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In a process of sharing the Sashiko we practice, I always learn something new. This time, I learned the word “Bread Line”. It was from a post about my dream of “sustaining our life with Sashiko”.
--- (From Instagram Post)
We have a goal. One day, we would like to sustain our life by practicing only Sashiko, without sacrificing someone’s effort. It is very challenging to provide a family with hand-crafting as an occupation. In order to be “wealthy”, the higher degree in college and/or engineering skills would be the better. However, it is okay to have a variety of people who decided to live on something “unproductive” right? Sashiko and Boro were wisdom to survive in poverty. We do not have to do Sashiko and Boro to maintain our life. However, we “choose” to do it. Why? We are here to share our reasons here. Do you have your own reason to enjoy it?
--- (I apologize for the incomplete sentences. I roughly summarize my message on Instagram to shorten the paragraph.)
I completely agree with the comments I received on this post. Above the “BreadLine”, it is about a choice in our own life. In today’s productive society, understanding the life-work balance is quite important to increase the sense of happiness. However, let me suggest one interesting perspective. What if a Sashiko practitioner ends up with the below BreadLine? Do you think it is a healthy status to “enjoy” Sashiko even if one cannot provide a family, or worse, provide oneself?
This isn’t an imaginary story. It is a reality in front of you. For example, Keiko and Atsushi, who you may consider as the artists, cannot support their own life with only Sashiko. Let me break down the situation. I (Atsushi) live in the USA happily as a house maker (as my main job) while my spouse works full-time to provide the family. This is a reason why we only offer the Sashiko workshops over the weekend. If she needs to quit a job for any reason, I will need to find other jobs (with ceasing the Sashiko activity) to provide the family. In other words, without her contribution, at this point, I don’t know if I can be above the BreadLine in terms of "providing a family".
In 2014, when Keiko just started her project Sashi.Co, her income from Sashiko was way below the BreadLine. She had some heritage from her husband who passed away very early (the age of 59 in 2013), and that propelled her project to today’s situation. Sashi.Co is moving forward, yet her income is just enough to support herself with living in a house where she doesn't need to worry about the rent or mortgage.
Before 2013, when we were working in a Sashiko business, we lived in “someone’s sacrifice”. The compensation we paid for the Sashiko artisans would be surprisingly low in contrast to the other regular jobs (works). Well, when the Japanese economy was good, and there were many artisans who could work for us while they had nothing to do over the winter (they worked as farmers over the summer), the Sashiko business could sustain the structure very well. After the emergence of computers and the Internet, not many people would like to devote so much time to Sashiko to “make a living”. My father and I were talking “how to soft-land the Sashiko business (how to close the business instead of bankrupting)” starting in 2009. It is (was) very difficult to sustain the Sashiko as a business.
I know several Sashiko artisans who enjoy their activity as the main work. However, I do not know any artisans who provide a family with Sashiko only. It is like a youth dreaming to be a musician or an artist. We are still in that phase of “dreaming” although Keiko is 61 years old and I am 36 with 4 years old daughter. So, you are looking at a dreamer here. We are not as fancy as you imagine as masters or artists. We are still “dreamers” like a youth who wants to be on the stage someday.
However, there is one big difference between us and the other dreamers. What we do - Sashiko - is originally formed as the way to endure poverty. It wasn’t developed to be “famous” or “wealthy”. It was a hand-stitching job for the family and close friends. Therefore, to be honest, it is kind of non-sense to think of “business” out of Sashiko. While a spouse works outside to bring bread home, the other spouse takes care of the family matters and doing Sashiko. It is exactly how I practice Sashiko right now, and probably it is the natural form of Sashiko stitching from the past. The other Sashiko artisans I know in Japan is very similar to this situation. Many of them have either spouse with a stable job (income) and/or a job for themselves, and enjoy Sashiko as more like a hobby.
*Please let me know if you know anyone who “provides” the family with only doing Sashiko. I would like to learn from him/her how I can change my paradigm.
When I talk about “money” with Sashiko, many people (strongly) react to what I write (say). They probably consider Sashiko for more “meditative purpose (which is very true)” and therefore considering the money with Sashiko may deliver a kind of “dirty” image. I try not to talk about money much as well. A person advised me that I shouldn’t talk about money at all especially if I would like to be the artist (which I am not sure if I would like to call myself an artist yet). The Internet can be a pretty superficial place to look at one perspective. I understand that the audience would like to simply enjoy the beautiful look of Sashiko and stitching.
