Sunday, November 29, 2015

Workshops of Magewappa in San Francisco!

Yes, it's true!  There will be workshops by the craftsman of 'Magewappa Bento Box' in San Francisco!

Shibata Yoshinobu Shouten will visit SF from Akita, Japan, to demonstrate and show how to make their exquisite cedar-wood box.  They will bring the pieces of Natural Akita Cedar from Akita and show how to fold them into a bento box.  Then, you can actually learn how to make your own nail-free bento box!
It is an amazing opportunity to see a fantastic craftsman at work and perhaps get an early christmas gift!

Dec 10: 6:00 - 8:30 pm at Workshop Residence

Dec 12: 1:00 - 4:00 pm at Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California

Related blogs:
Yoshinobu Shibaya, Master of Magewappa Making
Magewappa Master 1 - Constant Invention
Magewappa Master 2 - Interaction with the heart

Friday, November 27, 2015

Kenji Miyazawa - the Japanese 'Farmer-Poet'

This follows from the last article that talks about Kenji Miyazawa

Although in his later life he lived as a poor farmer, he was actually born into a wealthy family, and was educated at a school that is now called the Iwate University Agricultural Department.  He was smart, humorous, and was honored by his classmates.  But what appealed to most people about him was his genuine kindness and compassion towards people.

Iwate is located in the northern part of Japan, which has a severe cold winter.  This was the area that was affected recently by the Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.  In his time, farmers suffered when there was a cold summer and crops didn't grow.  His family ran a pawnshop and he saw the farmers coming to sell their kimonos and furniture when they had a bad harvest.  Seeing these farmers deeply affected to his life.  He came to have sense of shame of his wealthy environment and resisted taking over his family business.

After graduating from school, he left home to follow his dream of becoming a writer in Tokyo.  During this time, he wrote many of his famous stories, including the collection novels later published as 'The restaurant of many orders' with the help of his friend from school, Shiro Oikawa.  This was his only collection of novels published while he was alive - it became hugely popular after he passed away.

However, after 6 months living in Tokyo, he moved back to Iwate because of his sister's illness and became a teacher at a farming school.  He was still writing children's literature and poems, including the poems expressing his deep grief when his sister passed away at the age of 24.

Kenji - on the back right
He had a lot of curiosity about art - he learnt Esperanto, played the cello and organ, painted, and composed music.  Although he encouraged his students to farm, he saw it as a paradox that he was teaching farming while never actually cultivating the soil himself, so he left his career and started farming the waste land in the remote area from his home.  There, he gathered the local youth and started teaching the rice cultivating method, soil science, and botany.  He visited other villages as well to teach how to evolve the quality of soil for better farming.  At the same time, he taught the importance of art to these farmers, and held art events such as western music listening and literature reading at his home.

Epitaph to Kenji in Hiei Temple
He wrote a paper, named 'Introduction to Art for Farmers'.  He says, 'Once, our ancestors lived happily in their poverty.  There were art and belief.  But now, we exist only to labor. ..... Today, we have to open up the new path and create beauty from our life.'

After his death, a lot of his works were published by the poets and the writers who were deeply moved by and noticed his incredible talent.  Now, he is known as one of the most prominent poets in Japan.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ame ni mo Makezu, not losing to the rain - by Japanese Poet, Kenji Miyazawa

Kenji Miyazawa (1896 - 1933) is a famous Japanese Poet.  He was from Hanamaki in Iwate, and died young age at 37 years-old from pneumonia, but was quite talented and left many children's literature and poems that have been read and loved by both children and adults for nearly a century.  However, like many other of the greatest artists in history, he had been poor for most of his life and unknown as a poet in his entire lifetime.  He was closely connected to nature, and this makes his perspective of the world in his literature so attractive and profound.

He wrote about his local land of Iwate, described its plain beauty and respected the simple northern farmers' life.  He converted to Nichiren buddism, became a vegetarian, and showed deep compassion for the poor, especially farmers who worked hard but suffered from the severe climate of the region.  He also learnt Esperanto and called his local land, 'Ihatov' which means utopia.  Even today, many of the names in Hanamaki area are written in Esperanto because of his influence.

Here is his most famous poem, Ame ni mo Makezu - Not losing to the rain.

not losing to the rain
not losing to the wind
not losing to the snow nor to summer's heat
with a strong body
not fettered by desire
by no means offending anyone
always quietly smiling
every day four bowls of brown rice
miso and some vegetables to eat
in everything
count yourself last and put others before you
watching and listening, and understanding
and never forgetting
in the shade of the woods of the pines of the fields
being in a little thatched hut
if there is a sick child to the east
going and nursing over them
if there is a tired mother to the west
going and shouldering her sheaf of rice
if there is someone near death to the south
going and saying there's no need to be afraid
if there is a quarrel or a lawsuit to the north
telling them to leave off with such waste
when there's drought, shedding tears of sympathy
when the summer's cold, wandering upset
called a nobody by everyone
without being praised
without being blamed
such a person
I want to become

This is a poem that was found in his diary after he passed away.

The person he dreamt of becoming was not a great writer nor did wish for wealth or status.  His hero was a simple, humble, hardworking, and genuinely kindhearted human being who helped people in need.  His genuine wish while struggling with illness was to think of others and be of help to them.  We tend to be occupied with our own situation and become unhappy.  We tend to argue more rather than listening.
  This poem seems to tell us something more important than achieving or becoming 'something' in life.  He is not someone who achieved something in his lifetime, but a plain but dignified human being.  And yet, he is still highly respected and unintentionally became a hero of his beloved land.

More of his life will follow in the next blog!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The making of Sanuki Branding Iron

This follows from the last article that talks about Sanuki Branding Iron.  

Unfortunately no one is making these branding irons anymore. I hear that they were last made in the 70's; the maker was 77 years old at that time.  Now, when we see these marks on Japanese sweets or other objects, they are done by machine.  

The way to make the mold of yaki-in is quite unique - the mold is made of seaweed and a specific sand found only in a specific beach of Chiba prefecture.  

These two ingredients are mixed together until it becomes like a clay.  Then a motif or picture is drown on the clay-like material.  After the mold is formed, iron is poured in the sunken parts.  When the iron is fixed, you crack the mold of seaweed and sand and they break down.  Since the form is made of 100% organic ingredients from the ocean, it can be reused again. 

If someone is interested in reviving this beautiful handwork, please contact me!