[kokeshi description]
  • artisan : Tatsuo Sato
  • type : Traditional Yajiro
  • tall : 24cm(10inch)
  • max width : 7cm(3inch)

What is "DO"(道)?

There is a variety of something-"DO(道)" in Japan - "JU-DO":martial arts,"KA-DO":art of flower arrangement,"Sa-DO":art of tea ceremony,"BUSHI-DO":practical ethics of old warriors,and all the rest. I have even heard "EIGO-DO",that is,"English language-DO".

It is proper to translate "DO" as "way" in English because the word "way" has a variety of meanings as much as the word "DO",which includes the meanings originally such as 'route' or 'path',and in expanse,'method' or 'approach' or 'style' or 'manner' etc. And "the way of  life" - actually,the word "DO" has the nuance of  "dedication".

So, the above "EIGO-DO" is that "you have to completely devote yourself to mastering English!" -one book about it says the following: "Use only English,not Japanese in your daily life, read a copy of TIME more than 100 times, talk to all the foreign people whom you could meet across in the street, and you will master English!" - I often used to go and talk to them in Roppongi, Tokyo according to its precept, but I gave it up later because it cost too much - people who were willing to reply to me were all barkers of "unreasonable" show pub.

Silly talk aside, "DO" itself has discipline or rules - in Kado, Japanese flower arrangement, you have to master much detailed rules - choice of seasonable flower, order of several kinds of flowers, length and angle of branch or flower... these are quite compulsory, so some people leave its lesson, but others who remain say, "these rules have real meaning" - although I'm quite a stranger to Kado, I can understand what they say.

If we want to express sense of the season of tender green as liveliness or vitality, we could choose flowers with rich foliage and make arrangement to emphasize rather its foliage than flowers. But there is a variety of limitation - space limitation or plant trait or something. So, Kado masters have repeated trial and error to express their feelings effectively within limitation -the accumulations of their creative efforts are such detailed rules.

"Limitation" - if we want to purely enjoy flowers or trees, we can just go and see them or we can garden. But the basis of Kado is "to appreciate the sense of the season through plants in a room(usually, "washitsu", a kind of Japanese-style room)". So,many detailed rules -these are also all decoration techniques- underlie this basic standpoint.


Considering it, kokeshi,especially traditional kokeshi seem to have much limitation - the first is "wooden", the second is "(like) doll ", the third is "with no limbs", the forth is "by using lathe"... these are "intentionally-defined" limitation and even "unwritten" rules. I am really surprised that artisans have followed these rules - if I were an artisan, I would have complained about them -"give me liberty!" - and an old stubborn artisan would say to me, "Do what you should before that!"

Then, what's the basic standpoint in crafting kokeshi? After all, I think it is "the craft by wood turning" - however, there is another craft by wood turning -lacquer ware. So,accurately, it is "the craft by wood turning without lacquer". Historically, they have taken pride in their skills - I'll talk about it as a theme of "Kijishi",woodworkers some time.

I think crafting kokeshi is a kind of "DO(道)" in the sense that artisans devote themselves to it. And "DO" is not limited to matters of Japan - whatever people devote themselves to. It doesn't matter whether it has strict formality or not - rather, its extreme formality even leaves people cold in Japan - actually, Sado or Kado are not as popular as they used to be - they used to be much popular as "training for married life" in Japan!

I think one of the reasons is peremptory teaching - basically, "No buts.Do as you are told!" - how many times I heard the word when I practised Judo - But sorry to say, modern Japanese aren't as obedient as old Japanese. So, I think instructors or coaches had better use more explanation in their coaching or training  - for example, the reason or meaning of suitable stem length or highly-attractive flower angle or something - if they really want to hand down the value of their tradition. Incidentally, as for my Judo practice, I had obeyed my coach from child as an "old Japanese", but I was just slow to realized "not all men are created equal in talent for sport".


What's Tohoku in Japan_3?

[kokeshi description]
  • artisan : Tsunekichi Abe
  • type : traditional Zao
  • tall : 15cm(6inch)
  • max width : 8cm(3inch)

Isabella Bird's View of Tohoku

Isabella Lucy Bird says in her author,"Unbeaten Tracks in Japan"(below *notes marked by me),
The plain of Yonezawa(*town in Tohoku),with the prosperous town of Yonezawa in the south,and the frequented watering-place of Akayu(*spa spot in Tohoku) in the north,is a perfect garden of Eden,"tilled with a pencil instead of a plough,"growing in rich profusion rice,cotton,maize,tobacco,hemp,indigo,beans,egg-plants,walnuts,melons,cucumbers,persimmons,apricots,pomegranates;a smiling and plenteous land,an Asiatic Arcadia,...(LETTER XVIII)
Of-course,she doesn't blindly praise them.She also write much about the situation of poor peasants or wretched places "every daimiyo'(*local lord) town that I have seen has an air of decay"(LETTER XIX).But,
Shinjo(*town in Tohoku) has a large trade in rice, silk,and hemp,and ought not to be as poor as it looks(LETTER XIX)
I can see rugged people of the day in Tohoku in it.And when I read this book,"the scales fell from my eyes" - "the scales" for me was my "pre-existing bias" - the bias of "poor and pitiable Tohoku".Surely "tilled with a pencil instead of a plough",but this was common landscape in other regions in Japan as well.She described some shops provided "villainous forgeries of European eatables and drinkables" in Tohoku,but it even gave me a surprise - they had some knowledge about European food or drink even in rustic Tohoku- although "they would be hurtful enough" - although I also agree to this.

