A Guideline for Choice Making
Patience is a virtue, and necessity for the practice of urushiware making.
Senro Sato, the master craftsman of urushiware, is just like his own crafts.
He turns 80 this year and is super smart and sharp. He can give a talk, sprinkled with jokes, for hours non-stop. He remembers names and dates without any of the “ah… what was it?”
I sometimes throw in questions when he’s catching a breath or sipping tea. But he picks up where he’s left off and carries on unaffectedly. After spending a day with him, though, I’ve come to see that he always arrives at my questions after building enough background knowledge as a lead-up to the answer. It might take him half an hour or longer, but however long that might be, he remembers to come back.
I learnt not to interrupt him and to trust. Patience.
“The durability of urushiware largely depends on its base-coating”, the “Urushi-work” leaflet says. After the first stage of creating a smooth surface with a mixture of urushi sap and fine clay, there comes a middle coating followed by the final coating, while sanding each layer with a different level of fineness. Strengthening the edges with linen cloth comes in between these processes, too.
If someone tried to simplify the procedure by skipping a process or two…? Totally doable and I’d be surprised if no one had thought about it before. How about replacing certain materials with something cheaper or easier to handle…? Who is to know? It will only show in 50 years.
Senro talks about it in a half apathetic and disappointed way. I can sense his quiet rage. He may have made changes to the teachings he had received 60 years ago with the intention of improvement, but not to save his time or money. I have yet to ask him why, but I feel it is about who he aspires to be.
He was a late starter: he was an art university student and then decided to pivot his path to pursue urushiware making, which would enrich the everyday life of everyday people.
Crafting urushiware may well be, not only the most time-consuming, but the least-rewarding in all crafts since much of the energy and time put into production is beneath the lustrous surface at the finish.
I’ve come to see, after observing the hours-long talk multiple times, that he changes the contents and the way he speaks according to the listeners. He sees people, quietly and accurately. I wonder if that is because he is the craftsman of urushiware, who knows what’s important is usually hidden beneath, and that only time will show.
He lives in his vast expansive timeline of his own, and he sees people, their roots and what they are made of.
Profile Photo Courtesy of Sayaka Takizawa