COSMIC WONDER Free Press
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)
Looking at this lyre, I am reminded of the German thinker Rudolf Steiner and his interest in the lyre as a tool for healing. I was once fascinated by Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy and in order to learn more about it I got to know the late Ryuhan Nishikawa, who was of Japan’s leading experts on Steiner. A theological researcher and teacher, he worked on many translations of Steiner’s books. On two occasions I asked Nishikawa to contribute a text to accompany my artwork. He always hoped that the Earth would evolve in a good direction. His last blog post started with this: “In the spring of 2011, if I could pray to avert the Fukushima disaster in exchange for my life, I would accept my heart failure.” Nishikawa loved sweets and had a big body but it was full of kindness. I remember a time in the heat of late autumn when I wanted to visit a coffee shop that was a little too far away. As we walked down the asphalt road I could see that Nishikawa was out of breath. There are two lyres at CATHERINA EMIW: a mother lyre and a baby lyre. Baby lyres are made from the hollowed out trees that are first used to create mother lyres. The lyre made by Mirai Matsumoto of CATHERINA EMIW is young and beautiful. The various medieval instruments from CATHERINA EMIW are all made from Japanese wood, despite being Western-style instruments. Surprisingly few of these instruments still exist, so they are reconstructed by referring to Renaissance paintings. They produce such rich timbres that transcend time and place.
When you meditate, it is very important to first purify the space. Purifying with sage or herbs is a good way to clean a room. If you want to clean up both the place and your energy, you need some spiritual movement as well. To this end, I appreciate the violet flame of love and purification by Ascended Master Saint Germain. When I imagine the violet flame of Saint Germain, I enter into a state of pure high waves. Chogappo’s work, which is produced by Cosmic Wonder, is a hand-woven and hemp silk cloth that was woven in Korea and dyed with Bengala and logwood. The pieces of cloth are made into color gradations. When you see the work in natural light, it appears that there is a light purple hexagonal star in the middle of the work. With this I want to express Saint Germain’s violet flame of love and purification.
When I said to Rie Suzuki of rinn to hitsuji that “I want the candle of an angel”, she was surprised. Suzuki was also asked a few years ago to make a series of angel candles. Was it an angel’s message?
She did not feel the right inspiration for many years to make the angel candles. It was finally a Jomon clay figurine that would be the model. The clay candles made of beeswax are very unique and charming, making them quite popular among Suzuki’s works. It feels as though Suzuki has been surrounded by angels ever since I met her. Her candles are carefully created one by one, without using a mold. An angel appears only if you call it up with your heart. Her white angel candle will fill a space with beauty when the dancing angel is ignited.
Harmonic Meditation Arts and Crafts has brought together artists and friends who have met over the last few years. It may seem like a quiet or subdued collection but I think it is very beautiful. Beautiful works with spiritual qualities beyond what is visible, they will feed the heart and the memory of the soul. I think this will be what supports the future of arts and crafts. Many flowers are yet to open.
Sep 15, 2019
We are now connected to the universe and to our true selves.
Many people live with enlightenment.Light and shade are integrated and full of beauty.
I collected some artworks and organized workshops for Harmonic Meditation.
To capture the angel in life, I sought a piece of wood bearing an angel’s impression.Inside a forest I came upon a beautiful lake and picked up decayed branches and bits of beech and squirrel wood.I searched for the angel’s image but it was nowhere to be found.Soon after, I visited a friend’s house and met Hiroki Tashiro, an artist who lived nearby. A piece of roughly carved wood in his atelier caught my eye.Behind its curious shape was the angel itself. Hiroki Tashiro expresses the fear of spiritual things in his creations. I think that expressing this fear is the aim of primitive art.
The beauty of a crystal seems to intensify the more you get along with it. Getting along with crystals may sound like a strange expression to those who are not familiar with them.Perhaps crystals and people are sympathetic creatures. It is said that when a loving word is applied to water, its frequency changes and its molecular shape is beautifully arranged. I wonder if quartz has the same property, but I feel that crystal is quite different and can be easily misunderstood. Yasuhide Ono interacts with crystals to create his beautiful work. I have heard that the body’s tissue will adapt into a crystal body in the near future.Wearing a crystal sheath will allow you to understand yourself at a higher frequency. Of course the human body is made of water. Words of love and their vibrations are very good for the body.
