When I started this 'Halifax to Hamura' story, I had no idea that it would spin itself out for such a long time. I didn't prepare a careful plan for the series, and just kind of assumed that over a dozen or so issues, perhaps two or three years' worth of newsletters, I would get through it and end up at the point when I actually set foot in Hamura. But looking back through my files now, I see that this 'column' is now in its 10th year! And in the story, there are still three years to go before getting over to Hamura! Have I been gabbing away too much? I have no idea; whether or not any of this has been of much interest I really can't tell. But as I sit down at my keyboard this evening ready to write the next episode, I can't help but think back to the time when I started this series, and to remember one of the major motivations behind it.
In 1994, when I started the story, I had already been living in Japan for eight years, and felt quite at home here. I didn't have any particular reason to feel 'strange' in my community, but knew of course, that to my neighbours I was certainly 'different' (as I still am, and always will be here). One thing did surprise me about my relations with my neighbours though, and that was the extent to which they thought I was doing something 'special' and unusual. Surprised, because in my own mind, I am pretty much an ordinary guy doing pretty much ordinary things. Of course, specializing in making old-fashioned woodblock prints is not a common activity, but in the cultures where I grew up, doing this kind of thing is not unusual in any way. Nor is it so unusual for a person to live for extended periods (or a lifetime!) in a distant country - emigration has been a fact of life for centuries in the European/New World traditions.
But to my Japanese neighbours, the idea that somebody would resign from a good job with a respected company, would take his family (including two who were still only infants) over to a distant country where he didn't even speak the language, let alone have a job ... well it just didn't add up. And yet all around me, and especially with the young adults in the English classes I was teaching in those days, I met people who were not particularly satisfied with the life options they saw open to them in their own culture - school, college, job ...
So that was one of the major incentives for me to start this series; it's not my business to preach at anybody about how they should organize their life, but it wouldn't hurt anybody to see that another sort of living pattern is possible - that dropping out of university doesn't mean 'failure', that leaving a good job is not only possible, but essential, if you aren't satisfied there, and most of all, that one never has to answer the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Well that was nearly ten years ago, and as those of us who live in Japan know very well, the number of life options available here has increased enormously since those days. That though, is sort of a 'good news/bad news' situation. The good news is that many career options other than the traditional school/college/job path have opened up; the bad news is that without such a clear definition of what to do as the old system provided, many people are now more confused than ever before about how to proceed. I know this from personal experience - from the letters and phone calls I frequently receive from such people.
A typical inquiry will be from somebody in their early 20's; perhaps they are just about to graduate, perhaps they have already left school. They are contacting me because they think they would like to become a printmaker, perhaps becoming my apprentice if possible, but after some conversation it becomes clear that it is not so much what to become that is their aim, it is what not to become ... a company employee. Almost none of them have actually tried printmaking to see if they might really find it a suitable occupation for them, as when they call me it seems that they are expecting to be instructed in what to do - sit over here, start with these tools, etc. etc.
Now I would certainly not criticize anybody because they didn't have a burning interest in printmaking - for the first thirty years of my own life I had no interest in it at all. And the idea that some of these people have - to try it out to see if an interest does exist - is also not a bad idea; I dabbled in any number of activities when I was younger, as this series has certainly shown! My 'complaint' about these people, such as it is, is with their lack of self-motivation; it seems that they expect me to take them in hand, supply them with a course of instruction, and set them on the road to becoming a printmaker.
Now making traditional woodblock prints is not something just tossed off casually, and making a living at making traditional woodblock prints is an immensely difficult undertaking. The hours are long, the pay is low, and the work is physically very hard - there is absolutely no way that anybody who is anything less than totally passionate about the work can be successful. How can I determine whether or not any of these people have the proper level of passion? The method is simple - I ask them to show me some of the prints they have made. But the reply is always the same - "I haven't made any prints yet. I don't know how. I would like you to show me ..."
And I know ... I know as soon as I hear this, that without the inner drive to go to the library and hunt up some books on printmaking, and to follow those instructions to have a try at making some basic prints, and to then look at those awful first prints and try and figure out what's wrong, and then to make some more to try and get better at it ... I know that this person just doesn't have what is necessary to make a go at printmaking - a powerful enthusiasm that drowns out everything else.
Is the presence of enthusiasm a guarantee of success at something? Not at all; over the ten years of episodes of this Halifax to Hamura story, you have read about innumerable occasions of David being enthusiastic about something, only to ultimately fail at it. He failed at university, he failed in the attempt to become a professional flutist, failed with his saxophone in the pop/jazz field, failed as a branch manager ... And many of his other activities, if not outright failures, were just left along the wayside ...
But in each case, the enthusiasm was there, and was there first; it was just not always partnered with the necessary ability. And the older I get, the more I am certain that it is the presence or absence of a passion for something that is the most fundamental determiner of success.
In the next issue of this newsletter, we will return to the Halifax to Hamura story right at the point where David's first daughter is born. He will be given increased responsibilities in the music company where he works, another daughter will then be born, he will start to think about buying a house for his family ... and as you might expect, all these things will conspire to push his dream of printmaking farther and farther off into the distance.
But as we know, here he is this evening sitting in his home in Japan typing away on newsletter stories for his collectors. So what happened to pull it all together? The answer ... is in the enthusiasm!
After ten years of this series, we seem to be no nearer to Hamura than we were at the beginning, but in this final group of episodes, we'll see the most important part of the story - how things came together to make that final large step of a few thousand miles.
(But I promise it won't take ten more years to tell the rest!)