My Japanese TV Experience
In June of 2017, I was contacted by a Japanese cultural televisions show. It was described to me as a sort of reality TV documentary. I was told that people who they find with strong Japanese cultural interest are invited to Japan to be featured on their program. I admit, at first I was very hesitant and thought it was fake and was some kind of scam. I couldn’t believe that they were interested in me and for what reason? I rarely travel, have been to very few places, and have never been out of the country. However, Ayako my contact person and someone I now consider a friend, convinced me it was legit and told me that someone from the show had come across my website. They found the kane (bells) that I make very intriguing and wanted to know more about me, my interest in Japanese cultural, and how I make my kane. Over the followingmonth or so we did several email interviews and one or two over the phone. At one point, they asked if I would send them a video of myself telling stories to view my on-camera presence. With my wife's help, we put together a short video. I didn’t hear back from them until sometime in late July. Ayako then told me they were now interested in visiting the dojo for on-camera interviews in September. She said the footage would be sent back for the production team to look over and that if everything went well, I would be invited to visit Japan and be featured on their show. I was shocked that it had gotten this far. It really didn’t matter to me if I was chosen, I was just so honored to be considered. I don't do anything I do for any kind of recognition. However, to be recognized for what you do is really nice but to be recognized by the culture you are trying to represent is truly amazing and really touched me.
September came and so did the Japanese. The director, Ken, who I also now consider a friend, arrived with one camera operator and a translator. We spent the next three days together. I was a bit nervous, as I have never been on camera before. It was a great experience and I had a wonderful time. They did interviews with my wife, students, and me. They filmed the making of one of my bells from start to finish. That was a long day. They also filmed me teaching one of my classes. On our last day together, we took a trip to North Carolina, to film and interview a couple who had recently commissioned two of my bells. These two bells are now displayed in a beautiful private hillside Japanese garden. We were very busy but again, it was a great experience and just a warm-up for what was to come.
After a couple of weeks, I was asked if they could return and do some more interviews because they needed "more footage". Naturally I obliged. It was a Saturday morning and I was teaching class when Ayako, who I had been corresponding with since the beginning, stepped up to the dojo front door. I excused myself and greeted her at the door. There were actually no more interviews needed, it was a true surprise as she had come to personally present me with an invitation to visit Japan. It was a dream come true as visiting Japan was something that I had always wanted. I found out that I would be leaving on November 4th to spend the next 10 day on an adventure across Japan.
Ken-son, the director, met me at the Tokyo airport with a crew of five. We started with an interview and then we all climbed into a van and my adventure began. I was actually in Japan. We were later joined by Ban-son, the producer of the show another great person. I wanted to experience Japanese food the right way so I asked Ban-son to choose my meals. Wow, not once did he let me down; the food was amazing. I can honestly say that I had the best steak that I have ever had in Japan. I will also go on record and say they ruined sushi for me. I haven’t had any that has tasted as good since I have been home. The sushi was beyond good. They never told me where we were going so it was always a wonderful surprise when we would arrive. Japan was amazing and so beautiful; it was hard to take it all in. I took over 1000 pictures and videos trying not to miss anything. I'm not a selfie kind of person but I was told not to come home without pictures and selfies to prove I was there. I brought home lots of nice video and photo shots of the ground and my feet. I would think the camera was off and I would be walking along snapping away LOL. Japan was so clean; the people were so nice and considerate of others. Everyone I met treated me like family. Americans could learn so many things from the Japanese about how to act in public and respect for others, just saying, it was amazing.
One of the first places that I visited, spent most of my time and the focus of the trip, was the Oigo Works Co. in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture. There I met some very special people and artisans. This factory was founded in the Edo period and has been in existence for over 300 years. With around 25 employees they still make Bonsho (Japanese temple bells) the traditional primitive way. The Oigo Works Company is responsible for 75% of all Japanese Bonsho in existence. Each bell is handcrafted and is a one of a kind. Before meeting these people, I had no idea of the time, care, skill, and pride that goes into each bells. I was a bit nervous and unsure how I would be accepted as an outsider. Hideharu Motoi the CEO of the company met me with open arms and quickly made me feel at home. He explained to me the history of the factory and was happy to spend time with me. He showed me around, shared his knowledge, and introduced me to his master artisans. Inside the factory I met Yuji Morita and Maski Kusunoki. They spent time with me and took me through the entire process of creating a bonsho from start to finish. Marita-san was not interested in speaking to me through the translator he would speak to me directly and somehow the majority of the time I knew exactly what he was saying. He also kept me laughing. At times, I had no Idea what he was saying, but I knew it was hilarious because I could feel it. I quickly formed a connection with him and referred to him as Sensei. He challenged me, he believed in me, and allowed me to work on several processes of creating the mold for his latest work. He took responsibility for anything that I would do and told me he knew I could do it. The making of the mold was far more involved than I ever imagined. It takes incredible skill. Many people I asked had no less than 20 years of experience. From the mold, to casting, the de-molding processes, clean up, and then engraving, it is all done by hand. I had the privilege to be part of many of these processes. Some were very difficult, like making the chi chi. They are the 108 nodes sticking out that surround the top of the bell which represents to 108 earthly desires. They are each made by hand, allowed to dry by a beautiful, kind, and humble artisan. She offered to let me to try my hand at her job of 20 years. She is also the one who hand engraves with tools she made herself all of the inscriptions that are added to the kane. Each time, with a warm smile, she told I needed practice, to speed up, and the one I just completed would not make the cut. My few moments had nothing on her 20 years of experience and dedication. After having time to dry, the chi chi are then placed into the mold. The average bell weighs a couple of tons and the largest bell can weigh up to 50 tons. Each one are truly a work of art. It was a great honor and a privilege to meet, learn, and spend time with each of these wonderful people.
During my early interviews, they asked what I would like to do and see if I were able to visit Japan. I told them I wanted to learn more about the traditional way Japanese bells were made. I wanted to visit historical locations such as original castles, temples, gardens, and to see some of the most famous bells in Japan. They delivered on all of it and more, and I wanted to stay so much longer.
While there, I was challenged by Morita and Kusunoki-son to return home and make my own bell. Because of my own determination and the great respect I have for the artisans, I have accepted the challenge and plan on doing just that. I am already in the process of learning how to cast metal. I have already had success in pewter and aluminum. I hope in the near future to offer, alongside my existing kane, my own hand cast version of a traditional Japanese bonsho cast in bronze. The day I left the factory, Matoi-son presented me with a bell they had made for my dojo. This kane is now one of my most cherished possessions, a reminder of the time I spent in Japan, and will be the model for kane I plan to create. Below you will see pictures from my time spent at the Oigo factory. You will see the different processes from creating the mold, pouring, de-molding, and cleaning the kane. These processes take several months before a bell is ready for delivery. I will dream of the day I can return with my wife, share Japans beauty with her, and visit my Japanese friends.
I was featured on Christmas day in their 2017 3-hour season finale. My segment was an hour long and I hope to be able to post a link to their Facebook page where you can go watch the episode if you would like. Look for that and updates on my casting progress in the future. Enjoy the pictures!
Oigo Works Company and Historic Bansho that I visited
If you would like to see more pictures from my visit to Japan
click on the button below. After clicking the button scroll down to "Japan 2017"
click on the button below. After clicking the button scroll down to "Japan 2017"