One evening last week I went out to a 'konwakai', a meeting of the 'Tokyo Woodblock Print Craftsmen's Association', of which I have been a member for a half dozen or so years now. This group is made up of men who make their living making woodblock prints in the traditional way, not as artists, but as 'shokunin', craftsmen.
When I first asked to join this group, I was a bit nervous about their reaction to having a foreign member. I thought that because their work was so old-fashioned, their way of thinking might be the same, and they would not wish to share their time and thoughts with me. I was wrong. They have been very friendly and open, and always willing to answer my questions and offer me advice.
The meetings though, do have some difficult moments for me. These craftsmen are mostly elderly men, and most of them have lost many of their teeth. It is sometimes thus quite a problem for me to understand what they are talking about, especially after drinking a few glasses of sake (them, not me!). The fact that they have all lived and worked together for such a long time, also means that they have developed a kind of 'private' language, which only they understand. The Japanese I have learned from textbooks doesn't do me much good when talking to these men!
But there is one thing about being a part of this group that gives me great pleasure. At 43 years old, I'm one of the youngest members. They think I'm a little kid!