How can one find value in and respect for inanimate objects? Is it by making connections?
When I was thinking about this I realized again that my upbringing in the Japanese school system, where I regularly participated in cleaning my classrooms, helped me develop connections and respect for objects. As I cleaned our desks with a wet rag that I would rinse and ring out, swept the classroom floor, cleaned the blackboard, etc… the act of cleaning these objects taught me social aspects of society while working together with my classmates, and also taught me how to have respect for things like chairs and desks. In western society, cleaning may just look like menial work, but I learned so much from it.
Shojiro Nakanishi stated, “School cleaning is perceived as an essential educational activity to support a student’s moral /spiritual growth. This growth is one of the three components: cognitive, physical, and moral/spiritual growth, of the ultimate goal of Japanese education which is the development of skills for an individual’s complete socialization” (Nakanishi, 1997). It is interesting to note that Nakanishi equated moral and spiritual as synonymous words. In Japan, morality is more than right and wrong, it comes from a deeper spiritual understanding of the value in everything.
Wanting to replicate my experience of cleaning in a classroom, and curious to find out if participating in similar exercises, could affect my classmates’ opinions of inanimate objects, I decided to conduct a simple cleaning exercise with my classmates. In a previous experiment that I detailed in my previous blog (December 13th, 2021, http://fullresgradstudios.ecuad.ca/mcolling/2021/12/13/prompt-four/), when I asked participants to try to find a connection with objects through cleaning, the results were mostly unsuccessful; when reviewing why I realized that I perhaps needed to provide more guidance if the concept was completely foreign. I wondered if I needed to provide more guidance to participants who may not have the same cultural understanding as I did of the spiritual/moral nature of the cleaning.
I asked the class to wipe down their chairs. I started to hand out gloves and cleaning wipes without much explanation other than asking them to start wiping down the chair that they were sitting on. Then, shortly after they started, I asked each participant to think about what kind of things that the chair may have gone through, where any marks on their chair came from, who may have sat in the chair previously, and if the person who sat there before was having a good day or bad day…
What I observed from this exercise/what participants said:
Cleaning the chair helped them recall a memory.
Simple observation can lead to deeper observation and consideration.
A curiosity about other things is what causes us to want to know more about something.
Calm – a participant was able to experience this feeling as a result of interacting with the chair.
Developing an appreciation – without knowing, perhaps, we can be developing an appreciation for objects when we are looking closer at the details that make up the object.
No feelings, but… It was interesting that even though a participant said they have “no strong feelings”, there still seems to be an empathetic response in their following answer when they said they were imagining the chair being subjected to “dirty shoes standing on it”.
Appreciating the value ” ‘it’s a good chair”.
Focusing on the function of the chair can be the beginning of appreciation.
Some could feel something right away: “I can feel there’s a connection between the chair and me!”
Some were able to uncover a relationship with the chair through intentional action: “I have a relationship with it – how precious it is.”
Some participants were not feeling anything or observing very much, but even the fact they were making an observation that “chairs are quite clean in this school” could at least lead to an appreciation for others that maintain the chairs which deliver more perspective than previous to the exercise.
All participants made at least one observation. For example, some observed it was clean; others observed there was paint on it. Relationships can’t take hold without noticing things and so I think even a simple observation can be the start of a new way of connecting to inanimate objects.
Mari Kondo has become popular in western culture through her “tidying up” methods. Westerners have started to understand her desire that we find and honour things that “bring us joy”. When she asks people to give things up to unclutter, she asks them to thank them for what they have provided before they get rid of the object(s). These methods of expressing appreciation for things help us understand value and interconnectivity (even clothing, buttons, and fabric will stay in the cycle of our ecosystem). It always starts somewhere.
“People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking. ”
Marie Kondo, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Reference Nakanishi, S. (1997). Gakko Soji: (school cleaning by students): The Japanese curriculum for socialization (dissertation).
