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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #28 - Summer 1997
Contents of this Issue:

Introduction

The seasons roll on ... the years roll on ... and here we are in the middle of the ninth year of the 'Hyaku-nin Isshu Hanga Series'.

It's been a number of years now since I've had the chance to escape to the country for the summer, and I'm pretty much resigned these days to spending the hot months here in Tokyo. There will be a consolation this year though, as my two daughters will be coming in July for a one-month visit. As you may expect, I'm very much looking forward to seeing them again, although the sudden increase in the noise level around here might take a bit of getting used to!

As I mentioned in the previous issue, I asked them to write something for 'Hyaku-nin Issho', and you can find their stories in this issue. I hope you enjoy them.

(If the upcoming autumn issue is a little bit late, please excuse me, but this summer the three of us have got some playing time to catch up on!)

From Halifax to Hamura

The music 'camp' that I went to that summer was one that I had attended a number of times in the past. In fact, it was the place where I had first really been exposed to the world of music other than school band, so I was extremely happy to be offered a chance to return there as an instructor. I had two jobs - of course I was instructor for the junior flute students, but I was also assigned as the conductor of one of the wind ensembles.

As the most junior of the instructors, I was given the beginner's ensemble, very young students who had barely learned how to hold their instruments. There was no question of teaching any delicate nuances of music; it was my job merely to maintain order and try and transmit enthusiasm for the music. And this I did in spades - I jumped, I yelled, I waved the baton around ... The little kids responded in kind and we had a great time; the rehearsals were very noisy, and day by day during the week the feeling of excitement grew.

The day of the first weekly concert came around, and my group was assigned to play our selection immediately following the senior wind ensemble, which was led by a noted conductor - a very 'serious' man. They played a couple of pieces - of course very well ... very 'proper' ... but very boring! We came next, and right at the very first downbeat, the audience jerked upright in their seats as our wall of sound washed over them.

We made a glorious noise! I had chosen an adaptation of a movement from a Mahler symphony, and our finale built from a tiny whisper up into a mighty roar; perhaps the roof of the auditorium even came loose a little ... When the dust finally settled, we got great applause, and although there was some head shaking at our rather unorthodox approach to the music, nobody could deny that this undisciplined mob of little kids and their 'wildman' conductor really played with enthusiasm!

The concert that evening was really what led to the next large change in my life; among the hundreds of musicians at the camp were many young women, and one of them had caught my eye ... or I should perhaps be more honest and say that I had caught her eye ... She was a soprano with a beautiful and extremely clear voice, and intended to make a career as an opera coloratura. I think that when she saw me conducting at the concert that evening, she looked into the future - to an image of concert halls around the world, the posters announcing concerts by the famous coloratura, with the orchestra led by her partner the famous and dramatic conductor. She was very romantic ...

At 21 years of age, I was ready for that kind of dream too, and it was no more than a few days after arriving back in the city when the camp was over, that we were set up living together in a couple of rented rooms on the top floor of an old house. Neither my parents nor hers (she was somewhat younger than I) were particularly happy about this arrangement, but they recognized that opposition would only make things worse - and at least this way they knew where we were, and could keep an eye on us.

It was a wonderful period in my life, and it was not long before we were doing concerts together; of course not on world stages yet, but whenever and wherever an opportunity came up. She practiced endless hours a day, every minute that she wasn't tied up with schoolwork, and being blessed with a truly gorgeous voice, was in no doubt at all that she would make it right to the top of the opera world.

As for me, things were a little bit more prosaic. Although at this point I too still dreamed of a career as a flute virtuoso and conductor, there was one small problem in the way - there was rent to be paid every month!

A close friend of my fathers had become involved in a new business that supplied school music programs, and he recommended that I go and see the owner about a job. This very practical, very straight-forward, and very busy man wasn't too impressed with me. He knew the type - a young musician not at all interested in business, but just trying to get a bit of money while waiting for his 'big break'. But for some reason or another (perhaps some arm-twisting from my father's friend), he decided to give me a try. I was to start right away - the great flute 'virtuoso' and conductor was to report to a back-alley warehouse the next morning ...

Collector Profile

Mr. Masanobu Seki

Can you guess how old the youngest collector of my prints might be? If I were to tell you that the answer was about four years old, what would you think? Well, that's the answer - and it's not just one particular four-year old, but dozens of them!