I am attracted by the shape of a pot. Perhaps an octopus-shaped top attracted people in ancient times. Ceramicist Miyakono Yasuda says that a vibrational sound flows from the earthen wall. According to the waveform in the pot, a large open mouth has a low frequency, and a small mouth has a high frequency. It’s a healing piece for me, sleeping with Yasuda’s pot at my bedside. When a person chooses a pot, they are perhaps drawn to it unconsciously by its vibrations. A pot that comforts, a pot that ages well, a pot that creates a better space for you. Pottery may offer a better way of expressing gratitude than flower arrangements.
I always imagined that the creations of woodworker Masaru Kawai could be used by the gods. Some of his works have that sense of divine awe. Is this sensation particular to the Japanese view of nature? Kawai works with Japanese trees and thinks about what kind of mountains and forests have grown on this island country. Just imagine the scene where a tree grew up and it becomes a joy to live with wood. Much of the Center for Cosmic Wonder’s furniture is made by Kawai, and my 200 year-old house is furnished with Kawai’s work along with old Korean pieces. For me, it is not strange that Kawai’s furniture matches the old techniques. To change the subject, what about the mountains of Japan? Many cedars have been planted in the mountains and left untended.The scenery of solar panels that make effective use of the mountains feels lonely. Is it really necessary to destroy the landscape of the sato-yama so thoroughly? Cedars grown for logging have shallow roots and can easily fall down, and when planted densely, the cedars sense the danger and produce a large amount of pollen. Planted cedars must be managed and used. There’s no sense in planting cedars that won’t be managed. There are cedar mountains and barriers to control soil erosion around my house. This is a problem that must be solved someday. Kawai’s coniferous forest project SOMA will be a good opportunity to change the mountains of Japan.
It has always been natural for the Japanese to supplement clothing fabrics with grass and wood fibers from the mountains and fields. This is a vital heritage as natural fabrics are on the brink of disappearing. It is only in recent history that cotton became popular. Natural fabrics include hemp and ramie, elm, wisteria, kudzu, paper, mulberry, banana tree, and so on. The work of a Japanese farmer was once a daily task of going to the mountains to procure materials, burning ash juice, knitting, and weaving.I received an old linden cloth from Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei who works with old fabrics and folk goods in Kyoto. Kawasaki is an expert on natural and antique fabrics from around the world. The linden cloth was full of holes so I asked Kaoru Yokoo to mend the material. It seems that the fabric was used as a steaming lid, and Yokoo described the steam with beautiful silver embroidery. Yokoo is a genius who connects the garment with its owner by reviving a damaged piece that has been worn repeatedly. With every repair of the garment, a story is extended, woven in with her careful hand. It would be interesting to trace the memory of cloth and see into its past.
Sep 01, 2019
Shigeo Tanaka restored a 280-year-old house in the village of Kayamori, which lies in a valley among the mountains of Asuka, a part of Japan with ancient Baekje settlements. In the courtyard, he built a hanok-like workshop with a thick and rounded roof of straw. The workshop looks as old as the house. To be able to live and work in such an environment must be very special. There is a great waterfall deep in the mountain well away from the mountain’s paths. The waterfall runs so deep and clear that the overlapping currents have the color of jade. It is said that this is the gateway to Ryugu, the sunken palace of Ryujin. This is the same jade that washes over Tanaka’s white porcelain work. This color looks to me like the glinting of a dragon’s eye.Tanaka’s kiln is in the mountains near his house and workshop. He also has a farm that surrounds the kiln. He always sends me some delicious fruits from his farm.This time there was a concern that the kiln’s temperature might not exceed the 1,000 degrees needed to melt the glaze over the following four days. But sure enough, the pillar of fire rose through the chimney of the kiln and the next morning when Tanaka looked inside, the glaze had melted beautifully. I think that the ash work is even more exquisite as it bears the traces of so much firewood. These days splashes of pink sometimes accentuate the pottery’s white surface. Tanaka incorporates ancient shapes, marking our eternal search for the truth. The work is made with such exquisite feeling that the essence of the universe is summoned out. The chaotic interweaving of old and new sprits makes his work unrivaled. The truth behind beauty appears as love.
Oct 1, 2019
Tattsuke for Toru Inomoto made with Wisteria woven by Tame Mitsuno
When I opened the front door feeling its damp moisture on my hand, I momentarily found myself dizzy and blinded by the darkness of the earthen floor in contrast to the brightness of the outside.
“Who’s visiting on this snowy day?”
“It’s Inomoto from the museum.”
“Ah, it’s the young fellow from the museum again.”
Lit by the light of the hearth, the curled up figure that had just spoken appeared from behind the shoji screen stained in soot.
