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Ann Grasso blogIt was a rainy day; otherwise I would not have learned this lesson. We arrived at the Miho museum sitting atop a mountain. It was designed by I.M. Pei, by request of a wealthy patron of the arts. In 2008, I was traveling in Japan with a group of textile artists. As we approached the visitors’ center, from which everyone had to walk through a long stainless tubular tunnel to the Miho, a gracious Japanese requested we trade in our personal umbrellas for those in the container. Odd, I thought. He assured us ours would be waiting for us upon our return. It was not until I started snapping photos that I understood.

The Japanese try to offer every assurance of harmony in beauty and design.

From sidewalk design, to manhole covers – discreet for each service and different for each town – to the uniformity the colored umbrellas offered to the visual scape as we approached the museum, the smallest details are not left to chance. I checked: yes, the umbrella color is changed per season.

We, as individualists in America, may find this request for uniformity off-putting. But I dare say that being surrounded with beauty on a daily basis has a calming affect. As well, it fosters the notion that beauty and design are important attributes of our humanity.

What do you think? I welcome your input.

Showing 10 comments
  • Jean Rill-Alberto
    Reply

    I think its a wonderful idea and I applaud them for it!
    I must say that I always look forward to your interesting blogs, thank you Ann!

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      Ann Grasso
      Reply

      Thanks for both of your endorsements: the Japanese Way and also finding value in the blogs on my site.

  • Julie Anderson
    Reply

    What a wonderful idea. I look forward to visiting Japan one day.

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      Ann Grasso
      Reply

      Yes Julie, especially for you – I know Japan will be important. Try to go with an artists’ group!

  • Susie Monday
    Reply

    That is amazing Ann. I had no idea. I love the visual impact, I wonder about the lack of explanation. Maybe I would have, as a non-Japanese, liked being clued in about we as visitors being part of the beauty of the site. I can imagine that some people would be clueless and not even notice.

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      Ann Grasso
      Reply

      Perhaps people might not notice, but so much is made of the cultural reality of seasonal changes in Japan, I suspect some visitors were not even surprised at the request. Since I was traveling with a group of artists, we may have been more attuned.

  • Robin Richardson
    Reply

    I am always interested in hearing of other cultures and their customs. I have an admiration for uniform and discipline. Growing up as a wild child and slightly still one in the best ways, I’ve longed for some sort of structure. I am not sure if that is what would work for me, but I am open minded and willing to learn! Thank you for sharing your experience Ann.

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      Ann Grasso
      Reply

      Your comment is insightful. While in Japan, I observed that no Japanese was willing to make an independent decision. Rather, they would find a group and ask for a group consensus. This became time consuming and frustrating. Too much of a good thing? When the considerate behavior evidenced itself in design and art, I was thrilled. When I wanted simple directions or information, the same care and discipline became unwieldily. Recently, in the local grocery store with a sushi area, a previously offered rice “paper” wrapped CA roll (instead of a white rice wrapped CA roll) was no longer available. After several weeks of checking to see if it would return, I asked to speak to the person making the food. He came out of the back room and when I asked my question, he asked me to wait a moment (which turned into ten) and when he returned, he had no less than five more Japanese with him. They huddled and spoke Japanese. One emerged to tell me the rice paper wrappers would be available in six weeks. The rice paper wrappers never made an appearance and it has been over a year. But that is not the point of my story.

  • Robin Richardson
    Reply

    How interesting. So the simplest things are quite the project? I teeter with simplicity and complication. I tend to like both! However, the context that they fall into are what makes the difference.

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      Ann Grasso
      Reply

      Mountains out of molehills – not a good way to spend time. Yes, context is important.

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