Do not be fooled, I’m a Japanophile. It’s as you suspected. I haven’t been caught yet, though. I’ve been lurking furtively behind the facade of all these other design styles.
“That small, still space at the core, that’s a Japanese style!”, you accuse. “No!” I cry. “It’s Prairie. Can’t you see? That’s the starkness of the high plains you’re looking at!” That unadorned plank, flat and featureless, without ornament, you say? No, silly, anyone knows that’s Mission. That salt-of-the-earth peasant simplicity? Nope, sorry. Shaker. The perfect trio of tall-thin, middle-round, low-flat rocks? Look again, buddy, that’s Craftsman style. That reverent homage to history, to tradition? Nope. Colonial, dude.
It’s worked pretty well for me all these years, too, because every one of these other styles has one aspect or another that points across the Hokusai waves, often with that same reverent homage, to the Land of the Rising Sun. That’s true whether the style was influenced by contact with the Japanese or not. Maybe this is because in their separate attempts to assault the pinnacles of function, truth and beauty, most design styles begin at the base of the same mountain: mother Nature.
The art is not beautiful to us in spite of the fact that it’s also functional, but because of it. The function is the generator of the beauty. The perfect fitting of the thing, into its purpose, is indeed what makes it so much fun to behold. The Maserati that fits like a sports glove, the hand-comfortable ink pen, the perfect tea pot, only make us say “wow” in artistic delight because they friggin’ work. Even the ornamentation is in thrall and reverence to the purpose of the craft, the boat, the vessel: that of being a companion. Anything further is preening, pretention or bad salesmanship.
It may be that I can live in hiding here for years, if I want, and the authorities will just have to build a case. Anytime I can be linked by DNA back to the Japanese, I’ll point to one these other bad guys. No one will ever know. But always, probably, there’ll be these little hints, tantalysing glimpses of the Japase style in some honey-colored molding on the corner of a drawer, glinting in a laser of sunlight like a sprite, then darting off to another focus before it has fully registered on you. But you know you saw it. When you look back, you find it has melted away into the fastness of forest and you’re alone in the clearing, looking at the same Craftsman style dresser you’ve had for thirty years.
Perhaps it’s because Japanese isn’t so much a style as a set of principles. As they say in the military, you can fight an enemy but you can’t fight a tactic. If somebody wants to pick up a style and use it, who am I to object? If they want to borrow it, it’s only because it works. So the Japanese have been honing this stuff for five thousand years? They deserve a patent? I could be jealous of all they’ve created. Or I could just borrow some of their magic and start using the wand myself.
Oh, my editor here says, “Don’t leave out the Swedish! The English?”. What about them? Louis IV, Chippendale, California Craftsman, Bauhaus, post-modern, early American…they’re all great. I love ’em. They’re all just religions, and they’re all saying the same things. And they’re all correct.
So please don’t turn me in. The bounty money’s great, but think of the greater community. Think of the children, widows, elderly, who will never glimpse the incredible flowerings of the Japanese spirit, or discover the satisfaction of distilling the very essence of nature into their craft — or experience the simple joy of having such nice stuff around the house. Think of the future, and let me live.