prompt four

INQUIRY

Understanding My Rituals

After my previous prompt that focused on my daily rituals, I was left to think about why I practice these rituals. This is something I have not looked into with depth before, I just accepted what I do, not realizing the source. Many of the rituals I perform are mimicked from what I have seen my family and others do. How I pay respect to my late uncle is a reflection of how I saw my grandparents and my parents pay their respects to relatives. There are so many customs and activities that I have inherited and share with others raised in Japan. The way we admire Mount Fuji, the sunrise, and the full moon, how we visit the graves of my relatives who have passed away, to how we tilt our umbrella as we pass others, and how my grandmother always had a fresh flower arrangement in our bathrooms… these are a few examples of our unique customs. While they are part of me, I find it challenging to explain my customs and beliefs to others, particularly those raised in a western culture. Part of the issue is that many of my customs are embedded in my being. I am not sure I can explain them in a way that those who were not raised in the same culture can understand. I am not sure I even understand my customs and beliefs.

How Westerners View Japanese Culture

Mari Kondo has made the Kon-Mari method of mindfulness and cleanliness famous to western culture. However, I am a little surprised at how she is synonymous with what she is teaching. To most Japanese, she teaches something that we all grew up with and know inherently. Ensuring that we appreciate what we use-books, dishes, etc.- is part of our culture. Kondo has just been able to articulate it in a way that makes sense to other cultures.

I was also surprised when I saw how a movement around “Wabi-Sabi” had become popular over the past few decades. In a book written originally in 1994, Lenoard Koren explained that “Wabi Sabi” is “a beauty of things, imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” When British author Beth Kempton learned about Wabi Sabi and wrote about it in 2018 she explained how “Wabi” finds beauty in simplicity and is “spiritual richness detached from the physical world”. She said that “Sabi” is concerned with the passage of time and how all things “gown and decay and how nature alters the visual nature of things” (01:45 – 02:02). I understand what these authors are saying, but how they explain our beliefs and customs is insufficient.

There is something more about Wabi and Sabi and valuing things, but exactly what is hard to explain and comes from deep within me. I realized this might be due to how we learn about things. I find it interesting that after a few decades of living in Canada I am beginning to understand that I am influenced by both my Japanese culture and my experience with western culture. But to really understand myself and my values, I need to start by connecting with my origins to see how this influences everything I think and do.

Observation, Mindfulness, and Appreciation

Kempton stated that Westerners need to have things written down because that is how they have learned to acquire knowledge. Japanese still, after many millennia, learn by observing and doing (01:12 – 01:30). This ability to observe is more than just looking at something. It is the contemplation of things.  And through mindful contemplation, appreciation comes- at least to me and others in my culture. Author Steve John Powell stated that while mindfulness is now popular around the world that it has existed for many centuries in Japan (2017). The origination of mindfulness and appreciation seems older than that to me.

Connections with More than Me

Yoko Akama was one of the first authors that really helped me make sense of my worldview. Because she has lived in Australia for decades, she, like me, has been influenced by western thinking. From her writing, her cultural upbringing factors into her personal worldview. Her research in Expanding Participation to Design with More-Than-Human Concerns related to how the Japan’s historical spirituality affects how Japanese view and act in the world, and was eye-opening for me. Concepts such as “yoriai”, “an unhurried system of collective decision-making” (p. 6) started long ago in towns and villages across Japan. People in committees would gather in their local shrines to discuss all matters that influenced their communities. This concept of community continues to flourish today in Japan.

While I was growing up, I remember my grandparents being active in our neighbourhood. The yearly community festival at local shrines has been going on for hundreds of years in each community-even in the middle of Tokyo. I remember a volunteer going through the neighbourhood every night at nine o’clock hitting two wooden sticks together, calling out “Hi-no-yojin”, which direct translated means “precaution to fire!”  In traditional Japanese communities, houses were constructed of wood and clustered closely together. Even if the construction materials have changed, the clustering remains consistent today. The danger of a fire spreading from one house to another is much higher.  So, “hi no yojin” reflects the understanding that the entire community relies on each person’s attention.

A “more than me” concept is imbedded within Japanese culture.  Akama gave an example of how a Japanese shrine is not just a shrine with functional purposes where you go to practice rituals, although none of this would be false. “Shrines are not mere buildings…[Shrines] are sentient beings with a living presence that is (and has always been) interrelated with cycles of creation and destruction” (Akama, 2020, p. 6). We Japanese have a consciousness that there is spirit and living in everything and therefore the purpose of everything comes from its own source interrelated with us. 