Sat at the edge of the hearth with her legs stretched out, she hooks the fibers around the thumbs of her feet, handling and twisting them between her thumb and index finger with a certain air of ease without making any knots, gradually transferring them into the basket placed beside her. This is what is referred to as umu (spinning).
As I continue to watch, her hands moved swiftly, almost as if she had eyes on her fingertips. She gave the impression of a silkworm that spews thread to make its cocoon.
She had continued to firmly dismiss my plea, stating, “I’ve never spoken about wisteria weaving in front of others, nor have I tried teaching it to anyone. No matter how many times you ask me, what I can’t do, I just can’t do.”
It was then that her partner Shintaro who sat wrapped in a futon said, “I see he’s come many times in the snow to speak to me. Why don’t you get involved for once?” Thus with these words, a wisteria weaving workshop had begun under the guidance and by following the example of Tame Mitsuno and Tsuya Ogawa (1985).
The women who engaged in wisteria weaving were of old age, and due to fear of being unable to pass on their techniques to future generations, it was decided that a documentary video would be filmed (1987).
At the time there had been a request from the textile wholesaler “Shuuiki” in Kyoto to produce a fabric with a width of 45cm that could be used to make floor cushions for a tearoom. In filming the video we asked the women to return to the traditional method and weave the fabric at a width of 35cm.
Tame-san who was the central figure had suggested, “Since I’d feel more in spirits, how about weaving two rolls of cloth rather than one?” She further proposed to me that I purchase these two rolls (320,000 yen worth in total: 1 roll = 150,000 yen x 2 rolls + what she had began weaving and had just finished weaving). Of course, this was a natural request. Having only just started working at the museum at the time, I had considered purchasing the cloth on part of the museum. Nevertheless I was unable to incorporate the fee within the museum’s budget, and telling myself that ultimately I would be able to preserve the actual cloth along with the documented video, I took the leap and decided to make the purchase.
And now, I have asked Yukinori Maeda to tailor this cloth into a ‘tattsuke.’ Once the snow has melted I’d like to wear my tattsukeand go out to work in the fields.
I don’t doubt that Tame-san would be laughing in the afterlife, telling me, “Well you’re a bit of a peculiar one aren’t you?”
Toru Inomoto, Gouryoku-no-kai
Tame san is Umu (spinning) of Wisteria, sat at the edge of the hearth
From the end of January to the beginning of the Lunar New Year, the village becomes covered in snow, giving rise to a beautiful white landscape.
This white world, as if trying to draw out something from within us, leads people engross themselves in tasks within the home.
Such environment is near that of death, and through strengthening the light of life amidst the silent calm, one continuously finds oneself in a daze-like sensation of reflecting and absorbing this luminance like sound.
Last year, the Ryugu where I live at the foothills of the mountains, had itself become reminiscent a snow hut due to the gusts of snow that had blown into the valley. I recall small wild animals going to and fro in the attic as the mountains and the thatched roof of the old house came to merge as one through the snowfall. This time around one must take effort so that the roof and mountains do not come together as one again.
I realize it has now been one year since I moved here. I have no sense of the time spent here being long or short, nor do I have an awareness of living in a place that is unknown to me. All I simply feel is the sense of me living here, in this very place, and for that I am grateful.
Venturing into the forests of Asei within the neighboring mountainous valleys on a deep snowy day like this, what would emerge before one’s eyes is a profoundly beautiful, white and unexplored land that is connected to the other world. One hopes to enter into such a forest one day.
My words may sound like those of a vexing literate, yet all I wish for is to purely witness this beautiful scene in nature.
When I come across the footsteps of some wild animal in the snow-covered mountains, I engage in playfully tracing their path. Depicted in that fleeting moment, are traces of people and animals coming together upon the snow.
January 22, 2018
With sincere gratitude for all the encounters and paths crossed in this village
from “Chii Ryugu Journal”
Photography by Ai Nakagawa
Translation by Kei Benger
paper and crystal 2003
An eternal thing and a not eternal thing -for example, paper and crystal were placed
Well captain, what knows eternity?
I’ll take it on a ship.
All collection was made by paper, and attached flat cut crystal one by one. It doesn’t mean crystal is eternity and paper is not eternity, we want to make people feel everything is made, broken and gone that never remains in a moment.*
N.H: “Paper and Crystal” is a collection of clothing made of paper. Cosmic Wonder has also recently presented clothing called kamikoromo made of washi paper, which has been worn as garments for the “water ceremony” and “Omizue” (a ceremony for drinking spring water) I would like to ask you about the “Paper and Crystal” collection that you had presented back then. At the opening of the ‘You reach out –right now- for something: Questioning the Concept of Fashion’ exhibition, Susan Cianciolo had worn paper clothing that had been made by Cosmic Wonder at the time. I was deeply moved by this. I thought to myself, “so it really is possible to wear such clothes within the context of ordinary life.”
