A foreign resident of Japan sent me a response to my last article, published at the end of May. Like me, he worries about the decline of Japanese traditional culture and assumes that the decline is caused by the Japanese education system. In fact, textbooks used in compulsory education (i.e. elementary and JHS), hardly touch on Japanese culture and tradition or even Japanese traditional artwork at all. Furthermore, as the news that some high school students were not qualified to graduate due to lack of credits revealed, high school education focuses solely on passing college entrance examinations and does not pay much attention to our history.
Another person commented that my article was partly negative and unproductive. I assume the sense of negativity the reader felt stemmed from my strong sense of urgency. I hope all readers are aware of my continual and practical efforts to educate people about Japanese culture through my antique shop business and the production of the Honkin Maki-e wineglasses I wrote about in my previous article.
Most Japanese people do not know a lot about Japanese artwork, culture or traditions, because Japan has been ignoring them, instead choosing to focus on globalization. The cultural naivete can also be attributed to a post-war education system that has distorted our view of WWII. Moreover, a decrease in the number of job opportunities in traditional craft work and an increase of cheap goods and imitations manufactured by other Asian countries has weakened the traditional craft industry.
Traditional skills such as "maki-e," which I wrote about in the previous article, are improved by repetitive practice, just like learning the piano or the violin. The younger a craftsman is, the more he should produce, to train his skills until he finds essence of the beauty based on his established skills. However, the situation these days is too harsh to allow the craftsman to cultivate his skills. A young craftsman I knew worked part-time at a convenience store to supplement his meager income from maki-e. Ultimately, when he got engaged, he had to quit his maki-e job to work full time at the convenience store, for the stable salary the job offered. I designed the "Honkin Maki-e wineglasses" to help such young craftsmen.
Even if it is traditional and is made with excellent skill, nothing can exist if it is not required. Even if bowls and tiered food boxes that have fallen out of use are beautifully decorated by maki-e, they will be a waste. "Honkin Maki-e wineglasses" were created with a fundamental change in mind: if the demand for urushi lacquerware decorated with maki-e is decreasing, we will decorate the goods that are in demand with maki-e. It is my fondest wish that real skills are passed down to the next generation through this production process.
Thanks to Mr. Wolfgang J Angyal, Riedel Japan President, and Ms. Yuko Yoshida, PR manager of Riedel Japan, the beautiful canvas of Riedel wineglasses, which come in various shapes to fit different wines and have been recommended by many sommeliers, are now decorated with maki-e. Last autumn, when Mr. Georg Riedel, the chairman of Riedel, and his wife, Mrs. Riedel, came to visit Fuji-Torii from Austria, a maki-e craftsman came from Kyoto and demonstrated how to paint maki-e. The young craftsman was given strong words of encouragement by an enthusiastic Mr. Riedel, however, such a successful example is very rare in the field of Japanese art.|
The erosion of traditional craftwork is not limited to Japan. I heard a story from a friend of mine who went to the U.S. He was interested in the spirit of Native Americans and sought silver jewelry made by Native Americans, but almost all the jewelry he found was made in China. The traditional craftwork, which was originally very different from the mass-produced, industrialized replicas, has been engulfed by an age in which efficiency and profit are prioritized. As a result, workers all over the world with real skills lose their jobs and cannot pass down their skills to the next generation.
Regardless of which country, traditional crafts are rooted in the skills and spirit of their own culture. They represent the pride of the nation. Some Japanese people say that they can live without traditional crafts. Sure, if they only want to exist, plastic products are enough. However, it sounds to me like they believe they can survive without Japan. I fear that they deny their own culture and traditions, perhaps even their own existence.
Please send your comment or opinion to H-ADV@asahi.com