When Echizen, Japan Met New York City – October 2013

Gheesh, practically a month ago, on October 2nd, I attended a little event in Manhattan at the JET office on 47th Street honoring the opening of a small exhibit at the Japan Consulate on Park Ave in Manhattan on the Washi Village I spent time in last year, Echizen, Fukui Prefecture.  I was notified by my friend, Yoshinao Sugihara, who lives in Echizen and works with many of the paper makers I spent time with in Echizen to share their paper and gifts with the World.

The party I attended was wonderful only because it made me feel so connected to this village that I once had no clue about. As I looked at photos of Echizen, met the Photographer who captured the spirit of this amazing village, and “chatted” in broken English with people I met in the Village, I felt for the first time since returning, as though it hadn’t all been a dream…

I’m not sure how much I’ve discussed about my time in Echizen, but since my return, I have often felt like it didn’t happen, like Japan was something I fabricated in my mind.  The truth is, especially now that a year has occurred since I found myself in a village surrounded by water, a language I could barely understand, and with a broken heart,  I’ve felt a bit disconnected.  Working a job that has left me passionless, again, and struggling to find peace with my current place where I am mostly happy, but partially unhappy.  When I think back to Japan, struggling to make sense of my heart, fears, insecurity, and all the change I had just personally undertaken, I found a sense of me that I had not expected to find and so when I think back to that time, it feels surreal.  Almost as though so much change occurred, it had to be fake. This gathering reminded me that it was not fake. That I had indeed gone there, met incredible people, challenged myself, and survived to see my village before my eyes with love and a desire to stay connected.

My best friend, Geeta, attended the party with me and said to me, “dude, you’re like famous.” I, naturally, didn’t feel famous, instead I felt warmth and appreciation. I felt grateful that I could partake in something so amazing a year later.  I felt amazed that I could share it with friends from two different countries and two very important times in my life.

The exhibit ended last week on October 22nd. I was able to check it out the day before it closed and I can not express how happy I am to have been able to see it.  The photographer, Fumio Tanai, emailed me a few days after Sugihara-san emailed me asking me to attend both the exhibit and the launch party on October 2nd. In the days leading up the the event, we emailed some more and I couldn’t wait to meet him. After all, he was like me, a fan of Echizen and the world of Washi. When I arrived at the party, he came up to me with much excitement and expressed his gratitude at my attendance.  Tanai-san’s work that night was like a much needed elixir. He’s got a lot of talent in taking photos that really reach into the soul. I realize that we have something in common, but if I had never been to Echizen, but came across his photos randomly, I would have not only felt like I had been a visitor myself, but would want to seek out Echizen to explore.

The morning that I visited the Japanese Consulate was a rather quiet morning. I was running around like crazy, but once I walked in and laid my eyes on photos of Echizen on paper made by a paper maker I spent many hours with, I was calm. I smiled non-stop and I just stared in disbelief that I had met those people and learned from those people. That I had taken a dream, my passion and turned it into reality. Finally, that I had been touched by those that may never know just how much their respect and love for their work impacted my soul.  In other words, Tanai-san managed to capture exactly what I felt those two months in Echizen.

Below is a collection of photos I took of the exhibit and I hope it does justice to the depth of the photos on display.  I know that might go against artist rights, but I couldn’t help myself and I wanted to remember my morning looking at Echizen behind the window of crazy New York City. A quote on a caption boldly stated next to a photo of the Shrine for the Paper Goddess, “This place saved me.” I read that a cried a bit because Echizen and Echizen Washi saved me more than it will ever know, or that I can ever explain.

Post exhibit, I feel a bit more alive and a bit more energetic to get things moving on my end.  The one thing I was asked by Sugihara-san that night was how am I using Washi in my work. The truth is, I’m not. So now the urge and hunger to keep this bond is even more strong. I need to get back to Sara and to what Japan taught me. I need to get what is mine – truth, work, passion, love. I also need to get back to Japan, or as one friend to me before I left the event that night, “Sara-chan, come back to Echizen!”  Don’t worry, Echizen, I will be returning. Many, many times, I’m sure.


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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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