A different kind of luxury

The morning dawned clear and warm and after breakfast we headed up to visit Nakamura-san, an artist who lives a deliberately simple life up the mountain from Kamikatsu proper. The bus driver was a champion, the road is narrow and winding and there were a couple of spots where it was more than a tight fit to get us around a curve or across a bridge. (The fit was so tight that tomorrow we will walk the last bit — at the driver’s reqest!)

We had brought Nakamura a gift, a piece of stained glass we had commissioned from an artist (Wayne Stratz) in Pennsylvania. Wayne designed the piece at Wernersville, where we had done our first experiment in silence, riffing off of pictures I had taken when Hank, Marc and I visited in June. The result was a tea pot in glass, evoking the mud hearth and cast iron pot with which Nakamura had made us tea on that visit. The style of Wayne’s piece is very similar to the style of some of Nakamura’s work. Later in the afternoon Nakamura showed the students some of the ways in which he creates these stained glass like pencil drawings, and helped the students create some of their own.

The main activities of the day were to begin making bound journals, using traditional Japanese binding techniques. Nakamura showed us how to bind cloth (prints in patterns traditionally used by Nepalese women for their underblouses) to paper, so that it would be easier to handle, and then how to bind the equivalent of the folios to which we will attach the covers tomorrow. For some students this was the first time they had threaded a needle.

We also helped make lunch. Atsko Watanabe, a member of Kamikatsu’s town council and a friend of Hank’s and Nakamura’s had brought the makings of lunch (vegetable soup, tofu, bread and fruit) up with her. When she asked for help with lunch, the first thing she needed was someone to get the fire started in the mud hearth. With a little help from Nakamura and Atsko, two students managed to get a good fire going and water heated to make a wonderful vegetable soup. We ate in shifts of 5, as that was the number of bowls and chopsticks we had — no disposable plates and bowls. (Kamikatsu strives for zero waste, and comes pretty close.)

Despite the simplicity of Nakamura’s life, it seems deeply luxurious as well. At what point do we have so much stuff that we can no longer manage it? Several of us had hermitage envy and I confessed to Nakamura-san that I was eyeing the hollow across the valley, which seemed to me a perfect spot in which to nestle a small house.

We finished the day with a short visit to the Zero Waste Academy, Kamikatsu’s project to limit the amount of trash they produce. There are 36 different waste streams (plastic bottles and their plastic caps are two different streams), and a room where you can pick up goods for free (some students will be coming home with beautiful tea cups that someone else no longer needed).

It was an extended meditation on what goes into making the heat to make lunch, rather than just turning on a burner; what goes into making a blank book in which to keep your notes; what happens to what we put into the trash here (every yogurt container will have to be washed, the orange juice cartons broken down, washed and folded just so).

One thought on “A different kind of luxury

  1. You ask " at what point do we have so much stuff that we can no longer manage it? And I ask " at what point do we fill our lives/ our brains with useless information (jersey shore, star gossip, Politics) that we forget what is really important to think about. Live there seems so simple but yet so profound. I'm so enlightened by your journey. Ivonne (I'm posting anonymous because I don't know how to do it any other way!)

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