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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #42 - Winter 2000
Contents of this Issue:


The local printing shop where I buy the rubber stamp to put the return address on my outgoing mail has certainly been getting good business from me in recent years. I had to buy a new stamp when Hamura Town changed to Hamura City, then had to replace that one when the post office changed all our postal codes, and then had to buy still one more when the telephone company altered our area codes. Well, it's time to head down there to order still another one, because there are even more changes this month. But this time it's my own fault! This time the entire address is changing, along with the telephone numbers. Yes, after fourteen years in this apartment, the longest span of living in one place in my entire life, I'm moving!

As you can imagine, with a move taking place just at the same time as the annual exhibition, there isn't much time left for writing interesting newsletter stories, so this issue will be a 'thin' one. But the prints are getting done, even though a lot of the peripheral things like answering letters and doing the bookkeeping are getting a bit left behind ...

But there will be time enough to catch up with that sort of thing later (I hope!). For now, it's time to get the final print in this album finished, and then get the exhibition ready. I hope I will be able to see you there!

From Halifax to Hamura

As that long summer drew to a close, it became time to start thinking about what to do next. I certainly couldn't keep camping out and skydiving for the rest of my life! The first and most important decision facing me was the choice of a place to live. I had certainly enjoyed being in the Toronto area for that two year period, but as no strong ties dictated that I should stay there, I turned my thoughts towards returning to the west coast of Canada, back to Vancouver. I had been in contact with an old friend there, one of the men who had worked in the musical instrument repair shop with me a few years before this, and he suggested that I rent the basement of the home he had just purchased in Vancouver. He had a specific reason for asking me to move in; the room needed quite a bit of construction before it would be ready, and he knew that I would be able to do this work for him, in exchange for a couple of month's free rent. So I took him up on the offer, and let him know that I would be returning to Vancouver sometime in mid-September.

With these arrangements in place, the last weeks of the summer were spent in a care-free time at the skydiving club. I had been slowly improving my skills over the months, and although I was not any kind of 'expert', I had certainly developed some competence. Because I was 'resident' there, and didn't return to the city every evening like most of the other skydivers, I became a sort of unofficial staff member, and spent many hours helping with all the gear. Each weekend a fresh bunch of people arrived to take the 'first jump' class, and the parachutes they used always came back into the 'barn' in a wild jumble of fabric and ropes. It became my particular pleasure to be able to take this tangle, and in just a couple of minutes, turn it into a neatly folded and packed parachute, ready for the next person to use. To watch somebody climb into an airplane to take their first jump, wearing a parachute that you yourself have packed, is quite a sobering experience ...

The time eventually came to pack up my tent, head back into town, and make arrangements for the trip out west. Because I had travelled across the country by air many times, I planned to make the trip this time by train. I hadn't been on the trans-continental train since first arriving in Canada, and the idea of the long peaceful journey seemed quite attractive. I bought my ticket, and then went to the central train station on the day, ready to say 'goodbye' to Toronto. When I tried to board the train though, I ran into a small problem. It seems they had a rule that bicycles must be brought to the station on the day before one wished to travel, in order that they could be properly stowed in the baggage car. As I hadn't known about this, I would now not be allowed to bring my bicycle with me. I certainly wasn't ready to throw away my bicycle, so was forced to exchange my ticket for one on the next day's train. This seemed like nothing so important ... simply I had one extra evening in Toronto, to visit for one last time one of my favourite Japanese restaurants.

As it happened though, that train company rule was to have far-reaching ramifications indeed, more far-reaching than almost anything else that has ever happened to me. Because the next day, when I returned to the station and stood in the line-up waiting to board the train, I happened to catch the eye of somebody standing in the neighbouring line. She smiled at me ... and I guess I smiled back. She was dressed pretty much the same way as I, 'student travel style' - small backpack, thin colourful blouse and jeans. We didn't talk together, but as the lines moved forward onto the train and everybody started looking for the seat numbers to match the ones printed on their tickets, I made a note of where she was sitting - on the other side of the aisle some rows in front of me.

I am sure you can guess some of the rest of this story. The trip by train across Canada takes nearly three days. By the time evening came that first day, a bit of negotiation with the train conductor had resulted in her seat assignment being switched, and she spent the rest of the trip in the seat next to mine.

And of course, our 'trip' together would end up lasting for much longer than three days, for this was the woman with whom I would have two children ...

On the Move!

Exactly one year ago in this newsletter, I wrote a small story that described some of my frustration at having to live in a small and cramped living space. "Every room is jammed with printmaking tools, books and supplies; woodblocks are stacked everywhere; the closets are all full of prints and more blocks ..." I mentioned how I had spent a bit of time looking around for a possible place to live, but had discovered that getting a place of my own, at least a place in an accessible area, was simply out of the question for somebody on a woodblock printmaker's income. I can't say that I gave up on the idea completely, but certainly put it to the back of my mind; no sense feeling frustrated about something that couldn't be changed.

One year later, I would again like to talk about the 'house situation', but this time though, I have better news to report - I came across a house for sale that looked quite suitable for my needs, and not only that, I was able to arrange financing and complete the deal. I am now the owner of a four-level building in a quiet area of Ome, the neighbouring city to Hamura.

It started one day in November when Sadako told me something interesting; she had heard some news about a local artist in Ome who was trying to sell his home/atelier, and thought I might like to look at it. I was pretty sure that the property would turn out to be unsuitable, or anyway much too expensive for me, but I agreed to go and have a look.

