Facing a new life in a new culture with a new language can be daunting at times, even for the most adventurous. I often hear friends in America complain about immigrants not learning English and I’m certainly aware of Japanese who suspiciously grumble, “Nihon ni nihongo de hanashimasu!” (In Japan, speak in Japanese!) But the truth is, there is such a comfort in speaking your mother tongue in a strange land.
Being a city of considerable size, Kyoto has several foreign language communities — Chinese, Spanish and English to name a few. And I happily play within the latter. Of course, there are a variety of circles and subsets in any community and three of my favorites are “Women’s Network”, a monthly potluck of English-speaking women; “Asian Studies Group”, English-speaking scholars of Asian history, arts and humanities; and “Women Artists’ Association”, a grouping of foreign women artists from a wide range of countries and continents.
The artists’ group (pictured to the right at a recent outing to a Turkish restaurant here in Kyoto) includes potters and painters, calligraphers and printmakers, papermakers and several textile people. Kyoto is, afterall, the textile capital of old Japan and attracts fabric enthusiasts, collectors and artists from around the world. And the beauty of Japanese paper is legendary throughout the world.
Kiyomi Yatsuhashi from Boston, Massachusetts (front left in the photo) specializes in the most beautiful indigo blue fabric dyeing and Deborah Stout, a papermaker from Australia (way small on the right in the back of the photo) makes the most beautiful lamps and wall hangings from her own hand-made paper. As a group, we share information on places to buy art supplies, techniques and inspirations, and create exhibition opportunities for our work.
A recent exhibition by Regina Altherr (second from the left in the group photo above), a potter from Switzerland, shows the fabulous influence Japan can have on an artist’s work. And so it is with each of us, bringing the skills and talents we developed in our home countries into play with the culture and mythos that surrounds our lives in Japan.