COSMIC WONDER Free Press
The arrival of Spring is sudden, a new color appears in the landscape, like a little light in the dark. It’s usually on the ground, a flower—yellow or purple. Where I live, the first flower is either a violet, a lesser celandine (ficaria verna) or a dandelion. These appear when the landscape is still in winter.
Another precursor is hazel catkins, these golden bud-like flowers hanging on hazel trees. Any of these signs brings joy. Spring is coming! It might still be cold, freezing at night, but it’s undeniable, it’s happening.
A few days later, I start noticing buds on the shrubs of my little garden and, driving on small roads, white flower buds on cherry trees or very small yellow flowers on male cornel, the first tree to bloom.
After a dormant period, the metamorphosis of nature starts again, and like a ballet, one after the other, tender green leaves will grow on trees, new flowers and herbs will come out of the ground.
Last week I went to the “daffodils wood,” where hundreds of daffodils grow. I can pick a large bunch without any visible effect on the landscape. I was a little too early this year, and could only find a dozen that were blooming. I also started to pick wild herbs that I eat as salads, valerianella locusta, perennial lettuce, dandelion…
When I moved to the country and started to be more familiar with nature and the cycle of seasons, I was amazed by the constant changes and how quick it happens. The plant is good to be eaten or harvested at a certain stage of its metamorphosis, before the flower grows for edibles or right when the flowers open for some medicinal plants (hawthorn for example), and this stage sometimes only lasts a few weeks.
With Spring coming, there is another simple and renewed joy in my everyday life I am very grateful for: from now on and until late summer, I’ll have fresh flowers in a vase on my kitchen table.
Photography: Elein Fleiss
I live surrounded by causses, landscapes that have been shaped by sheep farming over centuries. Sheepfold, shepherds shelters and low walls separating plots, all made of dry stone, are reminding us of this past. Causses, which are limestone plateaus , are situated several hundreds meters above sea level but are not mountains, not even hills, they are flat. On these plateaus, because of the specific composition of the ground, not much can grow. Farmers have been grazing sheep here since the beginning of time. The sheep are raised for their milk which is made into cheese. To produce milk, sheep have to have lambs every year, whom are traditionally killed and eaten for Easter, following Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions. The wool, sheared every year, is also used for bedding (mattresses, pillows, blankets) and clothes. There is one kind of sheep that is specific to the region where I live, that is commonly called ‘sheep with glasses’ because they are black around their eyes. It looks like they have black glasses on.
Nowadays sheep farming is less common here, unlike in the Basque Country where it remains an important activity.
One of my friends is a shepherd. His name is Antoine and I photographed him for my slide show, Ici-bas. He didn’t come from a shepherd family but he wanted to lead a different life. The shepherd is still a synonym of freedom and solitude, maybe similar to a traveling monk in Asian cultures. It’s hard work but you get to live in nature, with the cycles of seasons. Antoine’s sheep, of Sarda breed, are particularly beautiful. He treats them with much respect and uses natural remedies whenever they get sick. In the Summer he moves his flock to another location so that the sheep have access to more grass. This move is called transhumance and is practiced in Europe since prehistoric times.
I recently visited the mountains of Basque country close to the Spanish border. We could see many sheep in their summer grazing, free on the land, no fences. There was different types of sheep. Among them black face manech, typical of the basque country, whose wool is particularly hard and itchy. I have a sweater made of that wool by Mary, the old woman who was spinning and knitting wool in my village. When she turned 90 years old, two years ago, she stopped her work. I am so happy I could buy several of her pieces made with raw wool and which have a very unique feel. Mary was using whatever wool was given to her by shepherds. The manech wool pieces, even though not very comfortable, are the most beautiful to look at.
I find it magic when I see sheep. These white fluffy silhouettes punctuating the land. Sometimes they look at me and when our eyes meet I get mixed feelings. I am reminded I also am a mammal.
Photography: Elein Fleiss
At the weekly “Asuka Bio-marche” in Asuka Village, Nara, you can find naturally-grown vegetables and rice, post-harvest treatment-free eggs, makomodake and mushrooms harvested in autumn, vegan burgers and smoothies, Indian home-cooking and “Indian pho” with gluten-free rice noodles, home-roasted organic coffee, and so much else. The stands of farmers and café owners are always crowded. I love to go to organic markets and always look for one when I travel. I feel enriched and energized when I see the fruits and vegetables of natural and organic cultivation, the daily careful work of the people who produce them, and the fruits of the unity of people and nature. Shigeo Tanaka and his partner Sachiko, who live and make pottery in Asuka Village, once took me to the Asuka Bio-marche. The lunch we had there, made with naturally grown vegetables and spices, was very tasty and delightful under a blue sky.
