Saturday, 23 January 2010

Enthusiasm for Craft

I took the plunge and bought this kettle.
water becomes sweeter. お水が甘いよ。

When I was a little younger and travelling a rural area of Southern China, I saw many beautifully hand-crafted souvenirs. Complicated embroidery, hand-dyed cloth, beautifully polished jade statues were in abundance. I derived no satisfaction from negotiating the prices with local people, but tried with my limited Chinese. My Chinese friends taught me the accepted negotiation technique: ask 10% of the originally offered price, then negotiate to half that price – you receive a 95% discount. Surprisingly it worked, but I felt uncomfortable and the item in my hand did not seem to have the original lustre any longer. The craft surely involved a great deal of time and effort in the hands of local artisans. Even considering the currency rates, the price did not seem adequate. I asked my Chinese friend how much the material cost would be. He said it would be approximate to the price I paid. He added that local people were happy when they could cover the material costs and that labour time is not valued.

I recall reading an article somewhere that Japan is one of the few countries where large numbers of professional artisans, such as potters and blacksmiths, are able to live comfortably without other income sources. Whenever I visit national museums and art galleries, I am surprised with the enthusiasm of the Japanese visitors, eager to experience the world of art and craft. The endless history of trial and error, exacting standards of quality, the devotion of lives – all these are appreciated and people want to have part-ownership of their own cultural heritage. In each household, you can see such crafts as pottery, kimono, roof tiling, Paulownia wood furniture and so forth.

Ironically, the same level of enthusiasm is not observed when people purchase vegetables.



以前にどこかの雑誌で、数多の陶芸家や鍛冶屋といった職人が、ものづくりのみで生計を立てられている国は、日本ぐらいであろうという記事を読んだことがあるのを思い出しました。国立博物館や美術館に行くたびに、美術工芸の世界を垣間見たいという、日本人来場者の熱意に圧倒されます。数々の挑戦と失敗、質への異常なこだわり、人生をかける有り様 -これらを心ゆくまで鑑賞し、部分的にでも所有できたらと思い描くのでしょうか。確かに、各家ごとに陶芸品、反物、屋根瓦、桐の衣装箪笥など、何かしらのこだわりの工芸品があります。


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