Certo. Non è il Gaijin o il Nihon a fare il To, ma solo il tosho.
Questo è interessante:
The number of individuals who wish to become heir to the tradition of japanese swordsmithing by undertaking traditional apprenticeship in Japan has grown considerably.
There is neither secret entrance nor impossible criterias to become swordsmith apprentice in Japan. However, information on the subjet is scarce indeed, and cultural and linguistic obstacles worry more than one. It is probably for such reasons that so few foreigners have tried their hands at it. There is the legend of a Westerner who would have set up his own forge by the end of the 19th century but not much is known about him. Then there's the better known Keith — apprentice to the late "Living National Treasure" Miyairi Ahihira, actually at the same time than Kawachi Kunihira, Kiyota's master — but he unfortunately passed away in 1997. Many more seem to have come and gone over a few years or even a few months stay.
There are, at the begining of the 21st century, about 250 swordsmiths at work in Japan. No doubt each of them has his own opinions on what swordsmithing should be, his own habits and his very own personality, and to a certain extent his own culture. The approach explained here relates to the author's personal experience, his own understanding of the culture and customs, and also to his beliefs. There are certainly other ways that lead to a similar result, but probably not identical.
A classical apprenticeship implies for the apprentice to resides at his master's. He lives among the family and help with daily chores. During apprenticeship, one ovbviously learns techniques, but mostly it is to learn to recognize quality and the conditions that allow it. Even with 50 years of practice, an isolated smith would not be able to make a fine japanese sword simply because he wouldn't know what it is. To live by one's master allows to soak in his standards (which justifies the importance of choosing the best craftsman in a given field) and thus make them one's own.
At the begining of the 21st century, financial, social, and cultural considerations are at the root of the diversity in craftsmanship and related apprenticeship formats. Some were remunerated during the late 1980's economic bubble, while many demand that a pension be paid. Some apprentices live by themselves and get to their master's each day. There are no more norms anymore, but for the quality of the work produced.
There are no academic institutions where japanese swordsmithing can be learned. To forge baldes longer than 15cm in Japan, one must be licenced by the Ministry of Education. To obtain this licence, one must go through apprenticeship under a licenced smith for at least 4 years, after which period one might be allowed to take the yearly test for new smiths. The test involves the making of one sword, from raw material to basic polishing and lasts about a week. Most apprenticeships last for about 5 years.
The decisive factor, thus, is to be accepted by a licenced smith as his apprentice.
The master and the apprentice
The relationship between a master and his apprentice is comparable to that of the father and his son in that it is very personal, and for life. It is not a teacher and his student, for the master isn't expected to teach anything. It rather left to the apprentice to assimilate as much knowledge as possible while he is accepted to live by his master. It is not a boss and his subordinate either, as there is neither remuneration nor contract. There is no exchange: the relationship is autoritarian and one-way, from master to apprentice. It is not a partnership! It shall be the apprentice's duty to pass down his knowledge to the next generation.
The master is a craftsman at work. The apprentice is the person who comes to his side, and who watches, mostly, and assists, depending on his abilities.
It is interesting to note that master and apprentice, like any other denomination, have their worth only within a given relationship. In other words, the master is not a Master, but his apprentice's master. Thus, the master is himself apprentice in front of his own master. There is no absolute denomination! There is no, thanks to God, Master. Beware those who pretend otherwise.
To be accepted as an apprentice in a given traditional japanese craft, considerations of race, nationality, social status, money, experience, abilities, talents, academic background, language, one's curriculum vitae, and in most cases gender have no importance (certain crafts are still reserved for a given gender, although this is changing rapidly).
What, then, is necessary?
What follows could easily constitute an exhaustive list of the required criterias:
- Be liked by the master
Not by consciously charming him, but rather simply with one's nature, just as strangers who like or dislike each other at first sight; the apprentice-to-be does not have much control over this.
- Open mindness and flexibility (mostly related to unavoidable cultural tensions)
- Devotion and sustained effort
That's it. If only one was to be isolated, it would be patience. A key element of all japanese successes and of the japanese culture in general. Patience as no Westerner can conceive it. In fact, even for the young Japanese, patience is developped along their education.