The beginning of this story goes back a few years, to one of my earlier exhibitions in Shinjuku. A gentleman came in one day, long overcoat and briefcase - obviously a busy businessman, who after looking around for a while, spoke to me and gave me an order for some of the prints. When I saw what he had written on the form, that the prints were to be sent to a kindergarten, I of course had to ask him about it ... It turned out that Mr. Masanobu Seki was the owner and principal teacher of a large and quite old kindergarten, the 'Mebae Yochien' of Fukushima City. I must admit that at first I wan't quite sure how to react to the idea of exposing such small children to such complex material as the 'Hyakunin Isshu', but he was adamant that there would be no problem.

Mr.SekiSince that time, he has continued supporting my work, and a few months ago I finally got a chance to see just what was happening to my prints, when I made a visit to the kindergarten.

It was nothing at all like what I expected. When my own children were that age I made a specific decision to send them to a 'hoikuen', a day-care centre, rather than to a kindergarten. It had seemed to me that the philoso-phies of the two places were very different - in a Japanese kindergarten, the students all wore quite formal uniforms, sat in little desks, and were in most respects simply getting advance training for school. The daycare however, was a place where kids were freely jumbled together in what amounted to little more than supervised play. I have since learned that the contrast between the two is not always so clear and sharp, and when I walked the halls of Mebae I certainly found out!

Instead of the sober environment that I expected to see, with obedient little scholars sitting quietly in neat rows, I stepped into a scene of absolute chaos. Rivers of little kids in coloured smocks streamed through the hallways, chattering in loud voices. The main hall through the building curves along past the many classrooms, and every few steps brought into view another room full of active, excited, and very noisy kids running this way and that.

Before you start to get the impression that Seki-san is running a zoo, not a kindergarten, I should remind you that of course that day was a bit special - here was a tall bearded foreigner in their midst, opening up a large and intriguing box, out of which he pulled an assortment of pigments and tools. Well, of course they were excited!

Mr. SekiI set up my printing bench in a wide area of one hallway, and all morning long, as the noisy floods swept past, children were brought out of their classrooms one group at a time to see my demonstration of how woodblock prints were made. Posted up on the wall behind me, and indeed scattered here and there throughout the building, were some of my 'Hyakunin Isshu' prints, and hanging below each one was the poem, written out in simple 'hiragana' syllables for the kids to read. After the long morning's excitement was over and I was able to relax in Seki-san's office, he explained to me something of his reasoning behind exposing the children to my prints.

The main concern of course, is that under the constant barrage of contemporary popular culture to which these kids will be subjected as they grow up, they will never become acquainted with many of the important traditions that today's Japanese take for granted. Of course, Seki-san is not trying to teach these children the 'deep' meaning of these poems; he is simply trying to ensure that they have a general familiarity with them - that they grow up knowing that Hyaku-nin Isshu is there, much the same way that today's adults learned by playing 'karuta' and 'bozu mekuri' with their family when they were young.

It seems to me like a pretty good mix of philosophies lies behind daily life here in Mebae Yochien - the kids obviously aren't being strait-jacketed and controlled every minute, but there has been a lot of thought put into why they are here and what they should get out of their kindergarten experience. Thank you Seki-san, for showing me a wider view of my own world ...

Messages from Canada ...

From Fumi - 12 years old, just finishing grade six ...

School in Canada is very different from school in Japan. School starts at 9:00 in the morning. Until then we can't go into the classrooms, but we can go to the library. The library has many computers, many English books, many French books, a few Japanese books and a few Chinese books. When the bell rings we go to our own classes and start the morning exercises. But if it is nice weather we usually go for a walk around the school.

FumiAt the recess if it is nice weather we can't stay inside, but the schoolground is so big we can do anything we want. If it snows we can't throw snowballs. We can eat snacks whenever we want except during class time. At lunch time we have one hour. During lunch time we can go home to eat lunch, go to the store to buy lunch or just eat lunch at school. Sometimes we have hot dog days. The school doesn't supply food, except on hot dog days. On those days we can eat hot dogs, pizza, doughnuts, chips, juice or hot chocolate. When we finish lunch, we can play 'till the bell rings. School always finishes at 3:00 in the afternoon. There is no school on Saturday and Sunday.

