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 …


Comments on this story ...

Posted by: Franz Rogar

Well, in Spain, such behavior would be also considered *wrong* (his, not yours). You're a *guest* and hence, you must not offend your patron.

Something similar happened to me. I used to have a Turkish Muslim friend. Turkey is about to enter European Union, which legal base is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though Turkey violates some Human Rights and International Treaties about Freedom.

I'm gay (public and widely, no plume whatsoever tough) and after showing him part of Spain, we decided to visit his country.

Here's where things went from a great relation to a nightmare: censorship. He not so kindly told me to hide I was gay and tell otherwise (being heterosexual) whenever and whomever ask me about having a partner/being married/have children.

I don't go publishing or wearing a T-Shirt saying I'm gay, but if someone asks me, I don't have to lie.

So, that's the difference: freedom of speech vs religious-approved-behavior.

In my case, I didn't have any doubt: I have my rights and no one will ever never forbid or deny my freedom (of speech, of relation, marriage or adoption or any other) even if that means war.

In your case, I would have payed him with this own coinage: *your behavior is unsettling and offensive in -my- country*.

Posted by: Jakub Makalowski

The first thought that popped into my mind is, would not the sizing application vary with location and season? Shouldn't a respected teacher know this and that what works for him won't work for other people in other areas?
Interestingly to me, The thinking of "this is the absolute right way and it must be done so" is something I associate with japanese culture rather than american.

Posted by: Franz Rogar

Jakub, "this' the way to do it and that's the end" is something we Spaniards always associate with Americans instead.

With Japanese, we associate the "·historical ways to do something in historical villages· VS ·modern ways in ultramodern cities· battle" tagline.

But you're absolutely right with pointing to the sizing and teaching incongruity.

Posted by: Grey Coyote

The main thing that I continue to learn from being married into a large Japanese family and studying the artwork and writing of Asian monks since ancient times, is that everything is a test to see how one deals with any sort of internal or external conflict and the measure of their ability to remain unscathed by it. - "In criticizing, the teacher is hoping to teach. That's all." -Hsi-Tang

Posted by: Dave

Hi David,

Just listening to some of your stories... I've found that some of the newer stories audio files don't work. I've tried it on multiple computers so I don't think it's an issue on my end! Hope you can fix it soon :)

Kind regards,


Posted by: Dave

There _is_ no audio on the newest batch of stories ... After opening the Asakusa shop I was getting so far behind and behind every week that this was the first thing to 'fall off the table' ... followed by the stories themselves! :-(

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