Although the conditions are enumerated above, the method isn't provided!
Once upon a time...
A swordsmith relaxes at home, sipping a tea and reading his mail. One letter came from abroad.
It says how much japanese swordsmithing is a source of passion and with what determination the author is willing to do everything necessary to become a swordsmith in this tradition.
On top of that, the letter is in English! After having finally found the one friend who had studied English a while ago in high school, he succeeds at deciphering the letter. The swordsmith can only wonder what is expected of him without really knowing what to reply.
No matter what is asked, there is no possible decision that can be taken for there is nobody before him! How could he possibly accept a perfect stranger as his apprentice, under his responsability?!
It is for this reason and many more that the first thing to do, to be accepted as an apprentice in a japanese craft, is to come to Japan!
Moreover, as in Rome we do as Romans, the apprentice-to-be's first duty is to assimilate the customs, to understand the culture (or at least accept it) and local history, and to learn the language. One is not expected to become a fine scholar of all things japanese, nor a Shakespeare of the local language, but to hope to be served in one's own language and according to one's own customs when learning a traditional trade, one must be plainly arrogant.
Luckily, at least in the case of Japan, learning the culture can only elevates the one's spirit, and assimilating the language is far from impossible. All that counts, as mentioned above, is patience. And patience is never missing in Japan.
So, coming to Japan.
" For how long ? "
That is the perfect wrong question! Wasn't patience mentioned?!
Thus this question shall not be asked.
Indeed, this kind of patience!
If someone pretends to have the intention to assimilate a japanese craft or art, certainly that someone doesn't expect to realize this within a month. Keeping warm and dry, making sure the Way is safe and that all bridges are sound, and then only getting on the move is not how this is done. It is rather about walking towards the goal and, once at the cliff, stepping in the emptiness with faith that the bridge will be under the foot, step after step.
It is by following the Way that It opens up,
not while contemplating it from the backseat...
It is important to understand that the true intention of the apprentice-to-be is more important that his words and actions. He who truly intends to become a swordsmith apprentice in Japan is already engaged on the Way. He does not wait to be accepted to devote himself entirely. Thus, commitment will show to the master, and the choice will be more easily made.
Step by step
Once settled in Japan, while one is taking care of lodging and feeding oneself and of acquiring the basics of one's new culture, one may start to get in touch with swordsmiths. Visits and talks are the way to go, without mentioning any apprenticeship, or at least not in the form of a request.
Visa issues are always a challenge. The "Bunka Katsudo" (Cultural Activities) visa is appropriate for the apprentice with a guarantor in Japan and no need to receive remunaration in any sort or way. Someone needing to work might want to look for a working visa, but that generally implies working 25 to 50 hours per week, which does not leave much time for apprenticeship. Otherwise, fall in love with a local and get married!
One will then identify one, maybe two individuals under whom becoming apprentice seem an interesting prospect. One continues to visit the craftsman to build the relationship. The apprentice-to-be must not avoid confronting his dream with reality. In many cases, dreams are to be kept as such, and dreamers shouldn't shy away from admitting this to themselves. One must not be affraid to change one's mind before engaging in apprenticeship, because once embarked, any quitting makes the whole adventure a tremendous waste of time and energy both for the master and the apprentice.
At some point, the possibility to become someone's apprentice will show up naturally during conversation.
What happens at the right time does not need to be forced. If one forces, it means that is it neither the right time nor the right thing to do.
The apprentice-to-be must, however, beware those who would offer an apprenticeship too easily. The best craftsmen are the most reluctent to accept apprentices because they know the way and know that only one out of thousands, if not more, has what it takes. Thus, one should always address the best craftsman in a given field. Personal preferences of taste, personality or attitude shouln't prevail on the only thing that really counts: the quality of the work.
Because quality is truth.
(dal sito di Pierre Nadeau, attualmente apprendista tosho in giappone)
Notato le ultime parole?Personal preferences of taste, personality or attitude shouln't prevail on the only thing that really counts: the quality of the work.
Because quality is truth.
Messaggio modificato da Jarou, 04 dicembre 2008 - 17:09