Universal Tool For Non-judgement
People think I’m Japanese.
Well, I am. But it’s been so long since I had miso soup and rice for a breakfast.
Tradition is talked about in the context of both innovation and preservation. I used to think the latter was the truth, that authentic Japan had to be “preserved”… until I met Mr Sachio Yoshioka.
He was born in a family of textile dye in Kyoto: Someno Tsukasa Yoshioka. The studio has been running for over two centuries.
Before taking on his family business, though, he had to explore other aspirations and approaches to textiles. He established a publisher through which he shared his extensive knowledge of dyeing, colours and textile. From ancient Egypt to modern South East Asia, his knowledge and collection covered a vast range of regions and times.
When he took over the family business, he decided to go all plant-based dye, as it was the way done 1300 years ago. The brilliance and clarity of the colours and patterns that could be seen in the treasures from the Nara period captivated him. And he tried to recreate them with the same technique.
“It’s harder now, as the quality of water and many things are different,” he said, but still forged forward.
Among the abundance of teachings I received from him, one that strongly resonates and continues to grow in me is…
“We Japanese always looked beyond the ocean and incorporated the culture from overseas, ever since the Nara period.”
It resonates stronger as he is THE figure on the frontier of reviving tradition, and he clearly saw that the culture never stood on its own. Japanese always eagerly looked outwards and tried to take in the trends of the time. The entire practice of merging, incorporating and later making it our own was and still is very much Japanese.
“Stealing” might be a strong word… but the cultural confluence has always been there, everywhere: I was reminded of sarasa chintz from India when I saw the William Morris’ fabric in Victoria & Albert Museum in London. When I told Mr Yoshioka so, he smiled and said, “Right? Good things always spread.”
When encountered with generalisations like “made in Japan is the best,” he would say “Chinese silk ranges from awful to superb. The top-notch kind is something… I wonder if the Japanese can ever produce.”
I used to be quick to judge things or people. I was strongly opinionated and easily dismissive: I used to think I knew. The more I learnt, the less I saw I knew.
Mr Yoshioka’s non-biased connoisseurship and open-mindedness, to me, are the embodiment of how tradition has truly been kept.
Looking out and up for something new, better and different has been the way Japanese tradition has evolved. Though I may have to deal with my ego screaming for a minute, I’m learning to cherish or even be excited about discovering the fact of not knowing. This tool offers curiosity and humility, and works almost always.