Japan, Attention to Detail


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A portfolio of photographs of Japan, its unique style, at once so simple and so complex. Black & white photographs plus commentary, taken in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Sendai and Morioka, in connection with the World Craft Council Conference in 1978.

Hardcover with jacket, 11” x 8.5”, 48 pages, 52 images, published 2009, $80 ppd.

Published in: Travel, News & Politics
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Japan, Attention to Detail

  1. 1. JAPAN, ATTENTION TO DETAILphotographs by Clare Brett Smith
  2. 2. Lantern, Yakushiji Temple East Pagoda, Nara
  3. 3. In 1978 Japan was new and mysterious to me.Unable to read the signs or understand thelanguage, I seldom knew what I was seeing.Although unnerving in some ways, this madefor a certain innocence. I didnt have a readypoint of view. I didnt need to understandwhat came up before my eyes. Everything inJapan seemed careful, formal and composed,intentional, with nothing left to chance. Butbecause I didnt know the intentions, myreactions were just the opposite, free andspontaneous. I could simply appreciate thepatterns, the shapes, the light and shadowsand enjoy all the details. This, then, is aportfolio of what I saw and what I liked. Clare Brett Smith October 2009 1
  4. 4. Prayers, paper wishes tied to a line2
  5. 5. Kyoto
  6. 6. Nara, hands of Buddha4
  7. 7. Sendai, a monk at a festival 5
  8. 8. Incense Sticks, above, and Temple Grove, with prayers, on the opposite page6
  9. 9. 7
  10. 10. Kyoto, pavement8
  11. 11. Kyoto, Water for the Tea Ceremony 9
  12. 12. 10 Kyoto
  13. 13. Paper Umbrella Fragments 11
  14. 14. Serenity and the Rising Sun After visiting the gardens of Kyoto, the temples, the monks, hearing far-off bells and gongs, and experiencng the calm order of a formal tea ceremony, even the water shining on the pavement doubled in meaning and became a sort of Zen reflection. I brought notions from my childhood to Japan: a memory of magical paper flowers opening and floating up through a glass of water, of tiny intricate toys, of kites and kimonos, and Gilbert & Sullivans "We are Gentlemen of Japan" from "The Mikado". Later, frightening memories: the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, The Yellow Peril propaganda, Nanking, Bataan, the horror of Hiroshima. More recently: appreciation: of Japans special imagination; of simple, elegant design in the book "How to Wrap Three Eggs", of woodcuts, Zen Buddhism. of Sushi, Haiku, Issey Miyake and Hello Kitty, of Kurosawas films, and, to my personal benefit, the refined technology of Nikon.12
  15. 15. Festival in Morioka 13
  16. 16. 14 Morioka
  17. 17. Kyoto, Geisha 15
  18. 18. Tokyo Restaurant16
  19. 19. Tokyo 17
  20. 20. Kyoto, new and old18
  21. 21. Kyoto, the same women 19
  22. 22. Morioka woman20
  23. 23. Nara, laborer 21
  24. 24. Kyoto playtime22
  25. 25. Princess Michiko in Kyoto 23
  26. 26. In Morioka, preparing the teapot mold 25
  27. 27. Temple Lanterns26
  28. 28. A Vase by Kawai Kanjio 27
  29. 29. 28
  30. 30. Kawais kiln on the left and, above, his study 29
  31. 31. Kyoto30
  32. 32. The photographs on the following two pagesshow woodworkers restoring the Yakushijitemple in Nara. Its large scale, muscularwork, but Japanese wood-workers are alsoknown for clever and intricate highly skilledwhittling, like these small 6"- 8" birds webought at a store in Sendai. 31
  33. 33. Yakushiji, Nara32
  34. 34. 33
  35. 35. Morioka Farmhouse, above, and Haystacks, right34
  36. 36. 35
  37. 37. Rice Grains36
  38. 38. Morioka Farmhouse Porch 37
  39. 39. 38
  40. 40. Feeling the Vigor of People, Looking for Their PatternsDid I "see Japan"? I am never sure how truthful myperceptions are, but I have learned to trust themanyway. The more I looked, the bolder I becameabout photographing people. Soon I began tonotice action and energy more than stillness. I saw itin the bounce of boys in harlequin-like paradecostumes, in streaks of light in dark city streets andfaces catching the light, open smiles and crinkledfaces, the fluid grace of Princess Michiko bowing togreet a potter, the crammed and noisy Pachinkoparlors and friendly folks at the busy Yakatori all-night eateries under the bridges in Tokyo. 39
  41. 41. Sendai restaurant doorway40
  42. 42. 41
  43. 43. 42
  44. 44. SIGNS & PORTENTS... Was that really a restaurant behindthe indigo curtains? (It smelled good in the doorway.) Werethose welcome banners in the trees? Should we cross thestreet? Is that an angry god or a kite? How do we know whatis expected and what is not allowed? It was strange to feelso ignorant yet, somehow, not uncomfortable. 43
  45. 45. The World Craft Council & "Living National Treasures" Japan recognized craft masters as "Living National Treasures" (formally defined as "Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties") long ago in 1950, and so it was particularly appropriate for the World Craft Council to have its annual meeting in Japan. KYOTO 1978 was not the final meeting of World Crafts Council, but it was certainly the most impressive. Where else in the world would Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko take such serious interest in the many master craftspeople who attended from all around the world? Not all the delegates were actually craftspeople, but all were people deeply interested in artisans, their work, their heritage and the high degree of skill they represent. I was lucky to be one of them. Above Left , Jack Lenor Larsen, textile designer with an American potter. Below Right, Daniel Cobblah, famous Ghanaian potter and VP for Africa of the World Craft Council Below, Dora de Larios, ceramic artist from California.44
  46. 46. Kawai Kanjiro, gave us an insight into the integrated life of an artist. The words in his motto, "We Do Not Work Alone", are words that could - and should - inspire all of us throughout our lives. What was I doing in Kyoto? As folk art importers, Burge and I represented the necessary commercial side of craft. Because we Olga Fisch, Craft Specialist from Ecuador imported crafts from Haiti and Mexico, I was asked to represent the many artisans of Haiti and to mount a photo and weaving exhibit, The Serape Weavers of Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, in one of the conference halls.There were exhibits, speeches, demonstrations and classes,and after the formal WCC business, an assortment of optional trips. Onetrip was to northern Japan, to Morioka, where the famous iron teapotsare still made by hand, each hobnail pressed into the mold, one at a Below, Barbara Adachi, American expert intime. Although metalwork was the official focus in Morioka, we also Bunraku, traditional Japanese puppetry, with Clarehoped to see the countryside. We knew traditional agricultural life was Smith and one of our our Japanese hostsintensive but we were amazed to see individual apples, still on the trees,each one wrapped in paper to protect them from the wasps and hornetsthat would attack the moment the fruit ripened.Another visit, near Kyoto, gave us the chance to see the ongoingrestoration work of one of Naras most celebrated ancient woodenTemples, Yakushiji, a contrast of modern technology, hard hats andsteel scaffolding with ancient joinery.A visit to the simple home and studio in Kyoto (a museum since hisdeath in 1966) of the modest but world famous potter, 45
  47. 47. A ROYAL VISIT: Hands-on sessions with master craftspeople were part of the World Craft Council 1978 Conference in Kyoto and my husband, Burges, wearing glasses at left, enrolled in woodcarving. The other gentleman, also wearing glasses, on the right, was Crown Prince Akihito, now Emperor of Japan, with his wife, then Crown Princess Michiko.46
  48. 48. Introduction to the tea ceremony 47
  49. 49. 48
  50. 50. © copyright Clare Brett Smith, October 2009