For the most part, when sitting down to write one of these little stories I try to select an episode that reflects not only an interesting experience I might have had, but something with a generally 'pleasant' or upbeat feeling. I have no desire at all to be the kind of person who is always complaining about something, or relating stories that have a negative mood. But I think I might be stretching my policy this time ... we'll see.
While I was busy hosting a Print Party in the Asakusa shop the other day, the staff took a phone call, and then passed on the message to me - later that day we would be getting a visit from a wood-carver friend of mine. This man - who is incidentally the same age as me to within a couple of months - was trained as a traditional carver, but when work became scarce a few years back decided to begin offering courses on woodblock printmaking. His small 'school' is now the 'go to' place for anybody wanting instruction in the traditional methods, and his teaching affairs are threatening to take over his carving work completely.
His purpose in coming over was to bring a guest to introduce to me, and when I received the message and heard this man's name, I began to look forward to the meeting with some anticipation. The guest was a man I have never met, but who has a good reputation in our field; he trained here in Japan (where he was born) for some years as a woodblock printer when he was young, but emigrated to America, and over the past thirty years has established himself there as a woodblock artist, and - this is important - a teacher, obtaining a position at a good university, where he has contributed greatly to the spread of this craft in the US.
Later that afternoon the two men arrived, accompanied by some of the students, and we of course showed them around our shop - the Print Party room, where I had just finished a session with some visitors from overseas, the little shop area where our prints are displayed, and the room at the back of the building where on this day two of our young printers were busy at work.
He hadn't been in that room - literally - for as much as a minute before it began. "The sizing on that paper is a bit too strong; it would be better if you used less alum when preparing it." To one of the young ladies, "Here, let me demonstrate a better way to hold that paper, you're stretching it too much when you hold it that way ..."
And he kept it up. Every single thing he saw was a trigger for another 'lesson' from him. He seemed to be oblivious to the fact that these people were not only not his students, but were professional workers, although perhaps the fact that they were young and female was contributing to his misunderstanding.
And as for the fact that he was standing in another man's workshop while spouting off these pearls of wisdom, it seems that he gave that not the slightest consideration.
I kept quiet. I had no desire at all to cause embarrassment to my carver friend, or to put him in a difficult situation, so I held my tongue, making my apologies to that printer after the visitors had left.
One of staff members put her finger on what had perhaps happened here. Over the thirty years that he has been in the US, he has undoubtedly learned a lot about the culture over there, but one thing he thinks he has learned - that you can say whatever you think, to anybody, anytime - is actually not true, as any American can of course attest. And I suppose perhaps the reverse might also be true; over the thirty years that I have been living here in Japan, the thing that I think I have learned - that you always have to be very considerate of the surrounding circumstances before opening your mouth and speaking your mind - is perhaps not quite as strict a rule as I might imagine.
So the two of us might not be all that different. I wonder …
Story #490, May 17, 2015