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JAPAN, ATTENTION TO DETAIL photographs by Clare Brett Smith

Lantern, Yakushiji Temple East Pagoda, Nara

In 1978 Japan was new and mysterious to me. Unable to read the signs or understand the language, I seldom knew what I was seeing. Although unnerving in some ways, this made for a certain innocence. I didn't have a ready point of view.

I didn't need to understand

what came up before my eyes. Everything in Japan seemed careful, formal and composed, intentional, with nothing left to chance.


because I didn't know the intentions, my reactions were just the opposite, free and spontaneous.

I could simply appreciate the

patterns, the shapes, the light and shadows and enjoy all the details.

This, then, is a

portfolio of what I saw and what I liked. Clare Brett Smith October 2009


Prayers, paper wishes tied to a line



Nara, hands of Buddha 4

Sendai, a monk at a festival 5

Incense Sticks, above, and Temple Grove, with prayers, on the opposite page


Kyoto, pavement


Kyoto, Water for the Tea Ceremony



Paper Umbrella Fragments


Serenity and the Rising Sun After visiting the gardens of Kyoto, the temples, the monks, hearing far-off bells and gongs, and experiencng the calm order of a formal tea ceremony, even the water shining on the pavement doubled in meaning and became a sort of Zen reflection.

I brought notions from my childhood to Japan: a memory of magical paper flowers opening and floating up through a glass of water, of tiny intricate toys, of kites and kimonos, and Gilbert & Sullivan's "We are Gentlemen of Japan" from "The Mikado".

Later, frightening memories: the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, The Yellow Peril propaganda, Nanking, Bataan, the horror of Hiroshima.

More recently: appreciation: of Japan's special imagination; of simple, elegant design in the book "How to Wrap Three Eggs", of woodcuts, Zen Buddhism. of Sushi, Haiku, Issey Miyake and Hello Kitty, of Kurosawa's films, and, to my personal benefit, the refined technology of Nikon.


Festival in Morioka 13



Kyoto, Geisha 15

Tokyo Restaurant 16

Tokyo 17

Kyoto, new and old 18

Kyoto, the same women


Morioka woman 20

Nara, laborer 21

Kyoto playtime 22

Princess Michiko in Kyoto 23

In Morioka, preparing the teapot mold 25

Temple Lanterns

A Vase by Kawai Kanjio


Kawai's kiln on the left and, above, his study 29



The photographs on the following two pages show woodworkers restoring the Yakushiji temple in Nara. It's large scale, muscular work, but Japanese wood-workers are also known for clever and intricate highly skilled whittling, like these small 6"- 8" birds we bought at a store in Sendai.


Yakushiji, Nara 32


Morioka Farmhouse, above, and Haystacks, right 34

Rice Grains 36

Morioka Farmhouse Porch 37


Feeling the Vigor of People, Looking for Their Patterns Did I "see Japan"? I am never sure how truthful my perceptions are, but I have learned to trust them anyway. The more I looked, the bolder I became about photographing people.

Soon I began to

notice action and energy more than stillness. I saw it in the bounce of boys in harlequin-like parade costumes, in streaks of light in dark city streets and faces catching the light, open smiles and crinkled faces, the fluid grace of Princess Michiko bowing to greet a potter, the crammed and noisy Pachinko parlors and friendly folks at the busy Yakatori allnight eateries under the bridges in Tokyo.



Sendai restaurant doorway

SIGNS & PORTENTS... Was that really a restaurant behind the indigo curtains? (It smelled good in the doorway.) Were those welcome banners in the trees? Should we cross the street? Is that an angry god or a kite? How do we know what is expected and what is not allowed? It was strange to feel so ignorant yet, somehow, not uncomfortable.


The World Craft Council & "Living National Treasures" Japan recognized craft masters as "Living National Treasures" (formally defined as "Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties") long ago in 1950, and so it was particularly appropriate for the World Craft Council to have its annual meeting in Japan. KYOTO 1978 was not the final meeting of World Crafts Council, but it was certainly the most impressive. Where else in the world would Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko take such serious interest in the many master craftspeople who attended from all around the world? Not all the delegates were actually craftspeople, but all were people deeply interested in artisans, their work, their heritage and the high degree of skill they represent. I was lucky to be one of them.

Above Left , Jack Lenor Larsen, textile designer with an American potter. Below Right, Daniel Cobblah, famous Ghanaian potter and VP for Africa of the World Craft Council


Below, Dora de Larios, ceramic artist from California.

Kawai Kanjiro, gave us an insight into the integrated life of an artist. The words in his motto, "We Do Not Work Alone", are words that could - and should - inspire all of us throughout our lives. What was I doing in Kyoto? As folk art importers, Burge and I represented the necessary commercial side of craft. Because we Ruth Dayan, Craft Specialist from Israel

imported crafts from Haiti and Mexico, I was asked to represent the many artisans of Haiti and to mount a photo and weaving exhibit, The Serape Weavers of Teotitlรกn del Valle, Oaxaca, in one of the

There were exhibits, speeches, demonstrations and classes,

conference halls.

and after the formal WCC business, an assortment of optional trips. One trip was to northern Japan, to Morioka, where the famous iron teapots are still made by hand, each hobnail pressed into the mold, one at a time. Although metalwork was the official focus in Morioka, we also hoped to see the countryside. We knew traditional agricultural life was

Below, Barbara Adachi, American expert in Bunraku, traditional Japanese puppetry, with Clare Smith and one of our our Japanese hosts

intensive but we were amazed to see individual apples, still on the trees, each one wrapped in paper to protect them from the wasps and hornets that would attack the moment the fruit ripened.

Another visit, near Kyoto, gave us the chance to see the ongoing restoration work of one of Nara's most celebrated ancient wooden Temples, Yakushiji, a contrast of modern technology, hard hats and steel scaffolding with ancient joinery. A visit to the simple home and studio in Kyoto (a museum since his death in 1966) of the modest but world famous potter, 45

A ROYAL VISIT: Hands-on sessions with master craftspeople were part of the World Craft Council 1978 Conference in Kyoto and my husband, Burges, wearing glasses at left, enrolled in woodcarving. The other gentleman, also wearing glasses, on the right, was Crown Prince Akihito, now Emperor of Japan, with his wife, then Crown Princess Michiko.


Introduction to the tea ceremony



Š copyright Clare Brett Smith, October 2009

JAPAN - Attention To Detail  

In 1978, Japan was new and mysterious to me. Unable to read the signs or understand the language, I seldom knew what I was seeing. Although...

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