Keiko Sumi, 57, is the 10th-generation owner of Komaruya, a Kyoto-based company that produces traditional and modern handheld fans. Komaruya’s fans were selected by Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising company, to represent the best in Japanese craftsmanship at the 2005 Aichi World Expo. According to written records, Komaruya has been selling fans as souvenirs — the first company to do so — since 1624 , later providing dancers and geisha not only with fans but also with the hundreds of accessories needed for a performance, from hair ornaments and flowers that decorate the stage to swords and tobacco holders. As the last remaining fanmaker in Japan with a team of inhouse artists, Sumi is famous as a protector of Japanese artisans and a designer of exquisite fans.
To create a simple object, it is best to have a great team. It takes the efforts of eight craftsmen to make a single fan, since each step is delegated to a professional in that field. The framemaker cuts the bamboo stick that forms the structure of the fan. Next it is passed to a second artisan who puts handmade paper on it. A third person adds string, another colors, the next adds gold leaf, then a painter adds scenery, another background images and the final one folds it. Then the fan is ready to be opened.
Every small step — regardless of the direction — can take you where you want to go. In order to design beautiful fans, I climb mountains that are filled with strong spirits. I get blessings and inspiration from nature, especially in the environments my grandparents and great-grandparents used to visit. I feel connected to them, which gives me energy to keep moving.
The living and the dead are the same: in need of attention and love. We all have souls, and they survive even when our bodies disappear. This is why we must show our love for the dead by greeting them every morning and offering them nourishment, such as cold water and hot green tea. Next morning, pour the liquid over a plant and refresh their cups.
What we say is what will happen. Even water becomes more delicious if it’s appreciated. But if you complain that it is dirty, it actually turns murkier. Same with humans: If one is loved, he or she gets better and those who are put down fall behind.
People do just about anything to save their independence. My mother used to be very protective of me. I had to tell her where I went and with whom, since she wanted to know every detail of my life. I didn’t mind because she was my mother. This went on till she was 79, by which time her legs were getting so weak that I recommended she move in with us. Instead she started dancing to strengthen her legs; suddenly she changed. Today, at 81, she’s often out till 1 or 2 a.m. singing at karaoke bars and dancing the night away. Of course, she lives alone and since she doesn’t want to share all the details of her life with us, she stopped asking me about mine, too.
Information appears when we are looking for it. When I was searching for ways to improve my company, I visited Kyushu to climb some mountains and meditate. At the airport I met by chance a woman who kindly offered to drive me to my hotel. I was obviously ready to meet her — she turned out to be my greatest spiritual guide and friend. We had to connect and we did.
There is no escape from love, fortunately. I had many arranged meetings for prospective husbands, but I didn’t like any of them. To elude the torture of further arranged meetings, I decided to quit university since I thought most men wanted a wife with a diploma and not one with a high degree of freedom. I didn’t tell my parents what I was doing — only my professor knew, and he helped look for a job for me. As I was a dropout, I thought I was safe, but one man kept asking me to marry him. Even after I refused him four times, he insisted that he was never going to love or marry anyone else except me. I was 20 and asked a 91-year-old man what he thought of my suitor. He recommended that I marry him. I did, luckily. He was the greatest man and we had 31 years together before he passed away. He is always with me, even now.
Don’t make waves unless you are ready to drown. Just six months into our marriage, I was checking the books at my husband’s firm when I noticed that some employees were swindling profits. Once we uncovered such dirt, he wanted to clean up his desk and leave. We quit and started over.
Every crisis is an opportunity. Once an order of 2,000 fairly simple fans was suddenly refused by a buyer who had found similar items for much cheaper. I didn’t mind. I was happy because I thought our beautiful fans could be painted with more elaborate designs and sold for even higher prices later on. I was right.
Leave your DNA behind: It is a treasure to be shared. Don’t think of yourself only, don’t worry about losing your carefree lifestyle if you become a parent. Instead start feeling love in a greater sense — for people who come before and after you. Once you start making a deeper connection with others, you will see children as the link to our past, to our ancestors and also our future.
A balanced view is crucial even if we grasp only half of it. What we see and understand rationally is just 50 percent of all phenomena — the other half is hidden in the realm of the senses, in the world untouched by science. Imagine a person carrying a long pole on his shoulders with two buckets of water. The containers need to be filled evenly to allow safe navigation. Same with the past and future, the living and dead: You must pay attention to both sides of the world.
In Japanese art, less is enough. For a dance performance, to show that it’s the season of cherry blossoms, we didn’t paint blossoms anywhere except for on the fans the 10 dancers carried. Once they opened their fans — which were all different but all decorated with cherry blossoms — the audience felt like they were transported into a beautiful cherry blossom garden.
Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out and About.” Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/