Monday, 19 December 2016

Difficult Lines to Draw With Cultural Appropriation


My good friends Mixer and Jun are familiar to all of you who have come and stayed at my place. They live like hermits avoiding any promotion of their work in any form. (Mixer accused me of being Fujino Wikileaks for writing about them on my blog once.)

They live in an old magical silk farmhouse not far from me and are clothing designers. Almost all of their creations are made from recycling old garments. They cut them up an reform them into a new life.

There is always always always some quirky idea behind each period they go through.

Nuclear-waste-clean-up-crew-sporting-radiated-Dali-Lama-cat-insignia-period. It-is-a-dark-dangerous-universe-where-you-can-get-bumped-into-better-wear-reflective-tape period. Always-have-chopsticks-in-your-hat-in-case-a-feast-suddenly-appears-period. Micro-endangered-tribe-of-two-recyclers-period. Your-hat-should-be-easily-converted-to-a-shopping-bag/table-mat-period.

Buddha-cat-manifestations has been a reoccurring theme in their work and covertly worked into any period's theme.

This past year it has been..... Welcome-to-Air-Bhutan-what-you-might-wear-to-an-acid-party-flying-to-the-Mountain-Kingdom-period.

(Thank you to all my students who have supported my friends by taking home an antique Japanese silk kimono modified to a Bhutanese traditional garment.)

Emily is in Japan and I drove over to Hakone to pick her and the Rimpoche up and drive them to Fujino for dinner and a few indigo dips.

On the way home:

We visited my local friend Yamada san, the closest thing I know to a mountain hermit Zen Potter. (Yamada san had forbade me to bring any autumn students to his workshop as they behave like vacuum cleaners and clean out his stock so he has nothing to exhibit in galleries.) He lifted his ban on me a few days ago. He has fired the kilns enough to replenish his empty shelves. (Thank you again to my workshop students who support the local artisans around me.)

We bought some pottery.

I tried to explain the Japanese love of pottery to the Rimpoche...Egoless rice bowls...impermanence in wabi-sabi asymmetry....philosophy potters....

I must have failed miserably as the I attended his teaching in the Zen temple in Tokyo (Just behind the Apple store in Aoyama) last night his opening remarks where, "I fail to see Buddhism in Japanese tea ceremony and flower arrangement." (I could have sworn he was looking directly at me shivering by the pillar at the back of the temple when he said it.)

The essence of Buddhism is to reduce illusions while increasing wisdom.... he continued.

(I was listening to a Christmas song playlist on the drive home and the thought occurred.......what do "chestnuts roasting on an open fire"  have to do with the baby in the manger and the angels and the camels etc... )

I can see the connection with Japanese aesthetics and Buddhism. I thought it was evident. I better try harder next time with the explanation and not worry so much about looking like a fanatic.

I phoned Mixer and asked if we could drop by for a visit. I was bringing a real Bhutanese to her studio even!

The Neo-Bhutanese Flight Attendants were propped up outside waiting for us. I was producing enough stomach acid to fuel the jet to Thimpu while meditating on my  decision to be bringing the reincarnation of some Tibetan my Bhutan-obessed friend's recycled clothing studio.

He shook his head and laughed. Mentioned that the mannequin looked like he was wearing something his father had worn.

He asked Mixer right away if she had been to Bhutan before.

"Many times I have travelled there in my head."

We had a good laugh.

The ice was broken and the visit was great fun. Emily picked up some neo-Bhutanese fur lined boots that Mixer has been making. The Rimpoche found a few old tin cups with a Japanese dog food brand stencilled on the side.

 I've been determined to spend some time in Bhutan at a monastery teaching showing the Thanka painting monks to cut Buddhist imagery stencils in the Japanese katazome tradition and dye them with indigo and sell the products at the Aman Resort in Bhutan gift shop...

Look at this....

Rubbing my adventure greedy paws together as I plant to go in and wreck havoc by introducing new culture to a traditional one.....

I gave my spiel and showed the Rimpoche the Tibetan Buddhist themed stencils I had cut and dyed etc. Trying not to be too worldly enthusiastic in this transient world.

You tube has quite a few Rimpoche talks. This one seems appropriate when talking about recycling clothes and soul-crushing materialism.

Rimpoche: Identity/Materialism.


  1. who would have thought that such international doings and wisdom would reach me through a canadian textile maker in a japanese farmhouse? what an incredible world! i also love the story about your potter friend.

  2. I love how your posts are evolving. Deeper and deeper.

    1. I'll make sure I stay in relatively shallow waters....don't want to scare anyone.

  3. Mixer looks wonderful,I'll have to wear chopsticks in my hat- have to get a hat first! Did you get an invitation to teach in Bhutan?

  4. Very difficult to get a work visa in Bhutan right now. Social problems starting with kids seeing the outside world. Buddhism can't keep their attention.....

  5. You are right - there is indeed a connection between Japanese aesthetics and Buddhism. I watched the Rinpoche 's talk and will have to watch them all now! This is one of your most interesting posts, I hope to see those Buddhist stencils you've cut when I come to the workshop in April.