The following transcript is a conversation between Mr. Kazumi Murose(Urushi artist, Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property/Living National Treasure of Japan as a maki-e lacquer artist) and Professor Claudia Lira(Assistant professor at Pontifical Catholic University in Chile) which took place on April 11th 2017 at MOA Museum of Art in Atami Japan.
Murose： What kind of projects are you getting involved in Chile ?
Lira： I’m doing research how the emotion and sensitivity changes after experiencing traditional art and traditional culture.
Uchida： When I first met with Pro. Lira seven years ago I heard that her specialty was Greek Philosophy. Even at that time, she was interested in art and told me that it is difficult to do aesthetic education through Christian religion but easy to do it through art.
This comment is why we were able to conduct a workshop when we experienced the East Japan Earthquake. This is exactly what Mr. Michikoshi from Shizuoka said about art which is to educate the heart around this time. So you gave us the direction of how art education should be held.
Murose： I totally agree.
I think Japan is special in the world. Japan is surrounded by the ocean, the coast line is very long east and west so there are lots of mountains and oceans having natural beauty throughout the year. Even though it is a small country, we also have different climate from warm to cold and can observe the changes in nature in Japan. We can see trees, plants and animals with abundant nature in the unique characteristics of Japan.
I think it is true that traditionally, as a Japanese, we have a theory of being nurtured by nature by interacting with nature as a human being for more than thousands of years. Therefore, one of the value we have, as a Japanese, is to seek beauty in our daily lives and utilize the natural material as much as possible. It is an ancient wisdom that we inherited as to utilize the natural material into creating beauty.
It is true that nature has provided us abundant blessings to us Japanese throughout these years. But sometimes the mother nature has us experience calamities. Just like the East Japan Earthquake that we experienced and whenever the natural disasters like volcano eruption happens, it is very difficult for us human beings to deal with it. On the other hand, it is also true that ancient people got over through these natural disasters whenever they experienced it once in several hundred years.
Mr. Uchida and I discussed how to reach out to kids after this earthquake. We came to the conclusion that we have been receiving blessings from the nature as much as we experienced the natural calamity and to educate the importance of enriching the emotional side from the nature is the most important aspect of our approach.
I wanted to tell the kids how enjoyable it is to create your original work using wood, bamboo, clay or laquer which I use to express myself.
At the beginning, because it is rare to use these materials in class, the kids looked puzzled. But once the class started I could see the kids getting more interested and concentrating to use the provided materials. One kid who usually can’t concentrate for 30 minutes was able to concentrate for the whole 90 minute class. Through this experience, I was able to explain to them at the end regarding the fear of nature and the blessings that we can receive from the nature. I can see the facial expression of the kids become more relaxed at the moment which was very tense up to that point.
Through these classroom experience, I learned that it is very important for enriching kid’s emotion to utilize traditional Japanese Art, materials and philosophy. I felt like it is important for not only the kids that experienced the tragedy but for all the other kids to have this kind of experience. I am thinking how to provide the opportunity for kids to experience how to create things through nature working together with Mr. Uchida. This is how we collaborate with Mr. Uchida.
I feel like even when human beings didn’t have any words or character to express their emotion, people had their own way to express beauty to enrich their emotion. When people eats something delicious or sees something beautiful, our emotion becomes enriched and relaxed I believe.
Especially for Japanese people, we sought beauty in our daily lives not to limit it to a specific space or object.
Of course, creating art objects through beauty is a way to express yourself but it is not limited to yourself but also thinking about the people who might be using it in their daily lives is the how we mastered how to express it.
Comparing to the Christian Culture just focusing on expressing yourself like in the Renaissance Days, this concept is very different from how we value culture.
Of course we express ourselves but not to ignore others is the Japanese way of expressing ourselves I think. I really want to tell the kids about this value. By doing so I believe that kids will have a common sense to seek peace while being emotionally enriched.
Each country has it’s own natural material depending on the climate. I want to establish the educational program utilizing the natural material to create beautiful things.
How do you think ?
Lira： I am teaching traditional Chile handiwork using horse mane to students. I want to teach students how valuable it is.
There is a small village that has only one road but has a lot of traditional handiworks. I wanted to understand how valuable it is so I visited each person who was making the handiwork.
What I found was that even though it is using the same material, there is a difference among the handiworks. One of the difference was that one person had somebody purchase the material and on the other hand one person went and found the material and prepared it before making it. What I found important was that how they approached the material, putting a spirit in it, was the difference. I thought some of the handiwork that didn’t appeal to me was because it has only technique in it.
One of the other difference is that people who makes the handiwork doesn’t teach the technique but have them master through their observations.
Also what I noticed was that women who makes these handiwork are having a daily contact with nature and animals while observing the nature.
I was able to experience the importance of natural materials while visiting the Tozanso Villa where Master Okada lived. I know a German person ハイデゲンwhose disciple established Kyoto Philosophical School who discussed about the relationship between the natural material and human being.