Cleaning and More-Than-Me

Learning about how my views, customs, and rituals are quite spiritual and originate from my culture thousands of years ago, I started to think of all the ritualistic activities or actions I have done that on the surface seem quite mundane but bear deep meaning. Cleaning objects is an interaction with things that every child in Japan experiences. Japanese children from kindergarten to the completion of high school learn to appreciate the items they use in school. John Powell and Angeles Cabello attempted to explain that the desire to keep their belongings clean comes from Buddhist and Shinto beliefs that things that are dirty or stained can harm us. I feel that this may be partially true, but this view makes the cleaning of objects more about the humans versus the objects and does not include the more-than-human view that Akama explained.

I suspect that the moral lessons I received as part of my Japanese learning in school, accompanied by me viewing and observing my family and people around me treat things with appreciation and value, accompanied by the honour I saw my family place in all our inanimate objects became embedded in me and slowly infiltrated my core allowing me to develop a deep appreciation of all things living and non-living. If my feelings towards other things are a result of my upbringing and my culture, I wondered if those same feelings could be developed in others that do not share my cultural development. 

Akama stated that we don’t even realize spiritual connections we have to things around us – spirituality is inside us. I thought if this is the case, then perhaps we just need to uncover our inner spiritual connections. If Japanese children are able to develop a connection with inanimate objects through taking care of them and being more mindful about them, I wanted to explore if these same feelings of appreciation, and eventual empathy towards “more than humans”, could be developed by those who did not grow up in Japan by utilizing similar techniques used in Japan. 

Exploration

Micro Action Exercise

I decided to conduct a micro action exercise to try to see if taking care of inanimate objects  could develop some type of spiritual connections for those not raised in Japan through practicing a cleaning ritual. 

Length of exercise: 6 days

Object: Choice of the participants

Prompt given: Daily

Action: Following daily prompt to dust/ clean the object of their choice.

Results: After each prompt is performed the participants will record their thoughts/feelings and share them with me. 

Thoughts and Conclusion

This micro exercise gave me some insight and hope that it may be possible for others to develop empathy towards inanimate objects through taking care of them, and a number of additional questions came to me that helped me realize additional aspects to consider in the future when researching this subject.

I noticed that the mere action of cleaning or taking care of something did not seem to alter or influence their feelings. Luke’s comments of feeling the exercise was mundane and mechanical told me that he was not uncovering a connection with it. The object was still quite separate from him and existed to serve a purpose that was functional to him. When I gave additional information and instructions both were able to identify its usefulness, but I am unsure if this understanding (of its usefulness) impacted how they felt about it.

I was interested to see that Emma, after six days, said that she will notice the table more every day and that she “likes it”. I wondered if this was a spark of feelings towards the table. Because I know the participants and know that one has Japanese roots (my daughter) and the other European roots, I wonder if and how this influenced their perspectives as they moved through the prompts.

I also wonder how time plays a factor. This exercise was six days only and each prompt was concluded in a matter of minutes. If the participants interacted for lengthier periods of time and over a longer duration how would that influence their feelings towards their objects?

Certainly instruction seemed key. Without instructions to specifically contemplate how the objects helped them, it appeared that the participants may not have developed an appreciation for their objects. This leads me to want to find out more about how specific instructions and teachings influences our feelings towards inanimate objects.

Finally, I wondered how an individual’s personal spirituality affects their views towards more-than-human philosophy. For example, if they are a spiritual person who believes that humans are connected on a spiritual level, is it easier for them to make the jump to developing empathy to inanimate objects than those who do not think humans are connected spiritually?

All of these questions have opened up numerous additional research possibilities for me, and this is both exciting and daunting as there are so many directions I can go. However, as the individual constructing the exercises, I started to understand how important planning all aspects of my research is. ■

References

Akama, Y., Light, A. & Kamihira, T. (2020, June 15-20). Expanding Participation to Design with More-Than-Human Concerns [Conference Presentation]. 16th Participatory Design Con ference,   Manizales, Colombia. 

Crossley-Baxter, L. (2020, April 27). Japan’s unusual way to view the world. BBC Travel. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20181021-japans-unusual- way-to-view-the-world. 

