Un petit détour
March 2, 2011 5:55 AM   Subscribe

The Japanese word kōgei (also as kougei) [工芸], basically translates as 'crafts', or even 'handicrafts'. In many places in the world, such products are generally considered as something lesser than 'arts'. In Japan however ...     Please meet Mr. Lionel Dersot, Tokyo resident for 25+ years, who is ready to take you on a (bilingual) survey of some wonderful work in the field, both old and new, at his blog 'The Daily Kogei' - Un petit détour bilingue dans l'artisanat japonais et bien plus, diffusé de Tokyo.
posted by woodblock100 (9 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. French native speaker — his French descriptions are much richer than those in English, really great.

For instance:
The wood is of some 300 years hinoki.
Le bois est au moins tricentenaire, ce qui est la condition pour le travailler.
Which means: "The wood is at least 300 years old, the age required to work with it." (Little reminder: I translate for meaning, not literally.)

I love this kind of thing, thanks for sharing!
posted by fraula at 6:06 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

[derail]"Arts" also used to have this meaning. This is where "artisan" comes from. However, in the XIX century, the Romantics, a bunch of lazy snobbish pricks if there was ever one, in between duels and suicide attempts decided to "liberate" art from any connotation of, you know, actual honest-to-God work, dedication and getting your hands dirty.

Strangely enough, the only corner of language obscure (and practical) enough to escape the Romantics' depuration was the legal language, and in particular "patent-speak": this is where you can still find mention of "useful arts" (as opposed to the "liberal arts"), "prior art", "skilled in the art" and, of course, an expression that has spread again from patentese to a broader use: "state of the art".[/derail]

And yes, Japanese workmanship is amazing.
posted by Skeptic at 6:24 AM on March 2, 2011

This is an amazing blog - thank you for posting it. Fraula, I wish you would undertake to translate more of it, as it's easily apparent your version more accurately conveys the heart of it.
posted by PepperMax at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2011

Nice blog - thanks for posting. And when he says "daily kogei" he really means it - lots of multiple posts per day, all very interesting.
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:16 AM on March 2, 2011

Some of his translations are a little clunky - fraula is right, the french is quite a bit richer and more nuanced than the english translations - but there are some inadvertent gems in there: "Craft at a higher stage must be stunning, it must struck you with awes."

I love the the idea of multiple awes. I was struck with awe, and then I was struck again with a second awe.

And then the third one hit me, and whoa!
posted by mhoye at 8:17 AM on March 2, 2011

Wow, this is great, thanks for posting woodblock.

Unfortunately, the latest post (March 2) says that "Kanazawa can wait", which is not a sentiment I can agree with at all. Best place in Japan, better than Kyoto or anywhere else.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great, great stuff. Wonderful to see someone focus on the vast quantity of god-like handicrafts that Japan still possesses.

My friend makes high-end handmade paper that gets dyed with Japanese persimmon juice - it's very old concentrated stuff, but it does amazing things to paper when applied. I'm fascinated to think that enough of it could give it waterproof properties. Must look into that.
posted by EricGjerde at 11:18 AM on March 2, 2011

Thank-you for posting. I a) love beautiful craftsmanship, of any kind b) Love Japanese stuff c) Am travelling to Japan later this year and d) had a conversation the other day with a friend about a culture of holding craftsmanship in high esteem leading to good design, using Japan as a main example. This somehow ticks all the boxes for that.
posted by Megami at 1:30 AM on March 3, 2011

I have a pair of hand-hammered Made in Japan Honjo fenders on one of my bikes. It's crazy to think that some meticulous craftsman made each dent one at a time, just because it looks a lot nicer than a regular old fender.
posted by fixedgear at 6:04 AM on March 4, 2011

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