A long time ago I wrote a paper titled "The Parting of the Ways" about the transmission of Daoist magic. I wrote it because, trained in theory that assumes that ritual is, as the dictionaries put it, the repetition of set forms, I was startled to discover that a brother in the art performed a ritual that differed in many details from the model provided by our master. Today, I am translating an article for a new magazine, whose title Samurai.jp signals its intention to revive Japanese samurai ideals. The article is about a line of potters who work in a place called Karatsu on the southwest coast of Japan's main island Honshu. Nakazato Toraemon 12, the grandfather of the current successor Nakazato Toraemon 14, reinvented a tradition called "old Karatsu," using techniques that were introduced to Japan from Korea in the 17th century but had largely died out, starting in the 18th century. In my translation, I am trying to convey some of the warmth and simplicity I sense in Toraemon 14's words.
I am particularly struck by this passage, in which Toraemon 14 describes the reinvention of the paddling technique.
For example, to make a jar, you flatten the base, then build up the sides with coils of clay. As you wipe the sides with a damp cloth, the sides rise from the wheel. After the clay has dried a bit, you hold the anvil on the inside and strike the outside with the paddle. This “paddling” technique began to disappear from production of old Karatsu in the 18th century, but Toraemon 12 revived it. No one taught it any more. My grandfather and father had to reinvent it. Because we all learned through trial-and-error, grandfather’s paddling, father’s paddling, and my paddling are all different. But that doesn’t matter. Tradition and handing-down are different. Handing-down implies that a technique is reproduced as is. Tradition means using an old technique into which new techniques are incorporated. Thus, for instance, at the drying stage, grandfather used a naked light bulb. Father used a hair dryer.
The difference between 伝承 (handing down) and 伝統 (tradition) is, of course, common in the writings of advocates of "living tradition" in the crafts world. But I wonder how many of us keep it in mind when confidently ascribing a particular belief or form of behavior to the people whose lives we study. And the naked light bulb and the hair dryer—can two more perfect symbols of modern technology introduced into ancient craft be imagined? I can't help chuckling.