John Powell, S. & Marin Cabello, A. (2019, October 7). What Japan can teach us about cleanliness. BBC Travel. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/travel/ article/20191006-what-japan-can-teach-us-about-cleanliness. 

John Powell, S. (2017, May 9). The Japanese skill copied by the world. BBC Travel. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20170504-the-japa nese-skill-copied-by-the-world. 

Kempton, B. (2018). Wabi Sabi, Japanese Wisdom for Perfectly Imperfect Life (B. Kempton, Narr.) [Audiobook]. Harper Design & Audio.

prompt three – part three

Rituals

a cup of tea or coffee for me

“Slow knowledge” has been formed through long periods of time where individuals or communities tried something that felt right and worked right. Practiced over time, these can become traditions.

I believe that traditions and rituals are interwoven. I habitually practice my own traditions enough to call them rituals, or do my rituals form my traditions? Which way does it work?

wake up Brooklyn and Chance

My morning ritual:

Each morning, I like to wake up before anyone else while it is still dark out.

I open the blinds and in summer, windows as well.

I start our electric kettle.

lighting incense

I light Japanese incense by my uncle’s photograph who passed away and say good morning to him just like we used to say to each other.  

I water the houseplants.

I let the dogs out to the backyard. And then feed them.

I make tea or coffee for myself. 

I then turn on my computer and check news as I settle in for the day.

Why light incense? I am like most Japanese. Sometimes we do things out of inherited habit.  Growing up seeing my grandparents pay respect to their ancestors by lighting incense in front of our Buddhist altar (even though they were not Buddhist), was what I was accustomed to seeing daily. Me doing it now just seems like the right thing to do. It ties me to my ancestors and to my uncle who I was very close to; he passed away last year.

These rituals that are part of me – they connect me with my world. And even though I am not religious (as most Japanese), my culture is deeply spiritual. We believe in interconnectivity and we are all connected to everything around us.

Shinboku “Sacred Tree” is marked with Shimenawa”Sacred Rope” at a Shinto Shrine (photo taken by my brother: Yamanouchi, 2021)

Yoko Akama is an Associate Professor in the School of at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. She studied and researched how “Japanese practices live between worlds” (p. 5, 2020). Akama explained that Japanese practice everyday spirituality based on Koshinto.

“Koshinto” is inter-relatedness with rocks, mountains, trees, animals, lands, waters, wind and people, imbued with spirituality…Koshinto [is] a view that the natural world is made of a community of spirits of which humans are just one part.”

There are many curious customs in Japanese culture. These customs and rituals are part of me. Perhaps this is a way that I am connecting to my ancestors and heritage; perhaps this is slow knowledge being practiced by me. I realize that slow knowledge does not just have to be mechanically or physically oriented. It can be spiritual too.

My intention going forward is to continue to explore my connection with nature and the interrelatedness of all things through the combined lens of my Japanese heritage and my life as a Canadian. 

Reference:
Akama, Y., Light, A., & Kamihira, T. (2020). Expanding Participation to Design with More-Than-Human Concerns. ms, New York, NY.
Yamanouchi, D., (08/2021)Yasaka Shrine Shinboku, Chiba, Japan

prompt three – part two

Collaboration with Nature

My first bundle dye

Bundle Dyeing

In an attempt to freeze the moment of beautiful autumn, I decided to try a bundle dye using found leaves, twigs, and flowers. I have never tried to bundle dye before but have always wanted to. It is one of the simplest ways of dyeing fabric in my opinion. There are a few different processes, but I chose to follow the one that was introduced by an Indigenous artist from Western Australia, Katie West. Katie is an award-winning artist who returned to her heritage to learn the Aboriginal ways of textile dyeing. She has documented it and presented beautiful representations of her work that fascinates me (katiewularniwest.com, 2020). I love how she honours simple and authentic processes that relies only on plants for results rather than me trying to add mechanical processes or additives to colour the fabric.

Gathering materials for dyeing

Spread the materials randomly
Rolled up using a large branch
Opening the layer of fabric
After taking off the materials, I rinsed the fabric in cold water.

I really enjoyed the process of bundle dying. It Is ritualistic and is done in an appreciative fashion for the beauty of nature’s creations. The gathering, scattering the plant remnants on the calico fabric, rolling them in the calico fabric around a branch, tying it, putting it into boiling water and then waiting. It is all purposeful and suspenseful at the same time. Even though these steps are methodical, you just don’t know what the result will look like. My results showed some faint yellow dyeing (I think from lavender), and it was exciting to see the resulting colours from this simplest method. 