The school has a lot of interesting events. When we finish one we have to look forward to the next one. The first one I'm going to talk about is Halloween. Have you ever heard that word before? Halloween is on October 31st. On that day we need to wear costumes to school. Everyone looked weird. Some people were wearing spooky witch or monster costumes, but some dressed as pretty princesses or cats. Others were wearing funny costumes. On that day every class is playing games, eating treats and having a good time. Even teachers are wearing costumes. Halloween is not only at school. At night we wear costumes and go to other people's houses and shout "trick or treat", and whoever we shout it at has to give us a treat. I was dressed as a witch. I went from house to house for three blocks and got about a large bowlful of candy. When I came back home the neighbours had started setting off fireworks. Almost all the houses have a pumpkin with a face carved in it and a light inside beside the front door. My sister and I carved our pumpkin. It was hard to do but the pumpkin looked quite good. Next year we are going to make it much cooler.

Not only is Halloween interesting, on December 5th there is an event called Pajama Day. On that day everybody is wearing their pajamas to school and holding stuffed animals. Everybody is wearing pajamas so it looks as if everybody is just out of bed. If teachers want to they can do too. There is also Beard Day. On that day, everybody wears a beard, even the teachers. The principal came to each class and took a picture. If you didn't bring a beard to school, you could make one at school. The principal always has a beard, so he wore a big fake beard. There is also the Christmas Concert. The Christmas Concert is a very big event. Every class either sings a song or does a skit. Our class did two songs. One was hard to memorize but we practiced for a whole month so I had it memorized. I thought our songs were good, but when I saw what other classes did, I thought our songs were bor-ing. Even the teach-ers did a skit and the principal also sang and danced. It was fun to watch. The Christmas Concert was on December 18th. On that day parents come to watch the concert and buy tickets for seats. I was late so I couldn't buy any tickets, but luckily my mother got a seat. Valentine's Day is soon coming and I hope there will be a special event for it.

Himi & FumiIn Vancouver there are squirrels, skunks, geese and raccoons. All year long you can go to Stanley park and feed them. There are skunks living under the front steps of my house and sometimes it is very smelly around the front door. Raccoons live in the forest close to our house. Squirrels are everywhere. We even feed them inside the house. Our cat chases them, but when the squirrels stop she stops too. She grew up in Japan and does not know what to do with squirrels! Life in Canada is fun!!!


From Himi - 14 years old, just finishing grade eight ...

Life in Canada is very different from in Japan. I arrived in Canada on April second on my birthday. It was good having two birthdays in one year (because of the time difference). I became 13. Normally 13 year-olds go to secondary school. So I'm going to Lord Byng High School. I think some of you are wondering why I'm only 13 and going to a HIGH school. It is because in British Columbia elementary schools are from grade one to seven, while high school is from grade eight to twelve and because of my age I went one grade up. This is why I'm going to high school.

Lord Byng has a special program, different from other high schools. It has an ESL program. This is very important for me . It is a program for students for whom English is a second language. For me ESL is a boring class since almost everyone is Chinese and they don't speak English. I take three regular classes and five ESL classes. The three regular classes are Physical Education, Math and Applied Skills. Applied Skills is a class that grade 8 students take. Every elective that students can take later in high school is taught for a few weeks in Applied Skills so that students will be able to see what they would like to take in later years. All my writing classes are ESL classes. My ESL classes are Literature, Composition, Communication, Social Studies and Science. I think next September I will be out of ESL. I'm getting good at speaking English, but not writing or reading. But it is not too bad.

My school's daily time table is pretty different from that of other schools or Japan. We have eight subjects split over two days. Day 1 is 'A' block, break, 'B' block, lunch, 'C' block, and finally 'D' block. Day 2 is similar, with blocks E, F, G, and H. It goes like this: Monday Day 1, Tuesday Day 2, Wednesday D1, Thursday D2, Friday D1. The next week is opposite: Monday D2... School starts at 8:40 every day and ends at 3:10 every day. In Japan school starts at 8:00 and ends at 5:00, so here it is easier for me. I like my school timetable very much.

