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Take a Deep Breath


Today was a very special day. I sat in my 6-mat workroom carving woodblocks just as I do every morning, but with a special difference ... Today I felt as though my little room had been lifted into the air somehow and set down in the middle of a peaceful rural village. I was magically transported from dirty, dusty Tokyo, to a place far away in the clean countryside. To a country valley in autumn. A valley full of the scent of freshly mown grass. Yes ... today I got brand-new tatami mats in my workshop!

I have been waiting a long time for this. A woodblock printmaker's income is not very stable, and as you all know, tatami mats are quite expensive. It has been eight years since I had new ones! Eight long years ... But because it has been such a long time, perhaps the pleasure now is just that much greater. The old mats were so worn down in some places that I had patched them with tape here and there, and I felt quite embarrassed when guests came to visit. Alas, nobody visited today to help me enjoy the new mats - but perhaps someone will come tomorrow ... I know exactly what they will say as they enter the room. "Ah, ii nioi desu ne!" "What a wonderful smell!" And the two of us will sit there on the smooth, firm green surface, sipping tea, chatting about this and that, and enjoying the nostalgic feeling that seems to automatically come with fresh clean tatami.

When my family lived in Canada, we wanted to get a couple of tatami mats from Japan for our apartment. We thought that they would make a nice focus for the room, be a pleasant place to sit, and would also be a good place to spread our sleeping mattress (we didn't use a bed). Unfortunately though, we were not able to import them because of strict agricultural restrictions (I think it was concern about disease or insects in the straw). But I waited patiently, and when I arrived in Japan just over eight years ago, made sure that the apartment I rented had a 'wa shitsu', a Japanese room. Since then, I have been almost totally living on tatami. As all my work is done in that room, and of course sleeping as well, I guess I probably spend about 20 hours a day on my tatami.

So for me, the arrival of these new mats today was not only a long-awaited experience, but one to be treasured. I know that over the next few weeks and months, they will gradually lose their fresh smell, and will slowly change from light green to golden brown, but for as long as it lasts, I will savour this wonderful clean 'country' feeling. And I promise myself - I won't ever wait eight years before I get new tatami again!