Saturday, February 10, 2007

Inspiring, but inspired to do what exactly?





Thursday morning we got dressed, ate a microwaved ramen/potato breakfast and suddenly found ourselves on the curb in the cold with time to spare until Osamu Shoji was scheduled to pick us up. We rocked back and forth to keep warm and I found myself smiling at any Japanese man driving by, because he might stop to pick us up. The strange thing is that most of them smiled back (I have experienced that the Japanese don't smile a lot to strangers, they nod or bow) we were relieved when Shoji-san slowed his car down and offered us handshakes. We climbed in and were off to visit Shinrin Takumi Juku.




The drive there took us through the city, through the countryside and up into the hills. The ride through the countryside was beautiful and it allowed us to ask questions about the school. From what we understand the school did not start out as a school at all. It was a furniture business that used tradition Japanese woodworking methods. Shoji-san and a couple of his friends were going through a back to the earth movement or as Shoji-san called it "a hippie transformation" They moved to Takayama and started the business. After a while they realized that they would like to share their woodworking knowledge with students and help to carry on the tradition. So they started a 2-year school that consists of about 20 students. Combining the furniture business with the school allows the education to be available to the students for free.

An Average day consists of the students arriving to the woodshop in the mornings and working all day on commission work for the company. From what we understand- Shoji-san is the main instructor and there are about 4 or 5 assistant instructors. The students are split into groups that work on different projects in a production style. We walked through the studio and you felt the intensity of the work (glue ups, routing, sharpening). However, because of the small number of students and the spacious facilities everything seemed smoother and less stressful than I was used to. They work until 5pm on the commission work. The evenings are filled with lectures from visiting furniture makers and from their own faculty. Then they can work in the studio on their own work. It seems like longs days, but a very useful approach




The environmental awareness of the school is impressive. They are not just aware, but are actively contributing to sustainable processes. As of 5 years ago they using only natural oil finishes in the studio. The entire school is involved with rice planting and replanting hard woods and soft woods. They are really considering the next generation- the hard woods take at least 100 years of growth before they can be cut down and used. Imagine planting trees to be cut but you won't see the end products. I wonder how many places replant hard woods?




Shoji-san also showed us some of his furniture and some of the students'. They make things because of the need, not because they want to design. The design it developed from what the object purpose is. It makes more and more sense that the word 'design' is a western word that is adapted into the Japanese language

We ate lunch with Shoji-san at a small organic cafe that was owned and operated by one of his friends. It was nice to have a Japanese style meal. And the food was actually made right there. We wondered around the city a bit and felt very inspired by the school. Our minds were racing and contemplating. We barely had time to gather our thoughts before Shoji-san picked us back up to go to the school and give our presentation.

The presentation consisted of us telling about our work and our trip and Shoji-san giving his best efforts to translate. I think they understood most of the information, and I only saw one-person fall asleep. So I think they were interested. After we finished we were approached by one of the assisting teachers. He was very excited about our presentation. He was verbally supportive and showed us images of his own work. I think he might have felt a connection with our work because his work also looked more sculpturally centered rather than functionally centered.

We left the school feeling inspired but overwhelmed. I believe that both Matthew and I have a tendency to look ahead and think about the future a great deal. We have high expectations for our lives. We are being exposed to so many positive opportunities that would be great experiences but it is very difficult to know which ones you really want to do. While walking through the woodshop, I kept thinking - This would be a great school to go to if I wanted to focus on woodworking in my career, but do I want to focus on wood working in my career. I would like to continue creating objects, some in wood. Who knows what the future holds. All I know is that the program seems truly unique and the students will benefit greatly from being part of it.

2 comments:

tedx said...

Dear Alison,
thank you for the blog. I read an article about Shinrin Takumi Juku some years ago and I found the concept behind the school fascinating. I'd like to invite some representative of the school to speak at the TEDxBratislava conference in Bratislava, Slovakia. Would you please provide me with an email contact to Mr. Osamu Shoji or anyone else who speaks english and you believe them to be a good candidate for a speaker. I'd very much appreciate it. Thanks for your help

Rastislav Geschwandtner
Head of the TEDxBratislava team
rastislav[at]entia.sk
www.tedxbratislava.com/en
www.entia.sk

RastoGes said...

Dear Alison,
thank you for the blog. I read an article about Shinrin Takumi Juku some years ago and I found the concept behind the school fascinating. I'd like to invite some representative of the school to speak at the TEDxBratislava conference in Bratislava, Slovakia. Would you please provide me with an email contact to Mr. Osamu Shoji or anyone else who speaks english and you believe them to be a good candidate for a speaker. I'd very much appreciate it. Thanks for your help

Rastislav Geschwandtner
Head of the TEDxBratislava team
rastislav[at]entia.sk
www.tedxbratislava.com/en
www.entia.sk