Y.M: (laughs) When we presented the collection at Paris Fashion Week, the next morning’s edition of the Liberation Newspaper had took half a page to feature photographs of these paper clothes. The fact that photographs of paper clothing were printed on paper in this way had amused me.
N.H: They have a completely different silhouette and sense of volume to that of fabric.
Y.M: In making them they had turned out more voluminous than I had thought. I have always been fond of crystals, and have continued to collect them. I am also very fond of printed matter and things that are made of paper. It was for this reason that I decided to bring the two things that I like together. The idea was initiated in this way, and I thought that it would be beautiful if I could create a contrast between the two. For the white clothes I used paper like you’d see in FedEx packaging, and for the other colored paper I used recycle paper. I would apply a core to the paper, or affix cloth from underneath so make it more durable and prevent it from tearing.
Forest Heights Lodge COSMIC WONDER 2004
The sun and the moon appear in your sky at the same time.
Equipment of Forest Heights Lodge COSMIC WONDER are nightwear for the daytime, sleeping bag for the daytime, pillow and bedcover for the daytime, picture for the daytime.*
N.H: Cosmic Wonder’s collections would greatly change its course here on after, moving towards the direction in which groups of men and women reside within a beautiful utopia. The first of such endeavors was Forest Heights Lodge Cosmic Wonder. Then it leads to magic village.
Y.M: I had been thinking about 9.11 for a long time. I was creating works while going back and forth between different elements, but I decided to slightly step away from the realm of personal expression. In terms of production I had always had a sense of admiration towards utopian places, freedom, and the spiritual world. It was just an issue of conveying it more clearly and in a visual way. Incorporating this interest towards the spiritual world into our works is something that we continue to do today, and we decided to move more and more in this direction. I feel that we have always fluctuated between two aspects that are, the aspect that focuses on creation, and the aspect of producing clothing that embody a spiritual impression but are comfortable to wear. I suppose that what has remained consistently unchanged is the way in which we create things with an awareness towards space.
N.H: Perhaps this fundamental approach will continue to remain unchanged, both now and into the future.
Y.M: Even though we had been thinking about and doing the same kind of thing since the beginning, it was from around this point in time when I began to consider presenting the sense of direction that I’m looking at more clearly, so that its evident to anyone who sees the work. I believe that one of the roles of art is to indicate which direction one is facing at that given moment.
N.H: Recently you have relocated both your studio and residence to Miyama. Is this because you imagine it as being a utopian setting of sorts? I see it as being a process within the context of your real life, in which the clothes in space, that is to say, the utopia that you had imagined, comes to manifest as reality.
Y.M: I hope to be able to engage in creation while having a deep understanding of spirituality.
Will it be possible to create something like this from living in the mountains?
Will leading a meditative life that lies close to nature, aid me in my way?
What will be born from this?
*The poetry texts are the concepts for each collection that were written at the time.
January 17, 2017
Nakako Hayashi and Yukinori Maeda
Traslator: Kei Benjer
paper and crystal 2003
Photography by Shoji Fujii
Forest Heights Lodge COSMIC WONDER 2004
Show at Cosmic gallery, Paris
Photography by Yuki Kimura
to sleep 2002
Works in which hanger, drawer, necklace, dress, T-shirt or jacket are stuck together and completed. We make one by sticking easily the things that must not stick. Due to that, we create anew worth.*
A Shadow Necessary for Windows 2002
This is one of sight in my mind. Or it may be a common sight all of us have somewhere in our mind. It seems we have a time equivocal. People repeat that day after day. Where will we stop in the end? Or is there no end?
Curtain dress and dress to pause for it.*
What invisible view should be ~ from some pictures 2003
We reappear parts that can be seen in the picture, and remove what cannot be. The performance like that cut out from pictures floats in the space, and it comes into new existence and meanings that are different from that essentially recorded in the pictures.*
N.H: These works were produced during a time when you had engaged in a succession of artistic installations.
In “ to sleep,” various clothing were integrated with interior furnishings for example, a drawer and a dress, and a necklace and a coat hanger. In “A Shadow necessary for windows,” clothing and curtains are attached to each other, with fringes being arranged throughout. I am very fond of the installations you had presented during this period. The grey single-tone look had a very Cosmic Wonder feel, and I also liked how the fringe design had embodied a romantic element almost like a girl’s comic.
