish with a guitar while away from Japan. One of my motivations was my desire to play guitar with my friends when I returned to Kyoto.

Even before returning to the US and purchasing a guitar, I began sharing notes about my early research online and about my visits to the many guitar shops of Kyoto as I tried to figure out how I was going to get started.

I included a good amount of commentary about Japan since it is where I was living part-time (and for this year at least, almost full-time), while still keeping most of the posts guitar and music oriented.

Once I started practicing in the US, I attempted to document every minute I was playing and I kept detailed notes about every study resource I was experimenting with.

Failure
I soon found I was spending more time writing and slavishly detailing every moment of my practice time than I was spending actually practicing. That is largely presented now as an excuse for the microscopic progression I experienced during the few hours in total that I did practice.

I have many more excuses to toss in the hat for my lack of progress, including a scary back injury that put me flat on my back for several months. In the end though, none of my excuses are very good ones, and it could be said fairly that I failed in my short-term goal.

Though my initial progression was indeed miniscule, I did accomplish one simple feat; I didn’t given up.

From the Ashes of ‘Near Defeat’
It is important to document one’s practice regimen of course, and there might be some guitarists that enjoy perusing lists of minutiae from another guitarist’s practice routines, but the simple truth is that my main goal with a guitar is to learn how to play the darn thing well enough that I can begin using it as a composition tool. My mission is certainly not to teach the world how to play guitar (something I cannot even do myself yet).

I discovered in my failure that a website about me learning how to play guitar, that takes up so much time that it hinders my ability to learn how to play guitar, might not be such a good idea.

If there is some value in sharing the process I am going through, I think the most informative or entertaining posts I was writing were the general guitar topic explorations and research commentaries that might be relevant to new and progressing guitarists, along with a few stories of my personal experiences in Japan mixed in.

Those types of posts are relatively easy and fun for me to write and don’t require hours of chart creation or lengthy practice summaries that attempt to document and explain every single decision I am making as it relates to my guitar studies and practice time. On the original site, I was even trying to write mini reviews of all the online teaching resources I came across.

I will still share some practice overviews for those who might be curious. I need to document such things for myself anyway, but those posts will be brief.

The important stuff and all the guitar activities I am involved with will be evident here, but now I am going to write mostly for fun and to fuel my enthusiasm for progress. I plan to use the site primarily to share guitar progression observations, a few cool photos, a little audio and to introduce some aspects of Japan that many people might not be familiar with.

I will keep some of the original posts in this new incarnation of the site to provide a back story and so there is a base to continue from.

A lot of very interesting things are going on now in my guitar life as I attempt to get back on the horse. I hope my stories are of interest to other progressing guitarists.

What I Have Learned So Far
There are certainly millions of ways to approach the guitar, but if I have only 1 bit of wisdom to share about learning guitar at this point, it would be this…

  • Allow yourself to love playing. (even when you are terrible)

I am sure I will elaborate on this in the future, but the main point of it for me is that I find it critically important to focus on the pleasure of practicing RIGHT NOW, not only on the perceived greater pleasure I might experience once I have developed some level of proficiency.

‘Ganbarou’ to you and I both.
-Kin’en

First Kyoto Guitarist Japanese Word of the Day
Ganbarou (がんばろう) – Let’s do our best. :-)

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