Saturday, October 11, 2008

Call Me Haephestus. Well, kinda.

I see the similarities.

Recently I've been thinking about Ojizo, the guardian Buddhist saint of children (usually deceased), a kind of savior for the souls of the underworld. There's really a lot to him (sometimes her!) but for now just know there are cute little stone statues all over Japan that are representations of this deity. And for some unknown reason, I've been obsessed with them. I've been buying books, studying, wandering around taking pictures. One day last week I asked my mother-in-law if she knew of someone who carves the statues because I wanted to ask him some questions. She said yes, she did, there was a famous jizo carver guy living nearby. No way! She gave me his name and all his wonderful deeds but couldn't give me an address or anything more. I went home and spent a wee bit of time on the Internet, a few calls later and I'm now one of his students!

It rocks. It literally rocks. Ha ha ha ha...! (*I'm slapping my knee here*)

Yesterday was my first lesson. Five hours of pounding stone. But first I had to get to his place which was an hour's drive in the mountains. At the risk of driving into and oncoming car or straight off the side of a cliff I took a few pictures.

Narrow ass bridge.

I can't tell you how nervous I was. I was. But after finding the parking place I marched down the side of the mountain and ran into two shaggy-looking men cutting trees with a chainsaw. Although he didn't introduce himself right away, I knew one was the teacher (thank you, Google) so I could be all smarmy polite and make a good impression. Despite being told he was a mean little curmudgeon, I found the teacher was perfectly delightful and he had no wrists!

He, as it turns out, has got quite a name for himself. He has statues all over Japan and a bunch in Kyoto at famous temples. He said that once a German museum curator was touring Kyoto and saw one of his ojizo statues and fell in love. It took him awhile, but he tracked my teacher down to this little no-name town and begged him to make one for his museum in Germany. Cool.

Here are some pictures I took of some of his pieces that were sitting around the work area.

This is a post card of some of his work.

There are ten other students. All long-timers. All very, very good. Here they are measuring and drawing out plans and such.

The first jizo any student makes is this one. Very simple. Very cute.

I received a block of stone, some instruments and was shown how to pick which surface to use as the surface, how to find the center, and how to lay the rock between my feet for good carving. Then I was told to go slow but have at it.

I spent a bit of time watching others carve, I swatted several mosquitoes and once ran screaming like an idiot from a giant spider (I mean, we're way in the mountains guys!)...that last one really endeared me to the teacher I think. But most of the five hours I spent swinging my hammer and chipping away stone. And this is what my rock looked like when I was done for the day:

Almost there!

They say it will take at least six months to complete. The other students are working on projects that have lasted years. Some take their (BIG) stones home with them to work on them there. They all have various bandages and wrappings on their arms and fondly laughed at me remembering out loud a time when they didn't have tendinitis. Still. Despite some serious joint throbbing today, I'm stoked about the little statue. As a matter of fact, I already have a place in my garden for it--a small patch of moss that I will encourage to grow on the jizo with vast success I'm assuming.

Only one problem. Of all the hobbies I could have picked, I seemed to have chosen the one where if we ever decided to head back to the States I couldn't possibly lug my masterpieces home with me. But who knows, maybe by then the price of overweight baggage will go down. Or I'll win the lottery.

I hope.