Japan - Earth's Enchanted Islands
In June, the BBC released a three part documentary focusing on the three islands of Japan: Honshu, The Southwest Islands and Hokkaido.
Part one follows the relationship between people and wildlife living in close proximity to each other. From the brief and magical blossoming cherry trees in Tokyo city to the wild mountains of Hida inhabited by black bears hunting insects under rocks. Macaque monkeys bath in volcanic springs and forage fruit from local farms. Japanese tree frogs lay their eggs in trees above the rice paddy fields. Fresh water carp suck up leftovers from Kabata kitchens. Fireflies light up the summer evenings. Cow demons live in the ancient forests enchanted with Kudama tree spirits. Sacred Sika deer head from the hills to a Buddhist temple in the town of Nara and bow to humans in return for deer biscuits. Earthquakes and volcanoes erupt. Luminescent fire fly squid are swept up on tsunami battered coastlines and streetwise tanuki (racoon dogs) adapt to the city living by the edge of a busy railway line. These cheeky charmers are seen to bring good luck and people accept their mischievous neighbours.
I had never heard of a tanuki before I explored the world of Japanese netsuke and still had no idea what a real one looked like while I drew the tanuki netsuke at the British Museum. To me this tanuki netsuke is a cross between a bear and a pig rather than a racoon dog.
Tanuki Woodblock Carving
I'm going against my original plan to keep the netsuki prints small and have enlarged the tanuki sketch in Photoshop. The original ivory netuske was 3.9cm high, my original sketch is 5cm high and the final woodblock carving is 11.5 cm high.
Making the woodblock carving bigger does not stop me making mistakes. I really need to slow down. An important part of the process which I have yet to crack. I've accidentally cut into the outline of the tanuki's arm. I put the tiny outline of wood to the side and look for some glue. Distracted by a drawer full of chaos I forget about the search for glue and start clearing out the clutter. Feeling pleased with my now orderly drawer of zen, I proceed to sweep all the shavings off the table in to a bag forgetting about the little chunk of wood now lost in the woodpile shavings.
Another important part of the process - focus. Something which eluded me while transferring the image from photoshop to the block. The Tanuki is facing in the opposite direction to the original image. Which is fine if I had planned this but I didn't! So next time I need to slow down and focus.