In the fall 2022 semester, I was lucky enough to be in a ceramic class. Since last spring, I have done something reflective about myself, and the chance to be able to create something with my hands was something that I welcomed. The prompt for the course was to create a vessel. After brainstorming, I arrived at the conclusion that I wanted to make a vessel related to my morning rituals. One of my morning rituals is to light incense every day when I wake up before I make tea.
Marking with branches and rocks.
The five spheres I made represent my parents, my two brothers, and me. The different shapes or marks on the spheres represent the impermanence of life occurrences. Contrary to what spheres appear to be from a distance – the surface of the circular shape seems to go on and on smoothly with no obstacles- there are many ups and downs, obstacles, and unpredictable events.
My rituals of lighting the incense during my morning routine started with my uncle’s death two years ago and took additional meaning and purpose nine months ago with the death of my brother. By lighting the incense, I feel like I am telling them that they are remembered. This action also helps me feel consoled for not being able to be close to them with the complicated situation caused by pandemic restrictions.
Five of us are no longer five, but I wanted to keep the usual five here. The blue sphere is my brother – his favourite colour.
I am surrounded by impermanence. We are all surrounded by impermanence.
Aram Cara is a farm in the Langley area that is dedicated to the wellness of animals and people. One of the programs they have is animal therapy for people. I have visited this farm before and loved their philosophy of how they treat the non-human animals on the farm as sentient beings.
One day during this past summer, I was able to participate as a volunteer for a children’s camp. The children were all in hospice care, and they were to spend a day at the farm participating in the different activities involving the different animals at the farm. The animals were not forced to do anything if they were not comfortable.
During the horse-brushing activities, if the horse showed any sign of discomfort, such as moving back to distance itself from the child who was brushing them, the supervisors would explain to the children how to brush in areas that were less sensitive and that the horses liked to be brushed in. To get into the sheep pen (it is a large area), the children were asked to carry an egg on a spoon; this was a clever way to calm the children and to avoid having them make any sudden moves which may make the sheep nervous or surprised.
Through these activities, the children seemed to start understanding better that these animals have feelings like us and that if we pay attention to the animals, we can start to understand them better. I too appreciated seeing how each activity was designed for the humans to be able to communicate better with the non-human animals rather than vice-versa.
Saysutshun is an island only accessible by small boats. It is a small island, but rich in history. It is the traditional land of the Snuneymuxw nation. I feel honoured that I was able to visit this island and learn about its history.
Elliot White-Hill, a fellow Emily Carr student, and his brother, Ethan, were guest speakers. We were guests on their ancestral land. Their family lived on this island and the surrounding area for generations.
Elliot knew so much history of the island and it was captivating to hear his stories. He said that in the location where we were, people came to be healed from the grief caused by different challenges, such as the loss of family. When I heard about this, I felt as though I was meant to be on this trip – since I lost my brother just over a month ago.
Since our first field trip, each class has been visually, auditorily, tactility, and olfactorily, very stimulating for me. I also wanted to see how others in our class were observing the outdoor environments we were exposed to and interacted with.
First, I asked everyone to write down what they heard, saw, smelled and felt.
In the next activity, I wanted my classmates to focus on their tactile senses. I asked my classmates to make a frottage from something around us on the island.
I then wanted them to think about how they can protect what they just frottaged.
Free exploration time on Saysutshun
During my free time on the Island, with my sketchpad and recorder in hand, I decided to walk aimlessly along the shoreline, letting my senses take me where they pleased.
After a while, I saw a group of geese on the edge of the rocks by the ocean. Although I was worried that they might not like my presence and leave, I decided to sit closer to them.
Feeling the sea breeze on my face, smelling the ocean, listening to the geese conversing with each other and looking at the moving clouds changing shapes, I noticed that I was there in the present moment. Time had become muddled over the last several weeks since my brother’s death as my mind kept travelling to the past.
As I stood up and started to walk, I heard “crunch, crunch”; I had to step on the barnacles to walk and strange as it may sound, for the first time in a while, I felt alive.
