Bombs, electronics, cartoon characters, and sushi: This is what the word “Japan” has meant to most of America for the past 70 years. Our conception of the country has shifted from former WWII enemy to exotic vacation spot; what little knowledge we have of it is gleaned from adventurous tourists, who bring back tales of Harajuku girls and magical toilets. This past summer, I decided to explore a side of Japan hitherto unknown to me: Japanese artisans, or “shokunin” and the philosophies shaping their art.I am a photographer, and my photos tell these artisans’ stories better than my words ever could. While my fellow journalists filmed interviews and scribbled down notes, I quietly froze moments of life into rectangles vivid with color and detail. An artist who makes Spanish tile welcomes customers with a gentle smile. Looking at her countenance, I never would have guessed that five years ago, a tsunami destroyed ten percent of her town’s population and 90 percent of its infrastructure. In another province, an elderly carpenter bends over the wooden frame of a traditional “andon” lantern. the population of his rural town is 5,000 and decreasing yearly, but he hopes that the lanterns he makes, and the young people he teaches, will be lights that spread all across Japan.
In Kyoto, there is no separation between “past” and “present”; ancient temples touch shoulders with glossy department stores, and the streets below are crowded with over-excited tourists, many of whom have rented traditional kimonos to wear for the day. History and modernity are one, and in a little corner where they meet, the street leads into an ordinary-looking shop that sells, of all things, timepieces.
“We also create innovative and modern designs that give our products an incomparable style like no other.” “For every precious moment, we, the staff at Dedegumo, continue to make beautifully handcrafted works of art.”
Quotes taken from the Dedegumo company website.
This piece was a result of an innovative, intellectual, and far-reaching journalistic experiment: 10 foreign student journalists, invited by the Prime Minister’s office and hosted by HLAB, sought to explore and illuminate Japan over a span of 19 days. Encouraged to pursue whatever topic they found interesting while participating in various activities of HLAB or while exploring various cities in Japan on their own, the journalists’ work eventually spanned topics ranging from Japanese views of success and failure to the robust Japanese artisan culture. See some of the other pieces.