In “What invisible view should be,” the collection piece is a reproduction of the parts of the clothing that are visible in found photographs. What is in the shadows or outside of the image frame is deemed to not exist, and therefore the clothes consist solely of a particular part.
“A Shadow Necessary for Windows” had also caught me by surprise, but it also harbored unexpectedness in the fact that they were made of jersey material and cotton, and therefore could be worn more comfortably than one would have imagined. This collection however, had in a sense surpassed the level of surprised I had felt back then. They are clothes that cannot be worn on their own.
Y.M: There was a sense of interest in using things that are unpractical and had somehow been conceived as tools for a performance, within the context of the everyday.
N.H: This collection that seemingly presents us with a question, in my opinion, very much fits the nature of Cosmic Wonder. Was there anything that you had been intentionally conscious of in terms of the choice of images and composition?
Y.M: Instead of devising the clothes one by one individually, I had thought to create it in a way in which they would cohesively present a single impression.
N.H: It was also memorable that a poster had served as the collection’s invitation card, with the found photographs all printed on a single piece of paper.
*The poetry texts are the concepts for each collection that were written at the time.
January 17, 2017
Nakako Hayashi and Yukinori Maeda
English translation by Kei Benger
to sleep 2002
Photography by Yukinori Maeda
A shadow Necessary for Windows 2002
Show at Palais de Tokyo, Paris
Photography by Yuki Kimura
What invisible view should be ~ from some pictures 2003
Show at Cosmic gallery, Paris
Photography by Yuki Kimura
Friends venture out to earth carrying their most treasured possession under their arms, and gather together in a promised place.
Between us we call it the “stardust gathering.”
Before being born upon this earth, we always, in this promised place, share our treasured scenarios with one another.
The scenarios are important things that each star creates with their own will.
A masterpiece as thick as a dictionary. A simple one written on a single parchment. A curious thing comprised of prose poetry.
The colorful scenarios of the stardust are all revealed at once at the same timing.
Then in a moment all the scenarios come to connect, become involved with one another, and innocent promises are exchanged.
“I will be born a man.” “In that case, I will be a woman.”
“Let’s meet in 2017.” “At the place regarding the stars and dragons.”
The place that we, right now, are here on this earth.
If you look around you, you will surely realize that everything is connected and involved.
Of course, it does not matter if you don’t understand. Because it’s only something that you’ve forgotten.
The daily lives that we lead.
We feel each and every one with our respective receptors.
So that we can remember what is important, an array of gifts is prepared throughout our everyday.
If we are able to remember the very things that are important to us,
it is indeed possible to remember another one.
To be in time as well as to connect and be involved with the specks of stardust that we live together with right now in this world, and with whom we have exchanged innocent promises.
“I think I might enlist myself with the role of scolding you.”
“Thank you. Then, will that make me dislike you?”
“I don’t know. It’s alright for you to come to dislike me.”
“Don’t be silly. I will never at all come to dislike you!”
The specks of stardust that have forgotten their promises may argue, or come to dislike one another, yet once all is remembered, everything will be a matter to laugh about.
“You, you said that you wouldn’t dislike me.”
“I’m sorry, I’d simply forgotten. That’s strange, I never thought I’d forget.”
“But to tell you the truth, I too had forgotten. I didn’t like you.”
“It’s indeed funny, isn’t it. But thanks to you I was able to quit my job.”
“I see. Then I guess that means that all’s well that ends well.”
It doesn’t matter who you come to like or dislike.
One of the pleasures of earth is that you can freely choose everything.
A play of the stardust where no sense of superiority or inferiority exists.
Every night when we gaze up at the countless stars floating in the night sky, we will surely remember.
We will remember each radiant spark, color, the place where they belong, and the distance of their connection.
In our everyday where various things happen, all and everything is perfect.
Being just safe or just out, are both loving gifts.
Let us together try to reminisce that time and place where we showed each other our scenarios.
Let us reconfirm the innocent promises that we made.
Ready, set, go!
Translation by Kei Benjer
“The current of the flowing river does not cease, and yet the water is not the same water as before. The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, never stays the same for long. So, too, is it with the people and dwellings of the world.” 1
It has been made apparent that there is indeed a beginning to our world, assumed to be 13.8 billion years ago. It all began with a large explosion, and ever since the universe has found itself in a state of cooling while simultaneously continuing to expand. The earth was born amidst this process of expansion and cooling, and life was consequently conceived. Primordial conditions were chaotic, yet differentiation occurred with the passing of time and the gradual decrease in energy, giving rise to a sense of order, and eventually arriving at a state of stability.