Next to Shigeo Tanaka’s kiln in the mountains, there is a naturally cultivated field which he uses to prepare various vegetable dishes. His dishes and sweets, which have evolved in a unique way by combining the practices of natural food therapy, yin-yang layering, fermentation, and raw food, are wonderfully delicious and go beyond the boundaries of home cooking. After the meal, Shigeo-san makes us coffee from his own roast. There is a well in the kitchen from which he draws the water to boil. The thoughtful and detailed dishes and drinks are served on dishes made by Shigeo, who pursues invisible and spiritual movements.
I wondered at how much time and effort goes into these naturally-grown vegetables, how much power the carefully nurtured life has, and how much is condensed in the meals made from them. When we eat these precious things, we want to consume them with all our hearts and enjoy them. Many of the vessels that Shigeo makes are in the form of ritual vessels that are dedicated to the gods. I use these vessels daily at Ryugu. It is a pleasurable thing for me to serve food on vessels that express a kind of spiritual vibration. Created in the mountains with clay, fire and him, these are things that express the vitality of the spirit.
Aug 15, 2021
Medicinal plants are wild grasses
Wild grasses are the herbs of medicine
Medicine is found in the wild
Wild grasses are connected to the ancient earth.
They have coexisted with the earth since long before mankind.
Grasses are full of life force
The minerals of the earth
The energy of the field
By taking in the power of the plants and grasses into your body
the ancient earth and the cells of living things resonate with each other
your body and mind will be in harmony
Free and easy
To use the five senses
To loosen and open the mind and body
To be bathed in the light of the sun
To breathe deeply
To take in the scent of the grass, the drops of the grass
To let the blood flow through the body
To take in the memory of the ancient earth
We call it wildflower tea.
Each grass has its own name and role
that supports the life of all living things
It provides food, clothing, housing, and spirit for all living things.
In the past, people and grasses were very close.
As in the past
as something close
Instead of keeping the grass away from the soil
Now is the time to make the wild grass our friend
We are continuing our wildflower activities with the hope that they will be useful in our daily lives
Our axis is the natural world.
To put down roots in the earth
To have a connection with the soil and the grass
To enrich our hearts and lives through grass
When we face the wild grasses and weeds
We learn that everything we need is provided for us
We don’t have to depend on others, and we don’t have to look only to the outside
Now is the time to rethink our relationship with our surroundings
We remember when we were good friends with the earth and grass
If we do that
A bond between people and plants
may be born again
With the rapid changes in the environment, the culture of wildflowers seemed to have died out
But thanks to our ancestors, we are now able to learn about it
We can again become familiar with
Neglected plants and grasses
Returning to Nature
May 27, 2021
NONO stands as a word to worship the day/sun, moon, god and buddha.
In Kamiseya, a town with a tradition for fuji-ori, in the Tango region of Kyoto, there is a legend that it was god who taught the people how to weave the fuji cloth.
In Kamiseya, fuji-ori is affectionately called NONO.
Fuji(wisteria), kuzu(arrowroot), kaji(original paper mulberry), kozo(paper mulberry), hemp, ramie, shinanoki(Japanese linden), basho(Japanese banana plant), ohyo(Manchurian elm).
People have spun fibers taken from these plants into fabric.
As the love and wisdom of the universe and earth are embodied in the plants of this earth, we make fabrics out of these plants, and by wearing them, we are able to feel connected to the idea of being one with them.
The workings connect us subconsciously to the universe, and our consciousness as human beings will connect us with all in its entirety.
This is where the NONO will emerge.
Cosmic Wonder with Kogei Punks Sha
*Statement of the exhibition”NONO a native spirit of Kami and Cloth”
Photo: Kogei Punks Sha “Kamisuki-numa of Kinu-numa” 2020 / Photography: Yukinori Maeda
Kinu-numa in Tochigi prefecture is known for its mythical dragon’s palace nestled in the mountains. Local lore of a weaving Princess Otohime is passed on to this day.
