Thursday, April 28, 2011

mail order name seals (chops)

I have had soooo many readers ask me how they can get their own name seals (hanko) for use with etegami and other art in the traditions of Japan or China. Etegami is a folk art that makes no pretense at being Great Art, so I usually recommend carving your own hanko from a rubber eraser. I describe the process in this post.

However, I do understand the attraction of having one professionally engraved, using Chinese or Japanese characters that were chosen to fit the pronunciation-- or even meaning-- of your name. I recently came across an online business that might suit the purpose. It was mentioned in one of the discussion groups on the IUOMA (International Union of Mail Artists) website. I haven't used their services myself, you understand, but the website is in English; they accept credit cards; you can even pay via Pay Pal; and it seems they will ship anywhere in the world. They are called SEALSTONES.COM

If you've been searching for a way to have a wood or stone hanko designed for you, I hope this information helps. If you have tried other sources, and found one you can recommend, let me know so I can add the information here.

humanizing the quake (bicycles)

When I paint etegami, I almost always make an English version and a Japanese version. This is the Japanese version of the etegami in my last post. Remember that one? The English version, as explained in the earlier post, has a poetic reference and was meant to be humorous. The Japanese version has no such reference, and simply says "I have the key, but the bicycle is gone."

Yesterday, I received an appreciative comment from a Japanese colleague who assumed the bike key etegami was part of my "humanizing the quake" series. Then it hit me! The tsunami destroyed and carried off buildings, ships, automobiles, people, livestock.... and bicycles.

Bicycles are an intimate part of life in Japan, without which so many of our daily chores would be difficult to accomplish. How much more so in the days after the quake when roads were broken up and gasoline was hard to find, so you couldn't drive even if you had a car. One of the early disaster relief projects was to send bicycles to the hard hit areas. I cheered when I heard of it. I know what a big difference a bicycle can make.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

illustration friday (bicycle)

This etegami was inspired by real life experience (lol), and the Shel Silverstein book-length poem The Missing Piece, part of which goes like this:

It was missing a piece.
And it was not happy.
So it set off in search
of its missing piece.
And as it rolled
it sang this song -
Oh I'm lookin' for my missin' piece
I'm lookin' for my missin' piece
Hi-dee-ho, here I go,
Lookin' for my missin' piece.

[Note: I'm curious about whether bicycles are sold with little locks on the front wheel in your country, as they are in Japan. When I googled bicycle locks, all I could find on the English language sites were chains that lock. We buy locking chains for extra protection if we want, but our bikes always come with a small lightweight boxy lock on the front wheel. The key that I drew is the kind of key that comes with that boxy lock.]

easter etegami

Happy Easter.

Monday, April 18, 2011

illustration friday (journey)

Men and women with huge packs fastened to their backs used to be a common sight when I was young, when trains, rather than automobiles, were the most common means of travel in Hokkaido. These packs would be wrapped in large furoshiki (wrapping cloths), the ends of which were pulled to the front and tied in a knot across the chest. Many of these travelers were peddlers of one sort or another-- and, as I discovered many years later, some of those with the largest packs were the fabled medicine peddlers from Toyama prefecture.

Medicine manufacturing developed into Toyama's biggest industry in the 17th century. These medicines for common ailments were sold by peddlers who traveled far and wide at a time when traveling outside of one's feudal domain was still uncommon and actually discouraged by the authorities. Their business was based on a policy of "use now pay later." With each visit, the peddler would restock the medicine box in the client household and take payment only for the products that had been used since his last visit. It was an innovative business method for those days and welcomed by villagers who lacked cash income. Pharmaceuticals continues to be Toyama prefecture's major industry, though the peddlers are now called "salesmen" and they travel in vans filled with plastic boxes instead of carrying enormous bamboo cases on their backs.

Read this article if you are interested in learning more about how this tradition is surviving the 21st century.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

humanizing the quake (the "outsiders")

These etegami are actually part of my illustrated recipe series, but I have a special reason for posting them under the earthquake series title. I felt that it was worth reminding us all that Japan is a multi-cultural nation, despite what most Japanese kids are taught in school, and despite the occasional nonsense spouted by certain politicians. The recipes posted here represent two prefectures which have cultural traditions that are outside of the Japanese mainstream. Hokkaido, in the far north, and Okinawa in the far south.

The first recipe posted here features a wild plant that is commonly called ainu-negi (Ainu leek). Life in Hokkaido is rich with the legacy of the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan. This legacy can be found in our local dialect, our food culture, our place names, and our worldview. Though the numbers of ethnic Ainu have dwindled, they are vocal and active, and contribute positively to modern Japanese society, economy and government.

To the far south, Okinawa prefecture has a somewhat complicated history as the Kingdom of Ryukyu prior to becoming an official prefecture of Japan in 1879. Their architecture, crafts, food culture, and traditional language is different from that of any other area of Japan. The second illustrated recipe, Goya Champuru, is an Okinawan dish that has become popular all over the country.

Apart from the peoples mentioned above, all over Japan there live permanent residents and naturalized citizens who are not ethnically or culturally mainstream. Some of us have lived here for many generations. Our lives are rooted here. We lived and died in past and present earthquakes and tsunamis. The burden to rebuild Japan is our burden too, and we bear it with pride.

Friday, April 8, 2011

illustration friday (bottled)

The inspiration for this etegami comes from a silly poem titled "An Alphabet," by the great English nonsense poet Edward Lear (1812 – 1888). I'm always looking for excuses to paint with blue, which happens to be my very favorite color. What's yours?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

humanizing the quake (aomori)

Aomori prefecture is as far north as you can go on the main island of Honshu, and is separated by the Tsugaru Straits from my own homeland of Hokkaido, which is the furthest north you can go in Japan. One of the popular souvenirs that people bring home from their travels to Aomori is the Hato-bue (pigeon whistle). Actually, the word for pigeon and the word for dove are the same in Japanese, so you could also call them "dove whistles."

These roughly pigeon/dove-shaped, baked-clay tweeters go back to the Edo period (1600-1868), when, it is said, they were given to children as noisy toys in the belief that the racket would protect them from evil spirits. A hato-bue has a hollow center with a sounding slit on its belly and a tail that serves as a mouthpiece. The traditional ones are painted in pastel tones of purple, green, and pink.

In a fit of experimentation, I painted the words with a painting brush and gansai paint, rather than the usual writing brush and sumi ink. It gives a fuzzy, vague feeling to the whole etegami. The writing translates to: I moan like a dove, and is part of a heart-wrenching cry for help in oppressed circumstances. (See the rest of the passage in Isaiah 38:14-16).

Friday, April 1, 2011

illustration friday (duet)

Yes! How did you guess? I painted two fava beans (i.e. broad beans) singing a duet! heh heh. In Japanese, these beans are called sora-mame (sky beans), presumably because the bean pods sprout upward, towards the sky.

I've always thought sora-mame look like they have a mouth at one end. A laughing mouth. Or a singing mouth. So I gave some thought to what kind of song a Japanese fava bean would sing-- especially in times like these. The song that came to mind was Ue wo muite arukou (namida ga koborenai youni), which translates to "I shall walk with my face turned upward (to keep my tears from spilling)."

It was made famous by the singer Kyu Sakamoto, becoming the number one ranked song in Japan in 1961. It also became a huge hit in the United States in 1963 under the [stupid] title of Sukiyaki.