Tracing back, one can say that there have been various primordial beginnings throughout the course of history from the primordial beginnings of the universe, the galaxy, the sun, the earth, to that of living things. In the primordial conditions of such systems of all there is always a sense of chaos. The “Omizue” performance that took place on August 19th 2016 on the coast of Kohamacho in Masuda City, Shimane Prefecture, served to express such primordial origins by means of a physical experience. A total of approximately thirty members participated in the ceremony.
The ceremony commenced at eight o’clock in the morning. It was a ritual that borrowed from the format of the tea ceremony. August’s morning sun had begun to rise into the eastern sky, its bright light engraving deep shadows on the ocean and land. The guest moved eastwards along the shore from the waiting area, making their way to the sandy beach where the ceremony was to be held. It was a purified space on the beach, surrounded by four boulders. The boulders clearly separated the inside and outside of the space like a barrier. A wooden platform measuring two square meters on each side was installed in the rocky area along the seafront. This room of sorts was referred to as the “Omizuedo” (setting for the Omizue ceremony), and a large sheet of washi paper was laid out to cover the surface within. The ceremony was hosted by Yukinori Maeda and Sumiko Ishii. In each session there were two assistants to the hosts, and three guests. One by one, each guest would take off their shoes, and be seated. The constant crashing of waves against the rocks at times brought a light spray across my cheeks, enabling me to feel more clearly the strong winds that carried across the ocean.
One of the hosts began by explaining the purpose of the ceremony to the guests. He said, “We have prepared for you many blessings that are based on the impressions we have formed during our journeys in Iwami. We hope they will be to your liking.” This was followed by a reading of the “Yama-umi-kawa-kami” poem (p.8) that was written on washi paper. He slowly and quietly opened out the Sekishu-Washi paper that had been crumpled, folded, and placed to the side, allowing the guests to observe the entire process. The washi paper was infused with plants and seaweed native to the mountains, ocean, and rivers of Iwami. One could hear the sounds of the washi paper being unfolded. The paper, held in both hands, was then presented to the guests for a closer look. The washi paper fluttered in the gusts of wind coming in from the ocean. Thereafter, the guests received Japanese confectioneries made with salt extracted from local seawater. This was followed by the gift of water. This was spring water collected from near the source of the Takatsu River, a clear tributary that flows from the Chugoku Mountains into the Sea of Japan. The vessels for serving the water were made from Iwami’s soil. Each participant received one serving of water.
After the guests enjoyed their gift of water, they departed from the Omizuedo. During the ceremony, a dragon made of straw, that had been hanging from the side of the Omizuedo, was immersed in the ocean. The two ceremonial assistants carried the straw dragon out from the ocean and, taking firm, certain steps, walked seven and a half times in a circle. While this was happening, the hosts remained in the Omizuedo and read out a text written on the Sekishu-Washi paper. There words could not be heard, lost amidst the roaring of the sea.
From beginning to end, the surge of approaching waves came crashing in with a deafening roar and the morning light of the August sun, in its increasing brightness, illuminated all that lay beneath it. A solemn atmosphere had permeated the ceremony. A natural barrier of boulders surrounded the site. In this natural setting, a series of ceremonious acts were carried out by human hands from a heartfelt hospitality that symbolically brought together the essence of Iwami and the gift of water. A certain sense of unity between nature, the hosts, and their guests emerged from the sharing all of these elements, leaving one with a sense of awe and admiration towards God.
Before God first proclaimed “Let there be light” and brought about the existence of light, the world had been a place where “the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” 2 It was a world in which “the young land floated like a tallow on water, drifting like a jellyfish.” 3 It was an experience of delving into nature’s primordial state, which essentially exists as an indifferent entity. The mode of recognition by which words and concepts are used to classify the various elements of nature is something that has dominated our lives through the present day. Our consciousness is indeed deeply immersed in this way of perceiving the world. From mountain, ocean, river, sand, rock, grass, water, sky, cloud, light, wind, sound to scent; hadn’t these entities that were made discrete with words and concepts, been part of a single whole? Were we not ourselves once a part of this whole? And don’t such primordial forms and conditions still persist through the passage of time? This was an experience that provoked such thoughts.
From the words and objects presented in the ceremony, one could discern that this was an attempt to make a symbolic return to primordial conditions and to achieve “the unification of that which is divided.” The “Yama-umi-kawa-kami” poem that was read out at the beginning, started with the phrase “everything was together as one but over time had been divided into two,” and came to a close with, “the mountains, oceans, and rivers come together as one,” repeated by three individuals representing the elements of “yama-umi-kawa” (mountain, ocean, river).
