So? How the hell are the silk grubs?
Gross, right? Right.
But, these squirmy worms are an integral part of Japan’s culture and your perception of that culture.
Yes, I am wondering about the silk grubs while many others are worried only about the loss of life & infrastructure. In fact, it was one of the first questions I asked my friend Bryan when he checked in via email to let me know he was okay after the quake. He wasn’t offended. He knows I’m thinking about the less obvious long-term challenges that Japan will face in the months and years ahead. One of those challenges is the potential loss of precious Japanese cultural skills and knowledge like the sort that Bryan reveres. He’s a ‘keeper of culture’.
Bryan is a teenhood friend who resurfaced in my life via my blog to my surprised delight, after many years out of touch. During the intervening years, he enjoyed much success as in advertising and marketing as a commerical graphics designer, but became disillusioned along the way and longed for a simpler, more refined life far removed from the consumer mentality. So he took to travel abroad.
After backpacking around India and Southeast Asia for six months, Bryan next landed in Japan. After moving to Fujino, Bryan settled on the side of a mountain in a large rambling old house overlooking tea fields in a tiny village of mostly seniors. Through daily life in the town, he quickly became intrigued by an elderly neighbour’s silk farm and craftsmanship.
I knew it was the last chance for me to be able to learn the technique from her. She is a treasure,” Whitehead said.
Although Kato had stopped raising silkworms 20 years before, she and her husband were happy to share their lifetime of experience with Whitehead, he said — adding that he also learned from other old people in the same village.
“I was lucky to submerse myself in a village of old folks who had lived self-sufficiently and knew the techniques of silk production and weaving, and who also embodied the lifestyle that was the source of the aesthetics I found so intriguing.”
Since then, Bryan has earned much acclaim as a master Japanese textile artisan, refining his skill in this ancient craft and teaching in Japan and Europe. A simple and satisfying life, until this past Friday when the quake rocked many like Bryan out of their homes and left scrambling to save themselves while so much of their cultural heritage has been washed away.
With the floods there has been a tremendous loss of life, with many areas reporting that seniors have been the hardest hit. How much precious knowledge and how many treasured artifacts have been lost by this culture-rich society? And the nuclear crisis fears driving people like Bryan to flee to safer locales, how can we calculate the less obvious losses that Japan has suffered? What about the silk grubs? The art of kimono crafting? The wisdom of the elders?
What of the impact to the Japanese pride of their heritage when the water recedes? For those left behind, there will be a deeper grief for their lost treasures, both human and cultural.
“Some objects made by illiterate potters, weavers and painters are worth millions. Why is this? Why do we never get tired of looking at them?” Whitehead asks.
Because they are the history that defines what a culture is. We never get tired of looking at Grandma’s hand stitched quilt, or Obaasan’s hand woven silk.
(Last I heard from Bryan Sunday he had reached Nagano safely and was considering heading to Okasa to try to catch a flight to Bangkok, then on to his small farm in Laos. Head-aching from the stress and heart-bruised from leaving his beloved dog behind with friends on the mountain. I’m sure he’ll want to return to his home – and his grubs – in time, but I’m glad he has left the area for now. “Run, Bryan run!” and take that precious knowledge of an ancient Japanese craft safely away with you to be preserved for the future.” )
Be safe, my Friend.