For a Monk

A Nest of Bowls

Sadly Japan’s resurrection from the ashes of war was in fact spurred on by further conflict beyond its shores.  First came the Korean War when Tokyo became a Rest and Recreation venue for troops.  The Ryukyu Islands as a whole remained under US occupation until 1972 while the rest of the country built for the future.

Vietnam was ravaged by war and Japan once again benefited indirectly from the fighting and made further strides along the path to total recover.

During these times industrial development in Japan gathered pace.  It was, however, a time when the quality of goods being turned out by some firms was poor.  ‘Made in Japan’ became a motto of distain.  But things changed.  Nowadays it is difficult to believe just how vehemently many Japanese products were scorned.  ‘Made in Japan’ is now a mark of quality recognised around the globe.

This transition, however, was more or less confined to industrially manufactured goods.  But what of the crafts?

It is easy to forget that Japan has such a long and strong heritage in the production of top quality craft items, which are either repeatables or one-off masterpieces.  In many cases they are household items in daily use.

This is true of this nest of bowls named Oryoki.  They have been produced in Wajima for many years, with the same attention to detail, precision and respect that we see abundantly evident in Japan’s industrially manufactured goods available today.

Forming part of the daily routine of a Zen monk, the shape and style of these bowls has changed little over the years.  Their use and the orderly life style of the monks can surely be attributed with having influenced the way that a large proportion of the Japanese now conduct theirs lives.  It is doubtlessly part of their national character— but difficult to deny or prove.

Zelkova is the wood of choice now as was likely in the past.  The turned and lacquered bowls are robust and treated with respect can be used without repair for many, many years.  In fact, being made to Wajima’s exacting standards, these bowls can be repaired if needs be and subsequently handed on from master to novice.

Although the demand for these bowls has now fallen, in the past considerable numbers were made and carried back home with monks who had completed their training at temples such as Sojiji Temple in Monzen.  In this way the robust nature of Wajima lacquerware became known, recognised and respected throughout the country.

The degree of design excellence, attention to detail and design solutions evident in many craft items, too, have certainly influenced industrial designers at work today.  The successes of the past have become part of their DNA, as much unconscious as conscious and something we could all perhaps learn from.

For more information on the Oryoki nest of bowls, please access https://terebess.hu/zen/szoto/oryoki.html.  Also, there are design parallels with the Box of Stacking Trays produced by Wajima Kirimoto Woodcraft featured in the post on A Box of Trays published on 05/05/2017.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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