Our field studies were all about experiential and participatory design in the best sense possible. I am so appreciative of this experience!
I started with a focus on living things in my immediate neighbourhood. This was expanded with our Trout Lake field trip in my city, expanded again with our Lynn Canyon field trip within my region, and then further again to unfamiliar territories with our Vancouver Island trip.
I feel interconnectivity with everything around us, regardless of the area of focus (close, near, or far). Now the question is how can we re-realize and re-learn and re-honour our environment?
Soon into the hike, I realized that I was focusing on the vast amounts of foliage around me and not on my anxiety about being in the woods (which centre on an extreme worry about ticks). Thinking about Shinrinyoku 森林浴 (Tree Bathing) – the immense number of trees, many different types of flowers, and many different mosses – captured my attention. The air felt and smelled fresh. I studied mosses a few months ago and was excited to see so many examples of how mosses were growing in an environment less interrupted by civilization. Zack encouraged us to talk less so we could observe our surroundings better and appreciate the experience more. That did help!
Video: Aamir’s prompt was for us to observe a naturally occurring phenomenon and then tell a story about it. I chose moss(es) to observe, created a message that humans could learn how mosses adapt and made a short video clip. How can we survive the climate changes like these mosses did for many millions of years?
Sinrinyoku is a Japanese phrase that was created only a few decades ago and means “forest bathing”. While I have known of this concept and understood it, the meaning sank deeply into me throughout my field school experience.
Being in the woods or amidst trees is said to be very beneficial to our health and can help us reduce stress. This practice can help individuals find peace, hope, and new meaning (Miyazaki).
Being physically close to nature for five days – being near large trees and being able to touch them throughout the day – helped me contemplate and experience a deeper connection with everything non-human around me.
Interacting with Nature: Close, Near, Far
The field school class room started in our direct neigbhouhood in Vancouver in the park, then a little further to North Vancouver for hiking. Finally, we went to outside of Greater Vancouver for three day camping trip.
CLOSE: Trout Lake Park, Vancouver, BC
We had workshops throughout the day. Zach encouraged us to think of design that could benefit the natural environment. In a city park like this, it is hard for the natural habitat to avoid human presence and interference. What can humans do to help while they visit the park for the local natural habitat? I noticed that the majority of people at the park had a dog companion with them. I thought “dog hair” ! I’ve heard of how birds make nest with animal hair. If we build a dog brushing station where the humans can sit and chat while they brush their dog companions, wouldn’t that be great for all parties involved (humans, birds, and doggies)?
Just by staying in the local park for a day, there is so much that you can discover. I did not know there were so many different birds here in the city. If I was just walking through the park with my earpods on as I normally do when I’m alone, my experience at the park would have been completely different. I even sat on the grass (well, kind of) among geese and dog droppings – this was a challenge if you know how much of a germaphobe I am!
When Zack told us about a new plan that was recently approved for this park, I was disappointed to hear about all the new supposedly exciting beautification of the park – much of it was human-centric designed with more benches, more bike and walking paths, etc. I thought about how I can have a stronger voice for the local habitat when it comes to park plans for city parks like this one.
In Japanese culture, “moss” can mean “eternal time”, which is an expression born from the fact that it takes a long time for mosses to grow. In the Middle Ages, due to the influence of Zen and the tea ceremony, the aesthetic sense of Japanese culture known as “Wabi-Sabi” was born; “Wabi-Sabi” finds beauty in sparseness and tranquillity rather than a gorgeous luxury. The plant that embodies this is moss. The combination of mosses growing quietly without blooming, and still maintaining clear freshness with its vibrant or deep green colours gives the feeling of Wabi-Sabi. The existence of mosses have become an indispensable part of the Japanese garden (Y. Oishi, 2020).