When we got there, I was not so impressed with what I saw at first. It was a standard two-story home containing a few small rooms and a 'dining kitchen', pretty much just like my apartment in terms of space available. But right beside the flight of stairs that led up to the second floor was another flight, one leading downwards. We followed the owner down and not ten seconds later ... my mind was made up - I knew that I had to have this place!

You see, although it is not obvious from the front of the house, the structure is built on a steep hill, and in addition to the 'normal' two floors of the building, there are two more levels below. These lower levels open onto the back of the property, looking out over a small stream and a green area beyond. In addition to this pleasant outlook, the hill on which the place is built is so steep that in order to get down to bedrock to make a strong foundation, the builders had to create a room with a wonderfully high 13-foot ceiling. This first lower level (I can't call it a basement, because it is flooded with clear north light) by itself is just about the same area as my entire current apartment ... and there is still one more level below!

I couldn't believe what I was seeing - vast wide space, high ceiling, plenty of light, incredibly strong concrete construction, four floors ... and all this beside a peaceful stream, surrounded by greenery, with no traffic noise audible, and yet located only 20 minutes walk from Ome Station, from where express trains run directly to downtown Tokyo every hour.

I tried not to get too excited, because of course there had to be a catch, and I knew what it was going to be - this is Tokyo, and although the price of land here has come down somewhat from the highs of the 'bubble' days, they certainly aren't giving the stuff away ... I knew that I simply wouldn't be able to afford this place.

But when we sat at the table in the kitchen upstairs and got into the details with the owner, it transpired that this was something of a 'distress sale'. He had to sell, and he had to sell right now, actually within the next couple of weeks. He named his price - 18,000,000 yen, just under half of what he had paid for the place when it was built in 1995 - and I realized with a bit of a shock that I might actually be able to manage this. Somewhat disbelieving that such words could come out of my mouth, I told him that I was interested, contingent on being able to arrange financing.

I was at my bank at 9:00 the next morning, carrying a folder containing all the documents I thought might be necessary. When I presented myself at the housing loan counter and said I would like to apply for a mortgage, the two loan officers looked at each other, and then back to me ... "But you're a foreigner ..." Now I myself knew that there are no legal impediments to foreigners in Japan owning property or getting housing loans, so I held my ground. After a couple of phone calls 'upstairs', and a bit of discussion with the branch manager (who I happened to know, because he is a collector of original ukiyo-e scrolls!), we started to talk about the details of a possible deal.

The next awkward moment came with the requirement for authentication of income tax payments ... "I'm sorry, but loans can only be given to people who can prove payment of income taxes, and you're a foreigner ..." I quietly reached into my bag and brought out copies of my tax records for fourteen years back. It seems that they, just like many Japanese, had the idea that foreigners living in Japan don't have to pay taxes. This is incorrect, as we pay exactly the same taxes as everybody else living here. Right from the beginning, I have paid National Income Tax, Prefectural Residents' Tax, and Municipal Resident's Tax, in addition to Private Enterprise Tax on my business, and premiums for the National Health Insurance. (I opted out of the National Pension plan, but would be allowed to participate if I chose.)

They looked through this stack of paper, and I guess it was at that point that they started to take me seriously. So we dug into the calculations involving the projected amount of the mortgage, the collateral value of the property, the down payment I could afford to make, and my income for a number of years back, and came out with the answer - it all seemed to add up, and there seemed no reason that a mortgage loan could not be extended.

I made the official application, for a ten-year loan of 12,000,000 yen at 2.9% (rate fixed for five years), with resulting monthly payments thus only slightly higher than my current rent. A couple of days later the reply came back ... 'approved'. There was not even any need for me to have a guarantor; my own credit was good enough.

So I signed a purchase contract with the house owner. This was a private sale, with no real estate agent involved, but of course there was a massive amount of paperwork necessary. I used the services of a very competent legal clerk to handle these details, and once everything had been processed, I received from him my deed to the property. At 49 years old, I now have a place of my own (and a whole new string of additions to that list of taxes I pay!).

But what a time to get a new house - just a month or so before the exhibition, and with me so far behind in the printmaking schedule! To disrupt my work just now is impossible, so I am keeping the lease on this apartment in Hamura until the end of January, and only then, with the exhibition finished, will I make the move over to Ome and start the long process of turning those large concrete rooms into warm and comfortable working and living spaces.

It is going to take a very long time indeed to fix it up the way I want it, but there is certainly no rush. I will plant some ivy outside that will slowly cover all that bare concrete, and while it grows, I will work inside at a similar slow and steady pace, building workbenches, bookshelves, and all the other accoutrements I have only been able to dream about ...

A lucky break? Yes, perhaps there was quite a bit of luck here. But luck backed up by years of hard work that put me in a position to take advantage of the break when it came. And of course backed up by years of support from you people collecting my prints. I'm not quite ready yet to invite you all over for a house-warming party - please give me a bit of time to get organized somewhat - but I'll let you know when it's time for the official opening of the 'Seseragi Studio', the workshop by the stream ..


Recently I've been forgetting to include a short 'thank you' note to the two ladies who do the translations of these newsletter stories. Perhaps some people are thinking that after living in Japan for fourteen years, I should be able to write these things in Japanese myself, but I don't think that will be happening anytime soon! I don't feel too guilty about the fact that my writing skills in Japanese are going nowhere; there are only so many hours in a day, and I think mine are being spent pretty well ... And after all, I'm still managing to amaze myself every time I have a conversation with somebody - being able to speak to people is enough for me, I'll leave the writing to the pros!

So my apologies to Sadako Ishizaki and Akemi Doi for neglecting them - I think they both understand very well how much their work means to me ... and to you!