Contributed by Shinichi Iova-Koga
As a participant in the Theatre Nogaku Noh Costume Workshop, I noticed the old and the young. Sasaki-san’s fabrics (such a plain word for the not-plain work he does) using Meiji-era technology is exceptional and delightful. But how long anyone can maintain a business competing with more “advanced” technology? Most of the workers there are old enough so that the one young guy working there is noticeable… an anomaly.
Will there continue to be young folks ready to take on the old machines and keep them alive? It seemed that the question of the son continuing the work of the father was a question posed to most of the artisans we visited.
My father, from Nagasaki, comes from a family home where the family business was laundry. The eldest son (my uncle) continues that business today while the rest of the kids took on totally different professions and moved out to different cities (or countries, in my father’s case). As many possibilities and promises for “better” lives arise for younger people, it seems a potential danger to the family business.Yet, there is the Oshima family, where it seems that every child is involved in the continuance and vitality of the family Noh business. In that case, it doesn’t seem that there is a danger today of the family business dissolving.
Is this just the American sensibility gawking at these families that manage to continue a business from generation to generation? On the one hand, it seems so antiquated, but there is a practicality. I spoke with my friend Tsutomu here in Kyoto. He and his wife live and work with his mother in their own architecture firm… though I think the mother does clothing design. In any case, there they are living in a home, operating a business. Tsutomu says that when he worked in Tokyo, he could spend maybe 2+ hours a day commuting. For some people, it can be up to 5 hours. So, practically speaking, having the business and home be one place makes a lot of sense. If there is a baby, there is a grandparent to potentially watch the child (something we see with other neighbors here).
So, what keeps the next generation interested in continuing the family business? Practicality? Duty? I can leave these as questions, since the answer must be different depending on who is asked. Maybe more importantly for me, how does a culture (or sub-culture) play the line between invention and tradition? The ways of noh seem set to a new observer, yet of course it’s a form like any, that must have arisen and be kept alive by some degree of invention within the tradition.