In this diversified society, however, without a (business) structure, one culture may not be passed down to the next generation. The business creates a market where supply and demand would meet. The demands from the market will support the suppliers, such as thread makers and tool manufactures. The artisans can be “artisans” with the necessary supplies. There are many cultures discontinued because of the loss of supplies. The market will encourage and in-directly support the artisans to continue working. Thinking about the market and analyzing the demand and supply is the core of the business structure to pass down the culture to the next generation.
In Japanese culture, this “analyzing the market” would not be considered as a sophisticated process especially in the artisan's industry. Adjusting what the artisans do for the needs of the market were considered less in comparison to making the masterpiece (regardless of the market want or not). Before the Internet and computers, this artisanship existed everywhere in Japan. The masters kept the disciples above the BreadLine until they become the master. It is well-known that it takes more than 10 years to be a decent Sushi Chef in Japan - the first few years of just washing the dishes and then learning the technique, little by little, by sneaking into the master’s hands. The Japanese maintained the artisanship by securing the disciple’s BreadLine. If the disciple decides to have a family after some decent amount of training, the master would share his name to the disciple, so-called, 暖簾分け (Noren Wake - Sharing the name).
We can see this interesting master-disciple relationship in a few places in Japan. Most of them were wiped away by mass-production and mass-consumption economy. The Internet shares how important it is to be productive and efficient. Of course, spending 10 years to be a Sushi master sounds crazy while one may take an online class to be “certified” in a Sushi chef. On top of that, Sashiko never established its way with a structure. As I keep saying, the ordinary Japanese people practice Sashiko as the ordinary work in their ordinary days. Therefore, we do not find the master-disciple relationship that secures the disciple’s BreadLine.
In those cases, do we only observe the culture (craft/art) go away?
No. The history proves that people with goodwill support the culture, craft, and art to be passed down to the next generation. We are also here sharing the Sashiko we practice thanks to the goodwill we receive from our family, friends all over the world, and you here on Patreon.
Therefore, I would like to share the Sashiko story behind its tradition on top of the technique or outcomes. Your choice of Sashiko thread may hugely contribute to sustaining a long-established Sashiko thread manufacture in Japan. If you consider us as the artist, please support us as the artist. The arts often need patrons to get a spotlight, and we are no different from the other artists from that perspective.
You may purchase our Sashiko pieces as the Art. They are very expensive as clothes and accessories (Jacket, Pants, or bags. However, they are reasonable (and quite cheap) as the arts with considering so many hours and effort spent in.
Your support on Patreon is very much appreciated. Thank you for those who are reading this. We unfortunately still worry financially, and when something happens to unbalance this situation, we would need to cease our activity. We love Sashiko. I feel sharing the Sashiko is my fate. However, the most important thing in my life is my family, and I will give up Sashiko for them, if necessary. (As of now, thanks to my family, they encourage me NOT TO GIVE UP Sashiko. Thank you, Marina and Leona).
At last, but not least, your attentive caring will help Sashiko to be passed down. Before reading this article, you may have felt that Sashiko is merely stitching with simple patterns. It is. Sashiko is a simple form of hand-stitching to survive through poverty in Japan. However, with unique characteristics of Japanese culture, there are many stories behind the Sashiko we practice. Understanding the depth of Sashiko, and sharing the stories, and being attentive to what you do would significantly support Sashiko.
Thank you for your time to read this far.
Please do not misunderstand my writing. I am not using Sashiko to be “wealthy” nor writing “money is what matters”. I am NOT saying money is the reason we share the Sashiko. However, in order to continue, someone has to think of the structure and the way to pass down. Someone has to devote their lives to “risk” to challenge the process of “telling”. I do not think “enjoying whatever we intepret” is not a way of sustainable culture. Respecting the origin, appreciating the techniques, and enjoying the wisdom by sharing would be the sustainable structure of passing down the culture. Moreover, in that sustainable structure, we cannot separate activities from the Bread Line - where for some reason, we often focus on “choices” when it comes to crafting.
I sincerely appreciate your caring, and hopefully, I can share all of what I have received from other artisans in my life.