In the sixteenth century, the way people think changed to express their ego in the Western Countries. As a result, at the end, for example making things disposable is the manifestation in our lifestyle circumstance I think.
When I’m hearing your comment, I feel the importance of educating children to treasure things not to throw things away.
Murose： Japan has the same problem. This is the reason why I want to teach children to focus on the nature to see things not to think too much about the efficiency because of this difficult circumstance we are facing.
I have one question, how do you use horse mane ?
Lira： We knit the horse mane.
Lira： I will give it to you through Mr. Hiraizumi.
Murose： It is very interesting.
Lira： It is an accessory using the natural material like the horse mane not necessarily using in our daily lives like Japan.
Murose： The same goes to Japan we use natural material and utilize in various ways to make accessories and industrial arts. It is the same culture that is taking place. It is wonderful.
Lira： I am teaching aesthetics and art in college but the students only study western art. This is the ego Westerners have I think. I want to take in other cultural art too.
Murose： I totally agree that we need to revive the genuine aesthetic education because in Japan also we only had western aesthetic education for more than fifty years. It is a fact that little by little, people who thinks this way has been increasing. This is why I want to continue working on expanding this concept.
Lira： That is wonderful.
Murose： They, my disciples, have the same value so they chose this profession.
Lira： I think we have two big problems that prevents us from understanding this value.
For example, in Chile it is becoming more difficult to purchase natural materials due to financial difficulties. We used to do everything at home. For example, we made homemade bread. We don’t do these things anymore. We buy everything and bring it back home and decorate. This is one of the reason the number of people producing accessories is decreasing.
This is my guess but I think most traditional handiworks were made at home. It is a big challenge for us to revive and succeed traditional handiwork.
Murose： In Japan, we had two types of handiworks from ancient times. One is made at home and the other is made by a group that specializes in making specific handiworks. This is the reason why I think we had a variety of handiworks from traditional ones to daily used ones. This is one of the characteristics of Japanese culture I think. I mean that even though we use the same material and made a similar handiwork, because of the homemade one and the professionally made one, this enabled us to have more variety and different types of handiworks.
In this sense, what we are doing now is more of a professionally made one. The homemade producers are decreasing just like what you just mentioned in your country.
As I mentioned my experience at the classroom, I really want to create the culture that people will pay attention to. I want kids to feel the essence in their daily lives not necessarily need to become an expert.
Now I would like for you to interact with my disciples.
Lira： Can you tell me what the character「芸GEI」of art means ? When I see this character, it sounds like skill or technique but I don’t see it that way. I believe that you are not creating things just with your technique but putting something else in it. Please share with me how you interpret the character「芸GEI」?
Student： It is a very good question. We really need to think about it carefully. Actually, this character version of「芸GEI」is a simplified version. The official version isk「藝GEI」 and the meaning between the two are different. I will talk about the official version of GEI.
We use this character in two different words. One is art(GEI-JUTSU) and the other is entertainment(GEI-NO).
GEI-JUTSU is the combination of the character art and technique so it includes the skill we were talking about. The focus is more on the technique. When we create something that is tangible we use this character.
On the other hand, we use the word GEI-NO when we express things that is intangible.
In Japanese culture, for example, we have the concept of Cultural Treasure which we value both tangible and intangible things and we call it intangible cultural treasure and tangible cultural treasure.
Japanese culture values thing that can’t be expressed through words. Things that are intangible or invisible. I think that things that’s very difficult to express is when we use this「藝」character. This is how we use character藝.
The other way of using this character is when we talk about an entertainer藝能人GEI-NO-JIN and we have an expression that says “Art brings bread” which means the skill brings happiness to others lives.
Student： That’s is true.
These two meanings are combined and became broader having both general, profound and spiritual meanings. This is why we can express many things through this character.
This is the first time being asked this type of question so I’m thinking and answering at the same time. This was a very tough question.
Lira： Thank you. When you dissect the character, what does each part mean ?
Student： This is a very difficult question so please give me some time to think about it. There are several opinions regarding the structure of the character so each structure might have a meaning or sometimes it just expresses the sound. Maybe it is hieroglyph that comes from certain shape. I think it is a combination of everything and sometimes very complicated to I need time to do some research on it. I will ask the expert of character and let you know once I find out.
Lira： I feel strongly about the part that expresses grass in the「芸」character.
Student： This part expresses the meaning of connecting to the nature I think.
Lira： I agree.
Student： I’m sure that someone had the intention to use this character with some meaning behind it so I will search for it and get back to you.
Lira： Thank you.
Student： （Introducing another disciple）He is a restoration technician specialist who is restoring the cultural treasure at our studio.
In Japan, we have a history of emphasizing in preserving the art piece compared to other countries. In Japanese culture, once we create new things we try to preserve, protect and pass on to the next generation. This is why it is very important to work together with the artist and the restoration specialist so we can learn from each other. We both respect each other’s work.
