The World Changes the Moment You Say Yes.

I hate to be pushed. I hate to feel small and inadequate. I have to gather my courage to face criticism or even neutral feedback. As a writer, I used to dread opening any emails with feedback: I would visualise “NO”, red lines crossed all over the page, and every possible negative comment. And the actual email was never even close to what had crossed my mind. It is a unique way I protect my ego. 

A conversation with Shuji Nakagawa, a woodwork artist, shifted the way my defence mechanism operated. 

He is the third-generation successor of a renowned wooden tub studio based in Kyoto. He has now established his own workshop in the neighbouring prefecture, Shiga. His creation is rooted in the traditional technique, yet his works are now used in a universal context beyond the traditional Japanese setting. It was solely made possible by breaking the norms of wooden tub making.

“These almost identical pieces of wood are bound together with metal hoops only. Traditionally, there are two hoops required to hold the entire piece together.” 

One day, designer Ohki Sato asked him to make a piece with only one hoop. 

“It was never done,” Shuji says.

“The basic structure of a wooden tub is that there is a base wood serving as the bottom of the tub. Then one hoop goes below and another goes above it, with both of which the entire tub is bound tight. One hoop wouldn’t have done the job. I first thought it was impossible.”

It could well have been another “failure” story. Human beings are not adept at dealing with changes, just like my ego. When the changes are demanded by someone outside, they are usually met with resistance.

As I’ve heard many stories of such resistance in the crafts world, I had to ask him about this; he must have at least been tempted to lecture the designer about the basic structure of the wooden tub.

“No,” he says nonchalantly.

“The design he drew up for me was so beautiful. And he tried to convince me by sending these blueprints, again and again, even a 3D-printed version of it. As it happens, I started to want one of these in the end. I spent days looking at the blueprint. And then, it came to me. It came to me that the lever principle might be a solution.”  

The breakthrough he made then now has become his signature technique. 

Shuji says, “I try to meet ‘impossible’ requests from designers. Because they may push me beyond my current limit. I have seen many resist changes, too. But in my opinion, the world changes the moment you say yes, and I want to see that.”

Shuji Nakagawa

As for my dear defence mechanism, the system is still there, I can feel it. But now there is an additional dimension which resonates with excitement.


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