Miyama, where Ryugu is located, is a wintry landscape these days, and soon it will be covered in snow. I am working on the “Days of light” collection for 2021. For this collection, we have done away with the distinction between spring/summer and fall/winter, instead focusing on a single theme for the year. Even if you cross a summer skirt with a winter coat, they are based on the same theme and are designed to match. If you pair similar colors, you can make your own versatile collection. By combining the collections we can reduce our environmental impact and get our products to you under better conditions. We will also be able to take some time off! We’ll have more time to take walks in the forest and tend to our fields. And we will be able to deepen our practice of making art. A new art project is in the works and will be announced in March. The theme of the project will be Nono (primitive cloth) by Cosmic Wonder with Kogei Punks Sha. I’ll write more about it later.
December 1, 2020
About four years ago, I planted Yusuraume (Nanking cherry) tree next to the Ryugu’s entranceway. A few days before planting the tree, Mr. Yasuhide Ono of Utsushiki gave me a very beautiful and clear Himalayan crystal. Some believe that if you plant a tree with granite underneath the roots and a crystal in the center of the roots, the tree will grow to look like a dragon’s lair. When planting this Yusuraume, I buried Mr. Ono’s crystal along with the granite. The Yusuraumehas become a lovely symbol of the Ryugu. The other day, I tried wrapping a beautifully embroidered arm cloth, made by Mr. Ono, gently around the trunk. It made me smile to see how well it looked. This tree must somehow be related to Mr. Ono.
November 1, 2020
Lantern fruit in a small-handled pot by Takashi Ichikawa
The mountains that surround the Ryugu are rich with natural forests.
When I enter the mountains, I find a hardy kiwi vine clinging to a big tree.
Climb the tree, chew on the hardy kiwifruit, fill the basket and go back down the mountain.
Let’s give some to the monkey and still there’s a lot left.
The hardy kiwifruit is small, sweet and sour, and is said to be the oldest type of kiwi.
In the field around Ryugu, I spot so many lantern fruits. They seen to be a European variety.
I enjoy their mellow flavor and unique aroma. They have a soft and supple sweetness.
These autumn mountains and fields are like jewel boxes full of fruit.
September 20, 2020
Smoked Sarunashi in a smoker
From the perspective of energy, the act of burning soil means the death of the soil and the birth of a new substance. it suggests a dimension of energetic circulation beyond the visible, organic, or environmental. Phenomena that seem to run along a straight axis, like good and bad, liking and disliking, life and death, are actually circular events. It is where it is and I realize that I am part of it. A sphere has a stable shape, with no front and back, and can be made without tools. The focus is not about whether it is a bowl or a vase. You can see at a glance the differences among the fired soils. And yet they are the same, transferring their energies back and forth. The form that one sees is only one side of a form, the recognizable side. One must go beneath the surface to find the rest.
June 6, 2020
It was a long drive of about 6 hours from the city of Kolkata, India to the the village of Khadi. Upon arriving we drank chai from earthenware bowls and ate rotis. The table was set with paper napkins in shocking pink. April in West Bengal can be quite hot but walking in the scorching sunlight was made less difficult thanks to the gracious welcome of the villagers. Most of the village houses were made of clay with wooden structures painted with soil and with thatched roofs. The Okudosan (furnace), which was made as if it grew out of the earth, was where the thread gets refined. I was delighted to see that the village and its surroundings had withstood the changing times and very happy that our khadi was being woven here. The villagers share all of the work from scouring to weaving. At present, yarn spinning has evolved from the old Gandhi charka to the double charchard. Yarn spinning and winding are performed by women, while the weaving of large wide looms is performed by men. One loom was half-buried in the ground to take advantage of the humidity. In the past, every village would make khadi. And it is not so long ago that, in Japan, farmers made natural fabrics from plant fibers. This village, resounding with the pleasant sound of the loom, seemed joyful and full of life. Villagers were always passing from one house to another, or climbing the trees to pick mangoes, and talking animatedly with one another.
On that day, we stayed at a beautiful inn which had been the old factory for dying the khadi cloth indigo. Strolling through the garden at night, I saw countless fireflies shining like bells in the lime trees. The beautiful light was a gift for us on this journey.
April 1, 2020
Thanks and love to Masayo Esaki for arranging this trip to Khadi, to Ushma and Monika of Kolkata for finishing our Khadi up to the block print, and to everyone in Khadi village.
Japan was originally attached to the eastern coast of the Eurasian continent. The Japanese islands were formed approximately twenty thousands years ago, after several large crustal movements occurring over hundreds of millions of years. As the temperature of the earth gradually warmed from the end of the last glacial age, the Jōmon period started, and continued for more than several thousands years (and in some cases cited as long as fourteen thousands years), developing its own culture, until the arrival of the culturally different Yayoi period dated 300 BC to 300 AD. The Jōmon people were in contact with people overseas. Various things were introduced from south and from north, along the chained islands dotted from the Eurasian continent.