The Japanese National anthem includes moss as a symbol of eternity showing perfectly how intertwined mosses are with the Japanese psyche (H. Akiyama)
There are many well-known beautiful old moss gardens in Japan, but one place that I am hoping someday to go to is Yakushima Island. It is registered as a World Natural Heritage Site. It is said that about 1,600 species of mosses grow in Japan, and about 600 species of them exist on the island of Yakushima. Yakushima is truly a treasure trove of mosses. The reason why such a variety of mosses grow here is the unique environment of Yakushima. High mountains such as Mt. Miyanoura (elevation 1,936m) rise in the center of Yakushima, and when moist air warmed by the warm current of the ocean surrounding the island hits the mountains, clouds are created, which then brings a large amount of rain (Japan National Tourism Organization).
Mosses Around Me
Mosses for Other Beings
Chickadee birds started to nest in the wooden birdhouse on our back porch last year. After several weeks, I started to hear the chirping of baby birds from the house. After another several weeks, the birdhouse became quiet. When I opened the birdhouse, there was an empty nest made of moss. I remembered seeing a bird carrying about an inch and a half of moss-a tiny shred- and marvelled as I realized the parents must have made several thousand trips to make this nest for their family! I read that chickadees do not return to old nests and so I decided to clean the house out this year, in hopes that it would again create a safe place for a new family. When I took out the old nest, I carefully took out the nest and examined it; as far as I can tell, I could only see mosses as material for the nest. The nest was dry but very soft to the touch. It seemed like a perfect place for tiny eggs and little baby birds to be born and raised.
Mosses make perfect places for little critters to hide. While I was examining the mosses in the mossarium I built, I was surprised to see a huge spider appear. Taking a closer look with a digital magnifier, it seemed like the spider was carefully and intently examining every tiny blade of what looked like a lawn but was actually magnified moss.
Mosses provide a place for plant seeds to grow. One study proved a symbiotic relationship across three organisms: a plant (Mitella) is helped by its pollinator (small fly), and the pollinators’ larvae are helped by mosses as a place to live and for its food source (Okuyama et al., 2018).
Struggle with the names
I struggled with the exact scientific names of the mosses that I collected. So many of them looked similar! I decided to ask a moss expert in Japan, Hisako Fujii. She is a well-published author, who writes about mosses. I was able to exchange several communications via DM with her! She told me that it is good to record the size and environment that mosses are growing in, etc., to help determine their names. She gave me her guesses for which group of mosses the mosses I had would be in. I was grateful that she was so friendly and generous with her time.
However, with thousands of species of mosses, I could not 100% positively distinguish names for the mosses that I gathered. This was frustrating and I felt I was stuck. Eventually, I knew I had to move on but did not feel good about not being able to call each of them by their scientific names… however, after receiving kind advice and encouragement from some of my professors, I was more easily able to move on. Thank you!
From my research, I knew it is environmentally unethical to transplant mosses and therefore, I knew I wanted to gather mosses from around my neighbourhood (instead of ordering them from a different place). On my neighbourhood walks, I started viewing where mosses were growing, noticing different types of moss, and how they grew on different surfaces. I wanted to see how mosses grew and wanted to make something I could observe more often, so I decided to make a mossarium.
I built my mossarium and placed it in a position to get natural light. I covered it- thinking that it could survive with its own ecosystem (I read that mosses could build their own ecosystem) and I added LED light to help on cloudy days. I sprayed water on its surface several times per week; simultaneously, I placed some of the mosses I had gathered in a few places around my backyard so I could observe and compare the mosses I gathered and placed outdoors versus what I gathered and placed in the mossarium I built.
I observed and interacted with my mosses indoors and outdoors, hoping that I could see them grow and flourish. This did not occur the way I anticipated and I started feeling bad for them. My appreciation was growing for them and because I wanted to help them be happy; it almost felt like I was watching over my children as I checked on them and fussed over them numerous times per day.
Although the mosses in my mossarium continued to grow smaller, I feel that I learned from this experience and now have a profound appreciation not only for the mosses but the non-human beings that are around me that are thriving on their own.
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.
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. ■
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.
“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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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West, K. (n.d.). Katie West. KATIE WEST. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://katiewularniwest.com/home.html.
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