Raised in the tumult of Japan’s industrial powerhouse, the 11 men and women profiled in A Different Kind of Luxury have all made the transition to sustainable, fulfilling lives. Based on Andy Couturier's popular articles in The Japan Times, this lushly designed volume has a wealth of stories about real people who have created an abundance of time for contemplation, connecting with the natural world, and contributing to their communities. In their success is a lesson for us all: live a life that matters. Read an excerpt of the book here or here. Read a review of the book here, here, or here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Have Their Lives Changed in The Past Few Years?

Journalist and author Suzanne Kamata asks “How Have Their Lives Changed Since You Wrote the Book?”
In a previous post I answered that question “not much” Yet--and this is what's so surprising--the changes that they have made are all rooted their in their value systems: there is such a sense of being in this for the long term. As Murata the bamboo flute player says on page 131, "The 'true sound' can't be found in one or two years. Ten years is not enough, twenty years is not enough. The real thing takes a minimum of thirty years."

Yet there have been small changes: some people making their lives a bit more simple, others using machines a little bit more. So, in the order of the chapters, here are a few changes I noticed, with a few new pictures:

San Oizumi's Wife Yuriko and Daughter Sonoe in their Beautiful Dining Room
San Oizumi’s elderly mother has moved into the family house with him and his wife and second daughter.  She’s in her mid 90s and although frail, still participates in discussions (telling about different kinds of joints used in Japanese Carpentry, “Oh, this kind is the ‘devil killer.’”)  Oizumi’s daughter Sonoe has just graduated from university and published her first book of poetry.  The poems are very political, dealing with the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the rearming of Japan, Nuclear power.  She’s really  wise.  I groused about how few people read poetry anymore, and she said that while that’s true, for that very reason people can hear poems in a completely fresh way.  Ozumi himself has constructed a wonderful Chinese style tea house (Chinese tea in Japan is it’s own “path” and has its own history, and is quite different than the Japanese tea ceremony I wrote about in the book.)

Nakamura's New House, with Handmade Rug from Nepal

Osamu Nakamura has moved.  His new house is about half the size of the old one (“I wish it was smaller”) and he doesn’t have an irori or fire pit in the center of a living room.  But, to my eyes, the layout and feel of the new place is if anything even more compact and well designed and simple than the last one.  It’s great to see an artist create a work of a very similar style, years later, using similar materials, but with enough variations that you can if anything see the original aesthetic (and message) clearer.  He has also launched on a real creative explosion, branching out from wood blocks prints to mosaics of paper, abstract color pencil drawings, something he calls “paper block prints” and even cutting colored paper to cover matchbooks.  That’s in addition to his hand bookbinding.  Last winter he returned to Nepal after many years to learn how to make carpets from the fiber of nettles (yes, that’s right stinging nettles).  The are tremendously soft and have a great pile.

Atsuko Watanabe’s life hasn’t changed much.  She more involved than ever in her work as a member of the town council, and helps the village of Kamikatsu on its numerous ecological projects.  My partner Cynthia and I got to meet her younger daughter Shoko in Tokyo, where she’s studying theology and will write her thesis on the connection between the tea ceremony and the catholic communion ritual.  What a lively and intelligent young woman Atsuko and Gufu raised!

Kogan Murata’s life hasn’t changed much either, “I just continue, as before, slowly, slowly ... but steadily.”  I helped him plant rice this year, by hand.  He has started using a couple of machines in past two years, one to do the initial cultivation of the rice paddies (the ones that are cultivated) and has started using a chain saw.  He’s almost sixty.  In terms of the flute, he says he’s not giving many concerts anymore, preferring to practice alone.

Asha Amemiya, though I didn’t spend much time with her, is overall much more buoyant and light spirited.  She spent a recent weekend learning folk dances of the world.  She came back on Sunday filled with laughter.  Her youngest daughter is no longer living at home, so I imagine the lifting of  the work of caring for everyone all those years has given her more energy, but that’s just my own imagination.

Wakako's Herbs and Flowers Drying
Wakako Oe is as feisty and warm as ever.  She’s been doing a lot more botanical sculpture in the past few years, and the house is literally filled  with twisted vines, lampshades, baskets, garlands and carvings.  She laughs that she has to restrain herself because Masanori is beginning to feel like he’s living in a jungle.  At this Masanori, hunched his shoulders, looking up as if the creepers were going to take over even the space his own body occupies

Gufu Watanabe, last time I spoke to him, is going to return to India! He hasn’t been back since 1982.  He’ll be taking both his daughters there, Junko and Shoko. Since I’m in India now, I asked him if he could come in November, while I’ll still be here.  He replied that November is the season for making achar his spicy citrus pickle, so it’ll probably be December.  First things first!  He’s also been making a lot  of new black animal sculptures, one of Noah and the Whale that goes with a poem / story comparing this biblical story with a Zen story, and interpreting it to speak about the direction our society has gone in the modern age.
Gufu's New Black Clay Fish Sculpture

Koichi Yamashita has picked up another schoolteaching job, this time for high school students who can’t make it in the very competitive and exam-oriented, bully-infested mainstream public schools.   With a 90 minute driving commute each way, honestly, he looked pretty tired.  He replied, however, “It won’t last for long, maybe 5 years or so, until all my daughters finish university.”    I can see that the increased income really helps.

Jinko Kaneko continues to operate her restaurant and have exhibitions of her paintings.  Her flower garden is even more beautiful than before.  She recently started doing more work in dying and felt and other fabric.

Masanori Oe also is living very much the same kind of life.  He has a new book in development/ final editing about Myths and Aboriginal Dreamtime.

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