I Don’t Speak Japanese, You Don’t Speak English; I Want to Speak Spanish. What?

Goodness Friends, I have SO MUCH TO SHARE WITH YOU! And I can’t because I have an hour to type today’s post before not having internet access until tomorrow.

Sigh. Yes, it is true.

The house I am staying at has no internet which makes life a bit difficult. Furthermore, my day is busy from 9 until 4 and only then can I dash over to the cafe with wireless until 7pm when they close. The woman who owns the cafe is super sweet and allows me to sit drinking a coffee until she closes and I can get through emails and hopefully a full-on blog. In four attempts this week, this is the first night I’ve been able to write a blog. It’s frustrating, but maybe for the best? My time spent at a computer has dwindled, which is a good thing.

Alas, let me get down to business: I am in Echizen-City,Fukui Prefecture, Japan. That’s quite a mouthful I know. I arrived at 5:48am Tuesday morning and it was cold. My friend, Rina, picked me up from the bus stop, along the high way, and we made our way to her house, where I am a guest. I promptly slept for two hours or so and then we went for a walk and ran some errands in Fukui that she had to run. It was an exhausting trip, mostly because I had a strange dream and I can’t make out what it means even now, but I am getting into a rhythm here.

Tuesday also happens to be the day the Museum I am working at and studying is closed. That means the cafe is closed as well. Boo. No internet on Tuesday. OMG.

My first day at the Udatsu Paper and Craft Museum was officially Wednesday and I learned how to pick through pulp for dirt and dust. It is not a glamorous job, but as I sat there immersed in water to my elbows, I realized this is the lesson I’ve been waiting to learn my entire life.

I arrived at the Museum at 9am and was introduced to four characters unlike any I’ve met before. I don’t say that just because of the language barrier, I say that because I can tell a bit of them in what I can’t understand, in their body language. They are all intrigued by me. The one thing I understand is that I’m the “American from New York.” Both yesterday and more so today, I worked on removing the top layer of kozu. Kozu is one of the plants harvested for Washi paper. (It takes quite a process to go from plant to pulp that gets turned into paper. I’ll share more on that process in future posts, also I’ve only been allowed to learn the first two steps. While I have witnessed all of the steps, or most of all of the steps involved, I have yet to work on creating the glue like substance that is used to make paper, nor have I actually worked on creating an actual sheet myself. I’m here for two months, I have plenty of time. Plenty of time.) I work on this process in the front of the museum, or rather the entrance which means that when student groups or other visitors come in they see me working away and often times stop and watch, maybe take a photo and either Kono-san or Yamada-san will say something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s Sara, the American from New York working on Kuzo.” It’s hilarious and children especially look at me and start saying hi, or asking me questions in English. It’s funny.

Of the four artisans and workers at the Museum, Yamada-san is the one I work with the most. She does tours and handles a lot of different things in the administration of the Museum back office. She’s hilarious! We don’t quite understand each other. For example today, I tried to explain that I have a nephew (oi) in Japanese and she thought I said, I am an uncle (Oji). It was very confusing and required dictionaries and when we realized the mistake she said, “hahaha, okay!” I absolutely LOVE her! Naturally. When she saw me today, I had washed my hair and she said, “shampoo?” to which I just said, “hai!” That was that. She keeps telling me that I’m doing a good job with the kozu layer removal which is great because I fear that I don’t know what I’m doing, but so far so good. She even told Rina that I’m doing a good job. YAY!

I have a lot more to learn and I know that in the coming weeks, these artists and I will have a lot more funny and unclear moments, but from the first four days, I can say that I feel like this is the right thing for me.

As I mentioned already, Wednesday as I sat at a basket in water and went through pulp removing dirt and dust, I thought to myself, “this is what you’re doing with your life Sara?” and then I quickly followed with, “Yes! You need to learn patience and gratitude and kindness and nothing teaches you more than looking for imperfections in an art that is anything but perfect, paper.” One of the skilled artists I work with, I can’t recall her name right now, is an older woman who from 9-4 with an hour lunch break goes through every strand of fiber to remove dirt and dust. I don’t understand her to know if she complains, but she sits there, bent over, working and working and working, knowing that from her time she will have helped craft a beautiful and valuable sheet of paper. Sometimes that is enough.

Now, you may be wondering where the Spanish comes in and I’m going to tell you.

Word on the street is that Japanese is a lot like Spanish. I can’t confirm this yet, but every day after listening to Japanese and trying hard to get a handle on the different words I’m hearing, I am desirous to hear my second langauage and my mother’s first: Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish very fluently, but I’ve got amazing comprehension skills and being in Japan since October 10th has made me want to speak Spanish with an urgency and a hunger like never before. I’ve been adamant about watching my Novela on Telemundo, too. My Mom would be happy if she knew. At the very least, Herminia Castellon up in heaven is smiling down. As a matter of fact, she’s smiling down because much as an artist my grandmother was she’d be happy to see me  following my dream and learning from other artists directly.

Friends, this trip is powerful stuff. Absolutely powerful stuff. I have so much to share like how I’ve met a Japanese National Treasure, how I live right next to the Goddess of Paper’s shrine here in Echizen, how I went to a workshop on Marbling with the fiercest old man EVER, how the woman at the cafe gives me gifts of sweets every night before I leave, how I danced around a fire at a fall festival at the City Shrine last night, how I cried like a baby when a paper artisan sang to me songs sung at the festival for the Paper Goddess, how the first time I saw paper made, I was overwhelmed with emotions, and how the quiet and peace of Echizen is helping my tired soul, but you’ll have to wait for the next few posts. I hope to get on target through the weekend, but we shall see.

Oh, I also have some amazing thoughts on sustainability and business, so stay tuned for those posts, too! This is a business blog, after all!

On that note, Sayonara!

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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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