If you have any question regarding restoration ?
Lira： You need to know the artist’s method of creation in order to restore it right?
Saginoya（Restoration technician）： Yes. Our studio is specializing in restoring old art pieces, more than hundreds of years ago, so I am learning how ancient people created the art piece using certain techniques.
Lira： You are researching ancient people’s technique while you are restoring it right ?
Lira： For example, if you are restoring some art piece from the Edo-era, does some of the old technique can be applied today ?
Restore： Yes. Of course.
Student： The basic technique used to lacquer hasn’t changed this past 1300years. Only the final process of utilizing the material is different depending on which era you are from.
Restore： Our studio specializes in restoring lacquer handiworks and one of the reason why lacquer forms Japanese people’s character is that Japan produced lacquer plants.
Lacquer has natural resin but has strong skin and never dissolves even with acid once it hardens. Once Japanese people connected with this wonderful natural material we have been using this material for a thousand several hundred years.
In the museum we have very expensive lacquer ware but even the lacquer sap painted soup bowl we use in daily life we can restore it, recycle it and use it as long as we want.
We learned from lacquer ware to treasure things to use it as long as possible.
Lira： It is a very important point that you just mentioned.
Student： In Japan, we had lacquer which is a natural material just like a shell to apply natural beauty into an art piece that you can express yourself.
As mentioned earlier, this is the depth of the concept.
Also, lacquer has a strong sticking power that sticks various things. We put gold powder on top of some art piece and make an accessory sticking a sea shell on it so it is the strength of the lacquer that connects various materials.
At the same time, lacquer never gets rotten nor get mould which is why this material has a strong preserving power.
I’m sure this was a perfect material for the spirit of Japanese people who wanted to express through natural material and yet wanted to preserve and pass on the tradition as well. It was because of the lacquer that enable us to pass on the value and the tradition of Japanese people through generation.
It can stick material for accessories and also works as a glue when restoring.
This is a dish that came from Peru. This is a technique used to restore gold. This technique makes it look like gold color where it broke. In western pottery, they tend to restore it not to get attention but in traditional Japanese way we try to make it more attractive to get attention.
On surface it looks like gold but to cover up the hole and stick material in it,it is the lacquer that is doing the job. As you can see, once you stick it with lacquer the broken dish is now restored.
This restoration technique has been used since the Jomon-era which is about 6000years ago.
This is my personal opinion but Japan has experienced many calamities. So there are a high risk of many art pieces to be destroyed. This made us think that even when the art piece breaks we want to restore it at any cost. I think lacquer carried a huge role in establishing the restoration technique.
What the restoration specialist is doing now hasn’t changed much since the Jomon-era.
The restoration technique that the specialist is using has a longer history than the technique we use to make lacquer work.
Lira： What is the meaning of letting the people know where the restoration took place? Is it to be reminded of what happened ?
Restore： Now a days we are in an era of mass production, back then we produced each and every art piece as an original one. I think that each art piece had a specific role and we tried to restore it as much as possible when it broke during the calamity. I think it was a natural reaction trying to restore it.
This is a different story but in Japan when the culture of tea ceremony gained momentum, the culture of restoring things that were broken was established and shared it as part of the scenery.
Hiraizumi： It sounds like utilizing materials to make things more artistic.
Restore： Yes. This is an original culture.
Student： How it is broken is important sometime. To imagine how it might look, like a scenery, when the restoration process takes place putting golden coloring on.
Daimon： Is it like a crack in the ceramic process ?
Student： Yes. I think Japanese people have a tendency to be emotionally moved when some parts are not perfect.
Maybe this is some special value they cherish.
Daimon： Is there a meaning to restore using gold instead of silver ?
Restore： We restore it with silver too.
Student： But silver gets rusted and becomes black.
Hiraizumi： In Spanish there is no word that translates to the Japanese word emotion.It is very difficult to describe.
Lira： I have been seeking Japanese people’s heart and emotion for a long time but understanding it is very hard. It is even harder to describe it in words. It is very profound.
Student： I agree. I don’t think that even Japanese people understands it.
Lira： Heart is KOKORO in Japanese and SHIN in Chinese. Japanese people points down when asked about KOKORO and Chinese points up when asked about SHIN.
Student： I talked with a Chile embassy staff the other day and discussed the possibility of holding a lacquer exhibition. I am preparing to hold it next year. Please give us advice once the date is set. I know this will be an unprecedented event to be held in South America.
Have you ever had any exhibition Chile in the past ?
Lira： No. Before coming here, I gave a lecture to master students about how the distribution of lacquer handiworks took place between Japan, Europe and America during the 16th and 17th century. I think they start to get the basic knowledge so this will be a good time to hold an exhibition.
I think it was very interesting to hear from all of you today.
Student： I am very encourage to hear that you gave a lecture because it is very important that people has some kind of knowledge before holding an exhibition. I can prepare what to talk having that in mind.