The paper garments called “Yama-kami Kamikoromo” were made with trees and plants gathered from the local region. The “Umi-kami Kamikoromo” were made with paper infused with seaweed, and the “Kawa-kami Kamikoromo” with paper infused with water plants. The “Oto-kami (Sound Paper) / Yama-umi-kawa-kami”, that the hosts of the ceremony unfolded before our eyes, was made with all of these elements.
In addition, from the fact that the “Yama-kami Kamikoromo” was made by a papermaker who lives near the ocean, and the “Umi-kami Kamikoromo,” “Kawa-kami Kamikoromo” and “Oto-kami (Sound Paper) / Yama-umi-kawa-kami” were made by a papermaker who lives in the mountains, one can also see an intention to bring the mountains and ocean together in harmony with one another while simultaneously treating them in a contrasting way.
If we were to recognize that one of the primary functions of a ceremony is to instill us with the sensation of returning to our primordial beginnings, then the theme of the “Omizue” did indeed adhere to this concept. This was also apparent in the intuitive selection and use of the tools for this ceremony.
The Iwami region is located in the western part of Shimane Prefecture. The prefecture has a long coastline facing the Sea of Japan, and borders the Hiroshima Prefecture to its south and the Yamaguchi Prefecture to its west. As the name ‘Iwami’ (which literally means, ‘seeing rock’) suggests, the mountainous area extends quite close to the coast. There is very little flat land, and the scenes of waves crashing against the coastal cliffs is impressive. The Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape has recently been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Sekishu-Bashi: papermaking in the Iwami region has also been listed in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In this sense, even from a global perspective it is a region that brims with unique features and a rich cultural environment.
Masuda City, which was the setting for the “Omizue,” is located on the western edge of the Iwami region. The city is in the downstream area of the Takatsu River, which flows from the Chugoku Mountains up north and into the Sea of Japan. It was built on Iwami’s largest plain, the Masuda Plain. Takatsu River has been proven to have the highest water quality among all domestic first-class rivers.
The water served at the “Omizue” was collected in the town of Hikimi, in the mountainous region of the Masuda area. It is a forest region surrounded by mountain ranges reaching 1000-meters in height. The Hikimi River, with its source near the bordering Hiroshima Prefecture, flows to the west side of the town, joining the aforementioned Takatsu River downstream. The gorge formed by the Hikimi River is especially known for its beautiful autumn scenery.
Against the backdrop of its historically rich natural environment, traces of human life dating back to the Paleolithic age from 12,000 to 30,000 years ago have been discovered4, as well as many ruins from the Jomon period. Beyond the river terraces that extend along the Shiso River are several important Jomon ruins such as the Ishigatsubo Ruins 5 and the Mizutanokami Ruins 6. Numerous pottery and stoneware artifacts from the middle to the late Jomon period were excavated from the Ishigatsubo Ruins along with pit-type dwellings and remains of collected stones from the time. Amongst these excavated objects, fragments of Namiki-style and Ataka-style pottery native to the Kyushu region have gained much attention as proof of the exchanges between peoples of the time.
At the Mizutanokami Ruins there are a series of rocks each approximately one meter wide grouped together in a large circle measuring seventy meters in diameter. Here, earthenware and stoneware including religious relics such as Dogu and Doban (dolls and plates made of clay) as well as jewelry like Magatama and Kudatama (comma and tube-shaped beads) have been excavated. A fragment from a bronze dagger-axe that would have been used in rituals in the Yayoi period was also unearthed from the same site. Many similar artifacts have been excavated throughout the northern Kyushu region and are thought to have been made in the Korean Peninsula during the early Yayoi period or else very early examples of objects produced in Japan 7. There is also the possibility that it was brought to Hikimi along with the introduction of rice agriculture to the east 8.
It is indeed meaningful to be able to come close to the actual lives, exchanges and spiritual activities of people from the Jomon era through such remains and relics. When one considers these historical traces, the Jomon elements among the tools used in the “Omizue” and the accompanying exhibition naturally come to rely on actual history itself, further deepening the impressions that they convey.
In addition, the dance of the straw dragon that brought the “Omizue” to a close derives from the folk beliefs of the Iwami region that have been passed down since ancient times. Following the aforementioned Takatsu River upstream, one arrives at its source in the town of Yoshika, located in the Chugoku Mountains. Here, there is a small pond known as Daijagaike (which means, ‘big snake’s pond’), and next to it stands a large Japanese cedar tree with branches stretching extraordinarily wide. Marshy grasslands extend throughout the area. Every June a Shinto ritual is held here to pray for rain. People carry a dragon or snake-like creature made of straw into the pond, submerging it in the water, making it dance up and down, and finally offer it to the cedar tree.
