Custom-made in Japan
Japan! Where does one begin when talking about its traditions that span over twenty centuries? While living in Japan from 1996 to 1999, I used to breathe a sigh of relief when I found a Western-style toilet in a restaurant. Japanese inns made for a difficult night of sleep because the traditional pillows resembled cloth bags packed with dried pinto beans and the futon just didn't have the same comfortable give of a mattress; I found myself choosing the beds of the Hilton or Holiday Inn. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the modern, "real" Japan suited my tastes. I knew that less than a hundred years ago, I wouldn't have had such choices--it was amazing that a country with more than 2000 years of history had changed so much in a mere century.
But the dark side of this change was all too apparent. I met Ms. Murata, a country woman who makes her own indigo dye from the leaves of the ai plant. She's one of only a handful of people who still do so; naturally-made indigo has been almost obliterated by new synthetic dyes. I befriended Mr. Toji, a man who for 30 years has been playing the shakuhachi bamboo flute, one of Japan's traditional musical instruments, which dates back to the 7th century A.D! Six years ago, he had moved to a remote area in the mountains where the pace of life is still slow, to teach lessons and craft his own flutes. Kyoto had become too frenetic and fewer people were opting to take the time necessary to learn to play the shakuhachi. These artisans all told me the same story--their traditions and many others like them, are quickly dying.
The idea for the Japanese Connection was conceived to expand the audience and potential pupils for a small (yet huge!) niche of Japanese heritage--arts and crafts--beyond the traditional watery borders of Japan. A friend suggested I call the site "dyingarts.com" and we laughed at the dark joke, but sobered just as quickly.
click here to go to http://www.thejapaneseconnection.com