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Visit to Mori-san

Visit to Mori-san

Yesterday, on my first day back in Japan, I unexpectedly found myself in Yasu, about an hour from Kyoto. I visited the Mori family, who are one of the last families who do the traditional indigo dyeing process from start to finish: growing the indigo plants, composting the leaves to make the “tskumo” the dyestuff, and then dyeing both silk threads and washi paper.  His son is the 5th generation to continue this work.  It is always such an inspiration to see the great pride that Japan’s traditional artisans take in their work, the careful and precise process and the exquisite finished product.  The Mori’s have the honor of dyeing the washi paper used on the tearoom wall at Katsura Imperial Villa, and have done other special dye projects for the Imperial family.   Note the giant chyrsanthemum plants guarding the drying indigo...
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Cultural Immersion Visits: Gold Leaf Artist

Cultural Immersion Visits: Gold Leaf Artist...

This is the first video we did, and still one of my favorites. This work is so amazing…
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Sword Holding

Sword Holding

We often get requests from travelers who want to visit a “swordmaker” based on their casual interest in the Japanese sword, or katana.   However, the world of swordmaking in Japan is not quite a spectator sport and, for the most part, unless you’re truly a collector or a potential purchaser of a sword (which runs upwards of $20,000), visiting a swordmaker is just not easily done.  There are, however, a few festivals and exhibitions throughout the year that include public displays of swordmaking.   One is in the Nagano area, in the town of Sakaki, where a series of workshops are done during a two month period in the late spring.  Another is in the town of Seki, where traditional Japanese sword making is demonstrated to the public at the Cutlery Festival every year. Another option, though, for a true aficionado is a visit to one of the many artisans on the periphery of the sword world – including those artist masters of the various fittings and elements.  We had one such opportunity with a visit to a master sword polishing school.   This ancient discipline has been handed down for generations and hundreds of years.   The polishing of swords is an art, and the practitioners in Japan apprentice for years before going out on their own.  In addition to understanding all the nuances of polishing, they also must become experts on the history of the swords they polish, the evolution of metallurgy, the creation of their own tools and even geology (since polishing is done with a variety of stones, each more finely grained than the last). The most unusual aspect of the polishing is the set up for polishing, with a bench that allows the polisher to perch part of his body on one foot, wrapping one toe around the base and then balance the sword in front on him.   Below I’ve included a picture of my guinea pig boyfriend trying to manage the correct position – not recommended for those without significant yoga practice and strong feet. The best part of the visit, though, for someone with a true love of swords, was an opportunity to learn how to correctly hold and examine a sword and, in the course of doing so, to handle blades as old as 800 years.   Sword collectors in Japan take great care with their collections and regular and correct polishing is necessary to maintain the blade.   Visiting a sword polisher was an interesting way to gain a greater understanding of the depth of love the Japanese have for their...
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Knife Making in Takefu

Knife Making in Takefu

There are lots of places in Japan to see various artists and artisans, but one of the more unusual is Takefu – where you can go to a forgery where a wide variety of artists create knives.   These aren’t just regular dinner knives – but knives taken to a new level of mastery. Various artists work here, creating works of art with unique patterns created through special forging and polishing techniques.  To get there, you take a cab ride some miles out of town (from the train station).  You’re dropped off at a large, free-standing building in what seems like the middle of nowhere.   Upon entry, there’s an open area with displays of the history of some of the artisans and a wide variety of products on sale.   There’s a self-touring area where you can watch the various works in progress, from the steel creating to forging and polishing.  It’s got some great photo opportunities – here are a few samples.  The most interesting part about this is that, as with so many aspects of Japan, you will find a group of artists who are dedicated to their art and continuing it on to the next generation.  There’s a wall picture that depicts the various masters and their students – a profound way of sharing their pride in both craft and...