The Jōmon people used various housewares and tools such as potteries and stone implements, as well as hand-woven baskets made of local wild plants. Such baskets were excavated from many Jōmon ruins across Japan, these becoming a clue to understand the Jōmon lifestyle. This is significant and fascinating, in that the hand-woven basket has played an important role in the human life history since the earliest time.
The vegetation of Japan differs across regions, just as the climate differs. A wide variety of plants has been used for basketwork across islands including bamboos (such as madake-bamboo, mosochiku-bamboo, nemagaritake-bamboo, suzutake bamboo), akebi-vine, Japanese wing nut, wild vine, wild cherry tree, and kudzu vine. The shape and the weaving method of basket are also uniquely diverse, reflecting different lifestyles across regions, as well as according to its intended purpose, such as rice cultivation, grain harvest, and fishing.
Blessed with nature, made by the human hand, each basket is given a life. The production process involves soulfully laborious work from extracting raw materials in steep mountains, to designing the weaving pattern to enhance the material beauty. Each basket narrates the story of craftsmanship. The human’s reverence for nature dwells in each basket. The sublime beauty of a harmonious relationship between nature and humans, or the Japanese aesthetics, dwells in them. The art of traditional handcrafting celebrates the long history of human life. It invites us to the root of our soul.
Spring equinox, 2016
English translation by Kaori Nishizawa
I moved into a traditional thatched house that I call “Ryugu”. It is in a sato-yama, or a rural farming village, in a mountain valley north of Kyoto. The motivation to move here came from a series of events – the terrorist attacks in the United States, the Great East Japan Earthquake, as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster. These events disturbed me deeply. Ever since, I have been interested in living a more natural life, exploring natural farming methods and the handiwork and crafts of the sato-yama, some of which have been nearly forgotten.
I was born and raised in Osaka city. I moved back and forth between Osaka and Kyoto since I was a student but in my heart I always wanted to live in a sato-yama. This new life has been more work than I expected and I’m busy every day. I remember being a child and dreaming of great swarms of fireflies flying over rice fields at night. Or dreaming of other children, wearing indigo-dyed yukata in various patterns, running through the fields on a summer night.
In a previous life, during the Edo period, I was born as a woman in Sabae village in Fukui, which is not far from Miyama. Although the village was poor, it seems that I was able to remain in the village because I was the youngest and did not go into service. (The Edo period is a rich era like the Jomon period, so I think this previous life was at the end of the Edo period.) While I worked as a farmer, I became a very beautiful and stylish woman. After my first husband died young in a horse accident, I was seduced by a man who made crafts. But then my sister died and I wound up marrying her husband. Though I died soon after, it seems like this might have been one of my most enjoyable lives. My friend, Junji Yamamoto, who was my sister in a previous life and who is currently running a restaurant called “Uontana”, informed me of this.
The other day, I set out to investigate a place called “Hiraki-Iwa” near the village along with my friend Makito Shindo. He had moved back from Kyoto to his parents’ house and took over the indigo dying works next door. Hiraki-Iwa is a temple-like ruin composed of giant white stones. I don’t know if it was built in the Jomon period or later. In any case, it may not have been studied in detail. The large megaliths are laid exactly east to west. The slits that remain in some places suggest that it may have been an ancient astronomical observatory. I wonder if one can still use it to track the movements of the sun and moon, or the position of the Arctic star during the summer and winter solstice? The whiteness of the stone is beautiful. The ancient people who created this site must have been attracted to its luminous surface.
Several villages in this area are collectively referred to as Chii Village, which is derived from from Mt.Chii on the Korean peninsula. The Baekje of the Korean peninsula are said to have originally founded the village. Legends concerning dragon palaces can be found along the 35th parallel north, which passed through Baekje. People from Fukui would likely have entered the continent along this route though I don’t know what kind of interactions the Jomon people would have had with the people on the continent.
I have one piece of Baekje pottery which I cherish. It sits in an alcove at Ryugu. All matter feels like one connected picture, but when parts are obscured, I can’t see it in its entirety. Yet small matters are also important to me. Sometimes it is a series of accidents or, conversely, an inevitable process, that leads to a clear image, or the sense of a clear image. I am here, caught in this current between the stars. And I want to see some interesting and beautiful pictures.
“mahora” First issue Contributed (Published by Hachiyodo)