As expected, I had a great time in Kyoto. Each of the events scheduled was memorable and enjoyable. Visiting the artisans made me think more deeply about the trade offs of modernization.
As for the artisans, Miyamoto-san impressed me with his deep commitment to the religious foundations of his art while still innovating and assimilating new ideas. He had clearly considered what he wanted to convey with his art and how best to do it. I think Miyamoto-san was elegant in the way he balanced marketability and message in his more modern pieces. His focus on spurring interest as opposed to forcing information down peoples’ throats is intelligent.
Yamamoto-san was a real inspiration; he is the sole practitioner of his craft. Even though the future of his work is uncertain, he never stops looking for ways to reach out and improve. He probably had the most novel ways of displaying his work; from hotel lobbies to art shows. Looking at the mirror I got from him I can’t help but be amazed by his attention to detail and respect for his work.
Amae-san surprised me with his unconventional tea ceremony but I still had a largely positive experience. I expected to be nervous and uncomfortable during the ceremony but it turned out to be quite relaxed. It was a special opportunity for me to experience something I thought was probably out of my reach. The organization was suspect at times; however I’m not too concerned about that in light of the peace I felt throughout most of the ceremony.
Professor Pellechia and Udaka-san helped me appreciate Noh much more than I otherwise would’ve. Many of the traditions of Noh seem downright silly at first but make a lot more sense when you have some context. The reverse-moonwalk is a good example of this. It’s really necessary to use an alternative method of walking to keep the masks level. Before learning about that I would’ve just felt more alienated by it. Both Professor Pellechia and Udaka-san also brought a lot of excitement to what I honestly expected to be a somewhat lifeless art. I’d like to revisit Noh sometime in the future and see how it strikes me then.
Tatsumura-san was quiet but it was easy to see the passion he has for Nishijin weaving. He and his family not only preserved historical weaving methods but went to great lengths to recover long lost techniques. He’s also committed to keeping the entire traditional infrastructure of weaving by hiring local, traditional craftsmen. We met some of the dyers and pattern planners he worked with. All showed an astounding degree of skill and dedication. It was very impressive to see a fully functional community of artisans given how much pressure there’s been on the industry.
One thing that all of these artisans had in common was that they were holding onto traditions that had in most cases been outmoded by industrialization or modern culture. For me this was admirable but also somewhat puzzling. I tend to be very eager for innovation and see an intrinsic history in even the most cutting-edge developments. For example, the Jacquard looms we saw didn’t just fade into the ether elsewhere. Instead, they helped inspire punch card computers which were pivotal in bringing about modern computing. I guess I’ve always seen the present as the ultimate culmination of the past. This trip made me question whether this passive interaction with history I’ve always advocated is really sufficient. I realized that there was something valuable being lost with the analytical and indifferent culling of tradition.
In thinking about this, I saw parallels between my attitude on history and my picture-taking habits. I’ve never been much of a camera person. I’ve seen it, I think, and if it’s important then I’ll remember it; there’s no reason to take pictures! It’s the same mindset I have with preserving history. But on this trip I found myself taking many more pictures than usual. Granted, it was nothing like the 10,000 pictures (no exaggeration) that my mom would’ve taken but it was several hundred. I think I might’ve been taking pictures for the same reason these artisans were continuing their work. Namely, I took pictures so I could share with others the experience I was having. I also photographed scenes that resonated with me in some way.
This is probably why most people take pictures. It still doesn’t quite explain why I started just then. My best guess is that on some level I saw that what I was experiencing too much to process correctly as it happened. Really I was just beginning to admit the fallibility of perception and on-the-fly intellect. Interestingly, this is an idea that permeated our trip. It was especially explicit during our meditation sessions. Just as humans can only process so much at once, the progression of history can only preserve so much at once. These crafts are pictures, reminders of ideas that are worth remembering but may have fallen temporarily out of favor. They are a supplemental memory, used to store what can’t be immediately understood or put to practical use.
Though this entry is already long, I’d be remiss not to mention how the interactions I had with group members changed me. Our circumstances caused me to engage more frequently and deeply with people than I ever had at school. No cell phones or school work to orchestrate a smooth getaway! I saw that making connections with others could be more than just anxiety-inducing or draining. Everyone was so pleasant to be around even when they were exhausted or frustrated and could’ve easily snapped. While much of what I saw in Kyoto was meaningful, I think this might have been the most important aspect of the trip for me.