I think her view is relatively objective because she didn't need to have the same "scales" just as we have.So I conclude - "Tohoku was poor,but it was as poor as the other regions".

Then,why they suffered from starving later? - there are many analysis by authorities,but roughly speaking,"the government didn't put a priority on 'welfare' in the broad sense of the term -  including improvement of regional gap or adjustment of industrial structure" - although it is another matter whether such policy was feasible or not at that time.

True Intent of My Boss

"Poor Tohoku" - the reason why I talked about it is not simply because of complaint about unfair treatment - most modern people in Tohoku even seem lack of concern -,but rather because of "defogger" - which enables us to see it clearly and even to offer new insight into it.In that sense,Isabella Bird'book expanded my knowledge about old Tohoku - such as the custom of 'Touji',hot spring cure or aspect of old Japanese inns - first of all,she visited many places where I haven't visited yet! 

Anyway,there was a sequel to my boss's joke.After our wedding ceremony,I asked him -he got much drunk - "was your joke a little risky,wasn't it?"

He replied,"Sure,but that was the result of consideration.I often hear some Aizu people still dislike Yamaguchi people.If I had kept my mouth shut about my hometown,and they had been told from the others about it,what would have happened?" I said,"I don't know".

he acted as if he fell himself to the ground."they might have bawled at me 'you,coward!'and cut me with katana,Japanese sword" - apart from his drunk clowning,he made consideration accordingly.And he added,"cause...Aizu was the region of 'Bushido' - yes,Aizu was famous for its strict Bushido,the precept of samurai,warrior.

I said,"hmm,I see.But if they had raged about your joke,what would you have done?"
He said to me with a grin "you already said,'I commit Seppuku!'.Maybe they would accept it because you-and-me is subordinate-boss relationship.And Bushido values 'loyalty to master'".

He already prepared his risk-hedge! - too regretfully,I should have said another precept of Bushido to him.

"But Bushido also says,'if your master is stupid and unreasonable,you should rectify him'". 


What's Tohoku in Japan_2?

What's Boshin War?

The above image was quoted from Wikipedia,"Boshin War" and the area drawn with green broken line in it is Tohoku region.

Before taking about it,I'll briefly summarize the modern history of Japan.

  1. 1603 to 1868 :Era of Edo - feudal regime by Tokugawa Shogunate
  2. 1868 to 1945 :Era of "Imperial Japan" -until the defeat in WWⅡ
  3. 1945 to Present:Era of modern Japan

Disaffected people -mainly people in south-west region in Japan,who knew the global dynamics of the day - overturned the Tokugawa feudal regime and established the new government of constitutional monarchy in 1868 - "Imperial Japan".

Boshin War occurred in 1868-1869,which was a string of wars to overturn Tokugawa and to hunt down its supporters.And Tohoku was much involved in it as "rebels".

Most clans in Tohoku were allied together right after the surrender of Tokugawa.The alley was originally intended not for "fight against the new government",but for "petition for them" - to ask them for mercy to Aizu clan and Shonai clan,both in Tohoku,positively involved on the side of Tokugawa.Both clans declared the intention to yield to the new government after the surrender of Tokugawa -but "it was too late".

The new government refused the petition.Instead,they even ordered the other clans in Tohoku to hunt down Aizu because they regarded Aizu as "the worst war criminal" - actually,Aizu had strongly fought against them until the surrender of Tokugawa.So Aizu was the most punishable enemy to them.

Finally,Aizu totally surrendered after strong and cruel wars and the other clans in Tohoku also surrendered.And It was Choshu clan that had the strong initiative in the new government.

(Actually,even still,this is one of "touchy subjects" in Japan - here are too many historic contexts and too many miserable stories that "may or may not be true".I intend to note only minimum level of facts).

So,my boss's joke was based on this historical incident -"I come from Yamaguchi prefecture,old name 'Choshu' and I know you come from Fukushima,old name 'Aizu'.We were mutual enemies about 100 years ago,But now here,we've just signed a peace cord!!".

The Image of  "Poor Tohoku"

This brought a negative image about Tohoku to many other Japanese -"uncivilized".They thought that Tohoku people were so barbaric that they went against the tide of the new government.Actually,there were many old records left in which their customs or manners or even their dialect were described as uncivilized - this is just a stereotype of "Losers are always in the wrong".

What is worse was that several natural disasters struck Tohoku in 1910s-1930s,and the people starved.These determined the image of "poor Tohoku" - "To show pity is felt as a sign of contempt because one has clearly ceased to be an object of fear as soon as one is pitied"(Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche," the wanderer and his shadow") - quite literally,most Japanese mindsets for Tohoku changed to "pity".

But "really always poor?" - there is an old book about Tohoku,written by an English writer who traveled in Tohoku in 1878,in the early in the era of Imperial Japan - "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan" by Isabella Lucy Bird.

It taught me another aspect of Tohoku.I'll talk about it next time.


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