The history of dyeing textiles is ancient. In Japan, it is thought that people have dyed fabric using plants, flowers, and tree bark as early as the Jomon era, which was between 13,000 BCE and 300 BCE (somehiro.com). Until the mid-19th century’s industrial revolution, all colours came from natural sources. Until then, the knowledge of slow dyeing techniques was handed down generation by generation. Additionally, this is a great example of humans collaborating with nature.

References:

Fry, T., Nocek, A., & Escobar, A. (2021). Designing as a futural praxis for the healing of the web of life. In Design in crisis: New worlds, philosophies and practices (pp. 25–42). essay, Routledge.

West, K. (n.d.). Katie West. KATIE WEST. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://katiewularniwest.com/home.html.

染の技術と歴史: 染裕 Somehiro. SOMEHIRO. (2018, February 7). Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://somehiro.com/about_indigo/technology-and-history-of-dyed.

prompt three

DISCOURSE

Slow Knowledge is a chapter from David W. Orr’s The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture and Human Intention

Slow knowledge is knowledge that has been used for a long period of time that has been serving those using it well. Slow knowledge has stood the test of time by being utilized effectively despite circumstantial difficulties. Fast knowledge is the use of new, often technically derived, know-how that supposedly makes the carrying out of a function easier. The term and meaning of “slow knowledge” reminds me of an Japanese saying “温故知新 –  on-ko-chi-shin”. The direct translation of each characters are “warm up, past, knowledge, new”. To know what shall be, one must consider what has been. Correspondingly, the acquisition and implementation of fast knowledge should start from knowing old traditions of the land, communities, and habitat; in other words, if one wants to utilize fast knowledge well, it would be wise to not ignore the past; it would be wise to understand how old knowledge can inform desired “improvement” that will utilize fast knowledge, to ensure that the past and its wise lessons are not ignored.

A bundle of sweetgrass that arrived

Sweetgrass

“Sweetgrass, as the hair of Mother Earth, is traditionally braided to show loving care for her well-being braids, plaited of three strands, are given away as signs of kindness and gratitude.”
—Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

I wanted to experiment with something related to old knowledge that I could access. Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) is an aromatic herb native to northern Eurasia and North America. Indigenous peoples use sweetgrass in sacred ceremonies(nativetech.org).  By hearing about sweetgrass from Indigenous stories that I discovered in the last few years, I was intrigued by how it was described. The description of sweetgrass as the “hair of mother earth” connected with me as I have a grass nicknamed “Angel’s Hair” and that is a favourite grass of mine. It is a very thin, soft grass that resembles hair. I wondered if the sweetgrass I was reading about would be similar.  So, I went online and found an Indigenous family business who would gather a small bundle to me from their home in Saskatchewan and send it to me.

Brooklyn, examining sweetgrass

When the box arrived, I opened it with excitement and immediately smelled a sweet vanilla-like smell. “It smells so sweet!” I thought. The box consisted of a handful of 20” long strands of grass and several strands were braided together. I waved the sweetgrass in the air like a fan, listening to the long strands swishing as the sweet aroma filled the room. I loved my very first encounter with the sweetgrass. My dogs loved the smell too. I hung it on the wall where I can continue to admire it. Several weeks later it still has the sweet aroma emanating from it. I now am wondering how can I continue to use this and understand how to use it in respectful ways? How would it feel to braid it or how can I make something else with it?  I imagined just walking through a field of sweetgrass surrounded by the sweet aroma. How nice would that be. Eager to learn old knowledge from those that have mastered it, wanting to show the deep admiration I have for our Indigenous people who are keepers of immense amounts of slow knowledge. I think sweetgrass is a good place to start.

prompt two

MATERIAL

Prompt two was to establish a daily making practice relevant to my practice but something that would include working with relatively new materials. 

My drawing pads came to my mind straight away.  I haven’t been utilizing them at all. I do enjoy drawing and painting, so previously I thought I could easily get used to digital drawing,.  However, any attempt to become proficient with drawing pads ended up in frustration. Therefore, they stayed buried in my drawers. 

It was nerve-wracking for me to set a goal of learning how to draw  digitally in two weeks and to create something decent in the process!  But without this pressure, I feel I would have continued to avoid it.

So…, I decided to give it a try.

