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Shape of Life

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Makiko,Today is July 4th in 1985. This card is to be delivered 16 years later.You are to be 35 or 36 years old. You must have married and have 2 or 3 kids . Or are you a sccess as a great textile artist? Any way, Grandpa and Grandma wish you all happiness from heaven."......

On New Year's Day this year, 2001, I surely recieved the card which my grandmother wrote this message on at an event of Post Capsule to 21st century & supervised by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in Tsukuba World Science Exposition in 1985.
I wonder why she wrote this message to every grandchild supposing she would be dead 16 years later though she was 65 years old in good health at that time.
As she passed away 3 years later, I can't help feeling that the card was delivered from heaven.

Yes,I became a professional weaver,but contrary to her expectation, I'm single, have only one kid. Sorry, Grandma.......

The card made me aware that my life is sustained by not living people around me, but people who has been already dead.
I could see that the people used to live with dead people until my parents generation.
They used to report every day's happenings to their dead parents or gandparents in front of a house holded alter.

'Bon' is one of Japanese annual functions in August 13 〜16 (July 13〜16 in the Lunar calender)
Originally, it's from Buddism. Many of us take Bon-holidays around these days even today. But the spirit seems to be almost lost. It has been quite naturally thinking that the closed dead people come back to their family during Bon.
All the family gather to spend the holidays togather including dead members.(By the way, on the16th, the last day of Bon, we prepare some dolls in the shape of horse or cow made of cucumber or eggplant as vehicle for dead family to go back to the other world. It's a little delightful, isn't?)
I suppose the distance between to be alive and to be dead is perhaps much shorter than we think.

Custom of birthday celebration has become permanent fixture with today's Japanese society. If a boy forgets his girlfriend's birthday, she will not speak to him for three days and all grandparents have their grandchildren's birthday present at heart.
But, until the World War, as it was general thinking that people grew a year older on New Year's Day in the year. Birthday itself seemed not to be so important at that time. On the contrary, it was the Day of Person's Death called 'Mei-nichi', which is written 'Day of Life(!)' in Chinese characters, that the Japanese had been taking as much more serious. When somebody passed away, his or her closed peopleused to memorise and pray for him(her) not on 'Mei-nichi' day, but every monthly 'Mei-nichi' day.

Each family keeps the family list book of carender called 'Kako-cho'(notebook of history), in which all the names of dead family and each date they passed away are recorded. As my mother was the eldest daughter of her parents and had no brother, she inherited her family's 'Kako-cho' . But it is kept on being closed recently.
It's easy for me to belive that some people say civilization began with funeral performing.Thinking of the way of sending off the dead and death itself could be connected to thinking of 'how to live', the essence of civilization, I suppose.

I have a vision. Being born is that a small part of universal energy gets a shape.
A shape and another shape make a good harmony.
A shape and another shape repel each other.
A shape and another shape get united and divided again and again.
That's to live, isn't it?

I dye some natural fiber materials to weave in my studio where is more than 70years old wooden house in Japanese traditional style surrounded a big yard full of various kinds of wild plants and trees.
I take those plants as dye stuff almost every day season by season. I boil all kinds of leaves, roots, barks and fruits to extract hundreds colors. The colors are put onto silk, wool, linen and cotton yarns. Each color changes delicately depending on the season, weather, soil and so on. Through every process of dying and weaving I can see life of plants changes its shape complicatedly. I'm always surprised that unbelievable beautiful colors which are not imaginable from the color of extracted liquid and the plant itself come out, and are put onto, for example, silk fiber spat out from tiny silk worm's mouth. After dyed yarns are set on the weaving loom, warp and weft sing in turn to make a symphonic poem 'cloth'.
I feel a whole process of this work is a relay of life, shape to shape.

Shimura Fukumi who is a living national treasure of weaving in Japan and also well known as an outstanding essayist wrote about such process in her book.
The bark of cherry tree is a good dye stuff to get pink color,but the color changes season by season. Only in spring, just before blooming, the bark gives me pale pink, the very color of cherry blossoms. It seems that the tree of full body stores the blossom's color for blooming.
A shape of energy is not influenced by another but by invisible energy that hasn't have any shape yet. And maybe it will influence next shape .
To be given a shape, to give back the shape. This repitition could be the cycle of life and death. ....Overthinking?

I could see that there is a rule taking charge of all of these universal energy's actions. If it's allowed to call the rule 'God ', being aware of such huge energy, to imagine waves of the energy, or trying to read the way of energy's moving is a dialog with God for me, I wonder.

We have some choices to dispose empty shapes. I wouldn't like to put my shape into a tomb. Thinking of any other style of disposing, I've found my parents was thinking in the same way and they became members of " Free Funeral Association" putting the head office in Tokyo. They seem to hope that their crashed bone is scattered in the ocean. (Oh, no, wait a minite. Who scatters their bone ash??)
The 21st century is the time of ecology. So, I don't care to give any parts of my shape to sombody needs it. But, at the same time, I can't agree with easy thinking of modern medical science like "Let's cut off the diseased part and put the new one." Then, for the time being, I've finished registered my eyeballs to Eye-bank. It's the last message to others from me who has been working in the world filled with beautiful coloers and trying to transmit the fun of colors.

Living with dead people and unborn people thinking about universal enargy.........
Saigyo, a well-known monk as Tanka poet 1117-1198, says "I want to die under a cherry tree of full blooming in spring." But I 'd like to give back my shape to the earth in the deep forest of beech tree at the middle of May hearing of murmuring of a river with believing "Yes, I've certenly hand something to following people." And I'll be so happy if my shape becomes manure for the forest.

Oh, it's perfect.

by Tanaka Makiko

-from Khaju Newsletter 2001 early spring version

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