The Wara Ryu (straw dragon) also appears in Omoto Kagura that has been passed down throughout the Iwami region. Omoto Kagura is a Shinto theatrical dance that celebrates the “Omotoshin,” the ancestral god of each district, that has been passed down through generations in the mountainous areas of the Iwami region. In this Kagura, the Omotoshin is welcomed in the form of a straw snake referred to as the “Takutsuna,” and is placed on the altar in its spiraling state. At the end of the Kagura that takes place throughout the night, the straw snake is hung from the canopy and shaken violently. At times it experiences a divine possession, and an oracle is delivered. At dawn the straw snake is returned to the world of the gods, and comes to rest as it is wrapped around the sacred tree9. By tracing the symbolism of the straw dragon of the “Omizue” to these traditional Shinto rituals of the Iwami region, one is reminded of the ways of a world in which God and man intimately, and harmoniously coexist with one another.
The format of the tea ceremony is appropriated in order to materialize and symbolically convey the gods in the state in which they had existed prior to their personification. It is an act of communication in its most pure and hospitable form. Here, the distinction between host and guest, or subject and object is clearly apparent, and the genuine purity harbored within the act of communication becomes prominent. In the earliest primordial conditions, the gods inhabited everything that was in existence. Divinity is rooted in the land and the earth exists as an aggregate body of various regions. If one were to take the view that it is only a difference in scale, then one could say that each region, the entire earth, and even the universe are all inherently the same thing. The scale at which one looks at something can create great differences in our recognition. By changing the scale of our recognition and how we consider things in time and space, we are able to see the things that we could not see, and notice the things that we could not notice. If I were to change the way that I look at this vessel that I hold in my hand, I could see that it is the soil of Iwami, an aggregation of molecules, and furthermore, a collection of elementary particles. In this way, looking at an object as simply an object is no longer enough. The very same thing can be said for nature’s constituents such as the mountains, oceans, and rivers.
The act of serving and receiving the organic substance of spring water into the body. The spring water eventually passes through the human body into nature, and continues to circulate around the earth. Where does the water served come from, and where does it go? The water that is within our bodies for a fleeting moment in the midst of this great cycle is at the same time the water from the ocean that extends before our eyes, the clouds that hang in the vast sky, the water that flows through underground streams, and the water of the rivers that connect the mountains to the oceans. It is the rain that falls on the earth and it is the water vapor that is contained in the atmosphere.
The earth is filled with the richness of water. It was in this water that living beings with organic structures were miraculously conceived. One wonders at how mankind, as one such living creature, senses beauty in the glitter of sunlight that is reflected on the surface of the ocean. And one wonders at being able to experience this sensation together with others. The reason that we find beauty in the evening sky and oceans set ablaze under the setting sun is perhaps because we, in that very moment, sense the passage of time and ephemerality. We can witness with our very own eyes that this very moment can only exist precisely at this moment in time. If we were to consider everything from this perspective, then all things are indeed precious.
The day comes to an end, and the sun rises again the following morning. Although time appears to follow a cycle, it is never the same. Knowing the process from the beginning of the universe through to our current time, it is clearly evident that time always and only progresses forward. It appears to repeat in a cycle, yet in reality it only happens once. Its everlasting providence is that it is always in flux. It is also a known fact that this planet that was born 4.6 billion years ago will come to end its existence in another 5 billion years with the extinction of the sun. Everything is part of the same universe, and everything is always changing.
Kenji Mukunoki (Shimane Art Museum)
English translation by Kei Benger
1 Kamo no Chomei, Hojoki, Iwanami Bunko
2 “The book of Genesis,” The Holy Bible, Standard English Version
3 Kojiki, Iwanami Bunko
4 Excavation Report of Shin Makihara Archaeological Site, Hikimi Town Board of Education, 1987
5 Ishigatsubo Ruins, Hikimi Town Board of Education, 1990
6 Mizutanokami A Ruin / Nagaguro Ruin / Shimomasanota Ruin, Hikimi Town Board of Education, 1991
7 Cited above in Note 6
8 The History of Shimane, Yamawaka Shuppansha Ltd., p.43, 2005
9 Kagura in Shimane: Performing Arts and Ceremonies, Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo, 2010
Photography by Yurie Nagashima