First Week

With my faculty, Cameron’s, suggestion, I decided to try a drawing application called “Procreate”.  It seemed easy enough to start; in fact, it was much easier to use than Adobe Illustrator! While I was testing out different brushes, I was also learned to use to the left sliders to vary the size and opacity of brushes.

First week practice

Second Week

Getting rid of the mediation

During my one-on-one with Cameron at the end of week one, he suggested to “get rid of the mediation”.  “How about drawing more like gesture drawing”? he said. 

I think he wanted me to focus on the gesture more than the details of the objects that I was drawing.  It made sense! I went home and contemplated objectively what my next actions should be. I needed to get rid of the mediation processes, but I always tend to focus on details. To counter my natural process and step into Carmon’s suggestion, I thought that I should practice blind drawing of movements. I had never tried blind gesture drawing prior to this, but I believe this could work for me to get rid of the mediation physically and mentally. 

Following this plan, I was able to focus on what is in the present moment.

Backyard

My first attempt was capturing our two dogs in our backyard. I sat on the patio and watched and captured them in their movements without looking at my iPad. I found it interesting that their eyes and noses stood out afterwards.

Dog park

The colours were chosen from the colour theme made from the photo taken on the location.

Horses
Park

Blind Drawing Walk

Up to this time, I stayed in one place while I drew. Then I wondered what it would be like to blind draw while I was moving. I decided to try this as I walked.  

Walk One

The first drawing while walking was on a sidewalk in my neighbourhood lined with trees and vegetation. Notice the crow at the top.

Walk Two

Walk Two is from a similar viewpoint while returning home. I changed the colours because outside was darker.

Time Lapse of Walk Two

This prompt started with a few lines and ended with lots of lines. Something spoke to me when I walked while I drew. My discovery was that I realized that present time stands upon layers of times. Time is something that we all experience without boundaries. I thought of how we all are at the top layer of time at every moment. The present becomes the past – I was feeling this in real time through layering the scenes I saw as I walked by. It is hard to explain, but it was an interesting moment to ponder while my hands moved. I also discovered that people come and go but the land, trees and non-human animals stay living the same way.  It was a new and interesting experiment to observe my environment this way. 

Me walking and drawing 🙂

prompt one

GIFT

t.a. kit, T.A. Survival Kit

For the first prompt, I was paired with my new classmate, Sahil. We were assigned to get to know each other and create a gift for each other. 

During a half hour video call (which felt like a five-minutes call), we were able to learn about each other by asking some questions and felt that we were able to obtain a good amount of information to create a gift. 

Interview Summary

In proceeding, I started to draw a mind map to figure out things that should be factored into the gift I was going to give him; Sahil lives in Delta with his family. His mom and grandma taught him how to cook. His dad is a big truck mechanic and has a workshop on their property. His Dad also built a studio space for Sahil. 

Sahil is an alumni from Emily Carr, having graduated with a Bachelors in Design degree last year. He has been working as a freelance designer since graduation and loves photography, design, art direction, and other creative activities. He enjoys managing teams and collaborating with others. 

In the future Sahil wants to teach; his next step to accomplish that goal is to become a T.A.  I thought I wanted to give him something that would be useful in the near future – to help him when he becomes a T.A.

“How about a kit — a survival kit?”, I thought. So,  I decided to come up with a survival kit to support his T.A. activities.

I looked back on my experience as a student and attempts to teach Japanese to non-Japanese people and came up with a list of things I thought could help Sahil as a T.A. 

Sanitizer, extra mask, sketchbook, stickers, stamp, mini-whiteboard, markers, sensory toy, snacks, water…

These are the materials that made it to the final list to be included in a kit; other things that I thought about but did not include were: a book (for yourself or for students), notebook, and an apron (for when you are in a workshop studio). 

While I was putting this together, I thought it would be a good idea to present it as a branded care kit for T.A.’s. I have called it – the “t. a. kit”! A simple title, I know, but one that I think works well.

Materials collected for the kit

Reflection:

This prompt allowed me to learn about my new classmate in a smooth and natural way. It is always difficult to get to know a new class through usual class introductions. Also it is hard to provide extensive information about yourself to people you meet for the first time. With this prompt, it was easier to let my assigned partner know about myself (knowing my partner needed my information) and easier for me to learn about him.

It was interesting to realize that I was able to started to organize my thoughts through design thinking.  All the “mundane” processes ingrained in me during my undergrad came in handy : ).

The actual kit