The good things of the past, that’s what we must preserve. They have passed through the hardships of history to become a tradition, and we who are alive today must treasure them, and take care of them for the future.
An Anthology of Good Things
I spent a good part of last weekend engrossed in the latest issue of Kyoto Journal. If you are not familiar with Kyoto Journal (shame on you!), it is a strictly non-profit, award-winning quarterly magazine, produced locally, taking as its theme fresh perspectives from Asia… and it’s good. Now I mean good primarily in terms of content, because the word “magazine” hardly does justice to Kyoto Journal’s consistent high quality, to the range of its content and to the sheer joy of reading it. But also let’s pay more attention to that word non-profit. Kyoto Journal has been produced for the last 23 years by an ever expanding community of volunteers. Not one person who contributes to its creation or production does so for profit. The people who make Kyoto Journal (and there are a lot of them) are motivated to do so by a simple desire to make something… good. So, more than a magazine, Kyoto Journal is an anthology of good things made by good people.
Kyoto Journal #73 takes as its theme traditional crafts and their relationship with the natural world. In his foreword, managing editor Ken Rodgers poses vital questions:
…preservation of nature and our craft heritage safeguards our greatest source of richness. So when and how did we begin to forget this? And what can we do now to revitalize this understanding?
Each of the extraordinary artists, writers and artisans that follow give us their own part of the answer. There are many common themes. On nature, the garden designer and master swordsman, Ono Yotaro gives us warning:
…more than just technique and wisdom… it is nature that shapes craft and tradition. With environmental change, the acquired skills related to this ancient craft will disappear.
And woodblock artist Ezaki Mitsuru contemplates nature’s role in his art. The sense of wonder engendered by the miracle of life, of living things and his own life, “is at the heart of how I create”. His prints both fecund and playful, full of motion and vitality illustrate his point beautifully.
Another theme is the rejuvenation of tradition when two or more cultures meet. Kyoto born Morimoto Kikuo, working to resurrect Cambodia’s traditional art of silk weaving and dyeing, has encouraged different ethnic groups to share and blend their traditions:
I always say that tradition is not only for preserving; we also create a new tradition. This is my basic belief… If we are to protect anything it is nature itself, which supports tradition.
Also blending traditions is Australian textile artist and master weaver Mirka Rozmus. She uses fine Japanese hand-dyed Nishijin silk yarn, with classical western weaving techniques, to create new and beautiful works of art. The results pictured in these pages are astoundingly beautiful. She speaks of her admiration for traditional Japanese crafts, and also of what she has learnt from it, of the necessity for discipline and “self-mastery” and of how this gives life meaning and enables us to “live well, to live happily”.
Many of these artisans show us through their lives the incalculable value of their work. It is incredibly inspiring. Artist and philosopher Ito Akira, whose delightful artwork illustrates his profile, worked with Nepali craftspeople on a book that both documented their craft, and gave them the means to continue it. And in the Philippines, papermaker and innovator Shimura Asao, uses old Japanese hand papermaking techniques with the pulp from pineapple leaves, banana stems and waste rice straw… “In the process he has helped many communities and individuals develop paper crafts originally devised and perfected in Japan…”
Many speak of continuity. Robert Brady writes of the artisan who not only carries on the traditions of his forebears, but works also for the benefit of “people he knows and will never know”, for people “centuries hence”. And Genevieve Wood writes: “tradition is by one definition taking what you know and applying it to what you have, it is not a simple repetition of the past… Tradition is akin to growth.”
In his closing Ramble, Robert Brady, sitting in an antique chair, reflects on antique values and “all the things that in their ways once filled life quietly and elegantly to the brim, how things in themselves used to tell us of one another, and show in their use the care that resided in what we crafted.” Surely these are the things that must be carried forward to future generations?
This is just a small and tasty sampling of what awaits you in Kyoto Journal #73. To read it is to be taken on a whirlwind tour that begins in Japan, and continues through Asia to the world. Ono Yotaro speaks of the need for a “commanding view” in his own work. In Kyoto Journal you are given a global perspective. And the essays, interviews, art, memoirs, fiction, poetry, translations, and reviews packed within its pages will inspire, educate and encourage you. Throughout our world, good people are still making good things.
Kyoto Journal #70: Kyoto Lives. This issue contains a fascinating collection of interviews with the people who breathe life into the modern city; monks and geisha might be expected but it also includes those local people you both notice and don’t notice, like that guy who sells his calligraphy outside Sanjo Station and those people living under the bridges of the Kamogawa…
Kyoto Journal #72: Article 9 and the Imagination. “In two short paragraphs, Article 9 of the post-WWII Japanese Constitution articulates the highest ideal in support of world peace — by actually outlawing war.” This issue explores the power of this ideal, what it means and what it could mean…
In Kyoto, you should be able to find Kyoto Journal at the Junku-do store on the 8th floor of the Bal building (east side of Kawaramachi, south of Sanjo). Kyoto Journal current and back issues should also be available at Green e Books, a secondhand English bookstore on the northeast corner of Marutamachi/Kawabata. It is also available in Kyoto from Maki Shoten, a long-established import food store on Higashioji close by Mototanaka Eiden line station, from Tosai, and Kyoto Nama Chocolat Organic Tea House in Okazaki.
Many thanks to Kyoto Journal for permission to use the images used in this review.