I have had a life-long love of things Japanese. I grew up in a small rural town in California, Florin, just outside of Sacramento. It is amazing how happenstance can play such a large role in the development of anyone’s life.
When I was in fifth grade I was fortunate enough to wind up in a class taught by Mary Tsukamoto. That year we had two older students from Japan move into our community. They were not able to speak English and so they were placed in our class, giving them the chance to work with Mrs. Tsukamoto in making their transition. At the same time she decided to take a chance and teach our class Japanese.
Also in our community is a large Jodoshinshu Buddhist Church. Buddhist churches in California are known for offering Japanese language classes and cultural programs. I was thrice blessed in having the Tanaka sisters take me under their wings, in particular Myrtle Furukawa. Mrs. Furukawa was my first real Japanese language teacher and has continued to inspire me as a role model all these years later.
Eventually I made my way to Japan, pretty much on a wing and a prayer. I saved my earnings from mowing lawns, babysitting, and delivering newspapers. I wound up in the home of Emon and Katsuko Kanematsu in Tokyo and started delved into my studies. Katsuko Kanematsu is Edokko, and a poet with national standing. She is keenly interested in Japanese clothing and textiles, and it is she who taught me traditional Japanese sewing techniques.
Early on, I was able to secure a position with Kunio Ekiguchi, best known in this country for his books on Japanese wrapping techniques, published in English through Kodansha, International. He in turn introduced me to the teachers I needed in a variety of disciplines centered around traditional doll making techniques. Matsuyo Hayashi, my bingata teacher, was one such person.
I met Matsuyo Hayashi at a pivotal point in her life. She dismissed all of her apprentices just prior to taking me on as an understudy. For the next several years she concentrated all of her energies in sharing her knowledge of dyeing with me. She died five years into my studies and it was at that point that I returned to California.
Risking so much time and effort on a foreigner was a chance she took. I liken it to a custom practiced by Japanese school children wherein a paper packet of flower seeds is tied to a balloon and released into the wind. Who knows where it will land? But what a joy it is to imagine that next year some passerby will come upon the flowers in bloom and delight in their beauty! In her eyes, I was the seed packet. It is my joy and obligation to share what she has entrusted to me, expand upon her teachings, and learn from what others have to offer. This blog is one manifestation of this endeavor.
Since returning home to the States I have taught untold numbers of classes through guilds, museums, and universities. I have exhibited my work through galleries, boutiques, and private showings. I have had exhibitions sponsored by Kodansha, the Embassy of Japan, and the US State Department. I am as happy lecturing to a sewing circle as I am to a gathering at the Textile Museum in DC.
Once again, I find myself living in a rural area of California in a town called Covelo. Covelo is in the most remote corner of Mendocino County, nestled in the Yolla Bolly Mountains. It is a quirky town, with many eccentricities, and I love it here. I own an old flour mill on an acre of land in the center of town–actually the town square, with a large bandstand and a large wisteria arbor. It affords ample space for my various projects as well as the classes I hold annually in my studio. I don’t know how I lucked into this space, but here I am, and here I’ll stay!
All of these fortuitous occurrences have brought me to this spot. I hope my ramblings will be of some interest to you, and if so, that you will share what you deem valuable with others.
For more information, please visit my web page at www.JohnMarshall.to