SHORT #4: How to Make it Beautiful (Part II)
the time required to appreciate mochi sweets ... and other things
In the middle of a bustling Osaka shopping street, two girls stand in awe of a sweets shop. You can see why. Inside the shop’s display case are dozens of pillowy soft, handmade mochi rice cakes. Each is stuffed with various sweet fillings, and then wrapped in a beautiful textured paper stamped with the shop’s emblem. Like the mochi, the paper that wraps them is also handmade, coming from the paper maker Hashimoto san in Nara.
Amid this mochi-watching, the mother of the girls—an artist named Yuki san—walks up behind them, and instructs each to pick one mochi. They walk home together, girls clinging to their mochi, through the old shopping street.
Small stores and workshops line both sides of the street in the typical Japanese fashion—where each building owner runs a shop on the first floor, and lives on the second floor. The street seems to be the social and commercial heart of the neighborhood, and it is filled with pedestrians and bicycles, as well as walkers and wheelchairs. All ages intermingle here.
Near the end of this street, Yuki san and her girls turn down an alley. A bicycle bell rings. The three turn their heads to see another woman and her son on a bicycle. The bicycle slows down, just enough for the mothers to greet, and the children to make funny faces at each other while laughing far more than one might expect a reasonable person to laugh. Apparently, a universal children’s pastime.
Reaching their tiny house on the small alley, the two girls sit down in front of their mochi, still wrapped in Hashimoto san’s paper. At this point, you might expect them to tear the wrapping open as quickly as possible. Yet, they do no such thing.
If you ask them why, their reply is swift.
“Mottainai! Hai! Mottainai!”
“It is wasteful,” they say.
And so the unwrapping proceeds slowly, carefully, and their eyes and hands move attentively, as if there is magic in the act and in the material—and we can suppose there is.
Their mother laughs at the process, and gently nods her head. She too, knows this magic, for her job is to continue her family’s own traditional dying and stitching business. Also slow. Also attentive. The process stretches back hundreds of years, but with each generation, it is renewed, personalized to suit the desires and skills of that particular generation. Yuki san’s renewal of this old process, happens to be in the form of making brightly colored, naturally dyed earrings.
As the mochi action plays out with her girls, Yuki san quietly makes note of their intense curiosity, and also quietly wonders, what these two might contribute to the family tradition in the years to come; what their adventure might be.
For now however, the girls are focused on the adventure of opening their mochi wrappers. Smiles growing, touching, poking so the soft glutinous wrapping recedes and then reforms. And then, finally, the first bites. They eat with smiles, just huge enough that the mochi does not spill out of their mouths.
You could say that the slowly-made paper from Hashimoto san helped enable this moment. It is not easy to quantify the value of an elder papermaker like him. To say that there is very little economic value to any of what he does might well be true, but anyone can recognize that there is a great amount of some other value. If this other value could reveal itself, if it could take form in some tangible moment, this must certainly be one such moment, where two children eager to eat their sweets, just spent a remarkable amount of time examining the beauty of the paper that wraps those sweets.
If such ways of production are enough to slow down two small excited children, could they not also slow down the bigger excited children who seem to run much of the global economy?
It was just one moment, of remarking at the beauty of a paper, but in that moment was another value. If one were to ask Yuki san about all of this, she would recite a message that grows from the decades of her own artistry, and the centuries of her kin’s, and from the earth that binds and nurtures it.
“What is a paper or a mochi or an earring worth” she asks you, “if it is not made with truth, beauty, and goodness? And, suppose it is made so. Well, then what a waste, if we don’t take time to appreciate it!”
In Yuki san’s world—or that of her girls’, or that of Hashimoto san’s—the value of doing one’s work with truth, goodness, and beauty is not something to be measured.
Yet it is a value that always seems to outgrow any other.
Hi, I’m Patrick, and each week at The Possible City, I write and illustrate a short adventure. Based on real people and places, these are stories of imaginative ideas and ways of thinking for equitable, resilient, regenerative cities. If you enjoyed this one, please subscribe and share it with others!
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