Life in Japan

My freelance work in Japan taught me by example that man is inherently flexible, intellectually and physically. We can understand any point of view, any value system. We can take on any way of life. From the beginning, almost all of my friends were Japanese, and--in their language--I asked them to elucidate their values, their habits, their emotions. Japanese is a good language for this kind of talk. In 1990, I married a Japanese, an artist from a family that for generations had held a Shinto shrine on the southern island of Shikoku. We moved into a thatched farmhouse in the mountains north of Kyoto. We began a family. Sheer immersion in the same rural life my neighbors lived, with their centuries-old festivals and their easy belief in animism, made their concerns mine, and their values mine.

A tutor at St. John's once told a class pursuing Pascal, "translation is impossible." After so many years in a foreign culture that became my own, I still long to prove him wrong, if only slightly.

My Life in Japan

In Japan I learned how to be an adult. In the countryside of Japan, two hours north of Kyoto City, I learned how to be a wife and mother. These were my neighbors and my visual environment.

Foreigner Loves Thatched Roof for Natural Beauty

I can't remember which Japanese magazine covered me here, as a 'foreigner' who inexplicably loves thatched roofs. The Japanese have a long history of being told by Westerners that their indigenous culture, especially the crafts of daily life, deserve their respect. It was for a good cause that I posed for photos like these and eventually for a documentary about thatching as part of a global culture. 

Related Writings


Renowned designer Takenobu Igarashi asked me to write the story of his work with some of Japan's oldest local industrial workshops in 1990. I was interviewing him for a Graphis profile, and felt I ought to decline, since I was pregnant with my first child. Months later, when I was in the US, just a short while after giving birth to Hannah Jane, he called me and asked me once again if I would travel around Japan meeting and interviewing the CEOs of small but hopeful companies whose traditional markets-for lacquerware, cast iron, stainless steel and ceramics--had dried up in Japan's continuing Westernization. And so Hannah and I discovered the countryside of Japan, and the great time-warp between it and the cities.

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A Winter Retreat

This was my first attempt to describe the 'telescoping of time' that occurred in Japan as the cities began to modernize and urbanites to base their lives on commerce, while life in the countryside remained much as it had for centuries. As the snow got deeper, we left the village less and less frequently, and tourists from the cities thinned out to almost nothing. Our little village of Miyama, with its thatched roofs and open hearths, seemed to recede into the past.

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