Our world is redefining the idea of adventure I think, and small things are getting more interesting by the minute. I had an adventure with a small thing this morning. It began with a search for a coaster for my coffee mug. I was starting to feel that my use of paper towels as coasters was wasteful and not very attractive. And, you know, I was trying to maintain a semblance of civility on Day 3 without a shower. So I routed around in a bag of small odds and ends I had picked up in my travels and I found something that I could use as a coaster. It was a little plastic folder. Here it is:
I remembered buying it in a shop in Japan last year. At first, I just put my coffee mug on it and started typing away. Then I realized that I loved it so much, I put my mug back on the paper towel. I thought about having a houseful of prints like the one on the folder, but large and made of paper and framed.
Oh wait, no, I don’t think I am ready for a house full of things yet.
On the back of the folder were the words “Munakata Shiko.” After I little research, I learned that Munakata Shiko is not a museum or folder manufacturer, as I’d assumed, but a celebrated 20th century Japanese wood block artist. There is even a museum dedicated to his art in Aomori, Japan. http://munakatashiko-museum.jp/schedule_e.html
In Japan, the art of wood block printing, “hanga,” probably dates back to the 8th century, although it became very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. A lot of Japanese art that feels familiar are wood block prints from that period, like the “Great Wave of Kanagawa” by Hokusai, which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
You can’t even believe this. There is a SONG called “Wood Block.”
This afternoon, I was on a Zoom with my old friend Tom to talk about a book. Coincidentally, he began describing some of his trip to Japan last year. He talked about how much he loved Japan, partly because everything seems to be treated with artistic flourish and care. A door knob, a pastry, a manhole cover. A little plastic folder.