My school has a school dance four times a year - the Halloween Dance, the Winter Dance, the Valentines Dance and the Spring Dance. We use the school Gym and grades 10, 11, and 12 do the music, decorations and food. At Halloween everyone wears a costume and it's so neat. At the other dances no one dresses up. The Winter Dance was a big Video-dance. We danced and watched videos at the same time. Sometimes the grade 12s performed a dance. The dances normally are from 7:00 to 10:00. I think that I need a date to go to the Valentines Dance. There will be smoke from the dry-ice and colorful lighting. The music is Rock 'n Roll. Japanese schools should have dances!

In Japan I was fashionable, but on the first day of school I discovered that here I was not. I was so embarrassed. I didn't know and I thought it would be the same. Unfortunately I didn't have any money to buy fashionable clothes so I had to wear fashionable-in-Japan-but-unfashionable-in-Canada clothes. But now lots of money is coming in. I get $4.00 each week allowance and $20.00 for teaching piano to my friend. I have had my ears pierced. Every girl and even some boys have their ears pierced. Other than that even girls of 13 or 14 wear make-up. At first I didn't want to wear any make-up but now I think I should since every girl who wears make-up has a boy-friend. But I don't really know how to apply make-up.

Even outside of school I do lots of interesting things. In summer I go blackberry or strawberry picking. I can pick blackberries anytime I want to because everywhere in the city there are blackberry bushes. The berries are black when they are ripe. They are very sweet but the bushes have many thorns. Strawberries are different. If I want to pick them I have to go to a farm where strawberries grow.

If you want, you can join a Summer Day Camp at the Community Center. We get together in a group and play together or go to some special place. You need to pay money but it is very cheap and fun. I went to a Day Camp once. I joined the Pool Day Camp which had to do with water. Normally the camps go to a park or something like that, but we went to a water park.

I take skating, piano and swimming lessons. I like skating lessons. I do it at the Kitsilano ice rink. I always learn lots of jumps and spins. Lessons are 45 minutes long and are twice a week. When I don't understand what the teacher says I ask one of the officials during public skate and he teaches me carefully. I go skating almost every day because I love skating. It's really fun. Sometimes it's too crowded and I can't jump or spin but I have very good time learning basic skills. Skate has endless things to learn. When I grow up I'm going to be a skating teacher.

Piano lessons are good but a bit boring. The teacher is strict but very kind. She is very beautiful. When I started piano she gave me more homework pieces than I had had in Japan. I'm doing tons of difficult pieces. I spend more time practicing than before, but sometimes I get bored with a particular piece and don't practice it. When that happens I have to play the piece for 1 or 2 months. I get tired of it and I practice to get it over with. But I'm getting better bit by bit.

I hate swimming lessons, but my mother made me take them. She thinks floating in water will help my back and swimming will make my legs strong.

Like I said, I am having a great time in Canada. The school is good and my English is getting pretty good. Sometime you should visit Canada!

Closing

Do such things as http:// or www. mean anything to you? I suspect that to many of the people who collect my prints, these are completely 'greek', but perhaps some of you will recognize them as parts of an address on the Internet. Over the past few years I have been watching the astonishing growth of this worldwide network of computers with great interest. I hesitated becoming involved though, because I didn't see much point - the kind of people who would be interested in my 'old stuff' probably wouldn't be the 'on-line' type anyway. But as anybody who has been reading my 'Collector's Profiles' stories knows, I should stop trying to categorize my collectors - quite simply anybody can be interested in my project.

Buying a Macintosh computer a few years ago, and using it for things like bookkeeping and newsletter layout, has kept me somewhat in touch with the modern technologies, and I have been slowly coming around to the idea that my project and work should be included in this interesting collection of ideas that is the Internet. A couple of months ago I decided to take the plunge, and since then have been using my computer to construct my own 'web site'.

As I write this, things are still in preparation, but I think that by the time the next issue of this newsletter is ready, you will be able to read it two ways ... in this paper copy that you get directly from me, or electronically on your computer screen.

Those of you who aren't at all interested in this - please don't worry. I'm not about to abandon my 200-year-old 'work habits' for this new electronic world. It is simply that I think that my work may be of interest to people in places other than Japan, and the Internet is definitely the best place to show it to them. I'll still be sending you this old-fashioned paper newsletter for quite some time yet, and of course I'll still be spending most of my time hunched over my carving bench, slowly working my way 'round and 'round a kimono pattern - pretending that things like computers and internets are still more than two hundred years in the future ...