“Japan’s era of shoguns and samurai is long over, but the country does have one, or maybe two, surviving ninjas. Experts in the dark arts of espionage and silent assassination, ninjas passed skills from father to son - but today’s say they will be the last. […]
Kawakami is the 21st head of the Ban family, one of 53 that made up the Koka ninja clan. He started learning ninjutsu (ninja techniques) when he was six, from his master, Masazo Ishida.
“I thought we were just playing and didn’t think I was learning ninjutsu,” he says.
“I even wondered if he was training me to be a thief because he taught me how to walk quietly and how to break into a house.”
Other skills that he mastered include making explosives and mixing medicines.
“I can still mix some herbs to create poison which doesn’t necessarily kill but can make one believe that they have a contagious disease,” he says.
Kawakami inherited the clan’s ancient scrolls when he was 18.”
Oregon State University scientists and officials inspected a dock near Newport, Ore., Wednesday. They believe the dock, which has Japanese lettering, came from an area that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Along for the ride were organisms—some native to Japan. (Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian/Associated Press)
At the beginning of this little documentary, Jiro, the ancient sushi maker who is its subject says something that when I thought back upon it, just stopped me dead in my tracks thinking about how many millions of miles away modern culture has come from this concept. He says, I’m paraphrasing from my memory, that life is about loving what you do for work and getting better and better at it, and becoming truly skilled at what you do and always improving is the key to living an honorable life.
There pretty much is not a single word of the above statement that guides any part of American culture today. The idea that work is about doing something you love and improving yourself at it, rather than extracting the maximum possible lucre from society. The idea that being skilled at what you do and improving yourself has any value other than its commercial value…that we can be judged by how skilled we are at our craft rather than how high up the ladder we’ve climbed…that we all have room to constantly improve and are not just born special and gifted and entitled to have Michelin stars or fancy bylines rained down on us…the idea that “honor” is a thing…Not to get even more maudlin about it, but this is a blog about the end of civilization. Nothing in his statement above would have been remotely controversial even 25 years ago. Now not one word in his statement above is remotely an operating principle of our society.
Anyway, besides that, Jiro is a really beautiful little documentary about a man who has spent his life running a little sushi counter in a train station in Tokyo doing the same very small number of limited tasks and becoming the best in the world at each of them. I don’t know if there’s any craft in the world as precise and ephemeral as sushi making and if this portrait of Jiro and the many people who give their lives to it doesn’t make you feel completely inadequate, then I don’t want to eat at your restaurant. Or to read your blog.
I’m generally against most big screen documentaries because they mostly belong on the small screen. I’ve spent too many nights in theaters seeing talking heads interspersed with sped-up photography and mock-Phillip Glass music signifying dire warnings that the entire planet is likely to be unsustainable for human life before we leave the theater. Perhaps fine sentiments. Perhaps. But they belong on TV if anywhere. Jiro captures the beauty of the sushi business and the strange isolation it brings in a way that demands to be seen in a theater. So go do that. A beautiful film.
Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of last year’s disasters in Japan, and last week on Photo Booth we posted a slide show of images of the aftermath. One of the most powerful visual representations of this recovery, though, came not from professional photographers but from ordinary citizens. The Lost & Found Project is an exhibition that grew out of the Salvage Memory Project, a volunteer effort from across the country which has recovered some three quarters of a million photographs that had been lost in the town of Yamamoto during the earthquake and tsunami. According to the artist Munemasa Takahashi, who leads the project, they’re “mostly snapshots of special family occasions and holidays that anyone would take.” Each photograph was washed, digitized, and numbered according to where it was found, and twenty thousand have been returned to their original owners.