In late October 2017 I received an email from a woman with a TV production company in California; she wanted to know if I would be interested in trying out to be on a Japanese television show, which best translates to “Who wants to come to Japan”. My first reaction was to question if this was some kind of scam! After watching the YouTube links she had sent and with a bit of guesswork (I don’t speak Japanese) my impression was that the premise of the show was to find people around the world who had a strong interest in practicing some form of Japanese craft. The show’s definition of the term craft is a bit broad; they featured people interested in a wide variety of Japanese cultural activities ranging from traditional handcrafts to cooking to martial arts. I responded that I would be interested in becoming a contestant. They asked me to answer a fairly long list of questions and provide a one-minute video selfie introducing myself. A few weeks later the production company contacted me asking about a couple of dates for a camera crew to come here to shoot me in my studio to show both my work in mokume gane and studio practice. They also wanted to film in my home with my wife Terry and with my adult daughter Joya with the focus being a meal prepared by us and shared with the director on camera. We agreed to a time, which needed to be rescheduled to a later date due to some transportation difficulties.
We welcomed the director and a cameraman from Japan along with an interpreter from LA at 10 AM on Christmas morning 2017. Unfortunately due to the date change for their arrival, Joya was not able to be with us during the filming. We started with a couple of takes of us meeting the director as she came to our front door and we introduced ourselves. The production company had given us a proposed schedule for the Christmas day with the possibility of some additional shooting the next day. Since they wanted to see us prepare a meal I had told them I would prepare a BBQ Texas style brisket (one of my specialties) for the evening meal. It is best smoked low and slow so I was up early to get it on the smoker for a scheduled 5 PM meal; it was smoking away when they arrived.
After capturing meeting at the door, introductions were made inside and we spent time with our 3 guests commenting on and shooting many of the Japanese items that are in our home. We have always enjoyed the Japanese decorative arts and have collected a few items that are on display. They also filmed Terry wearing the some of the jewelry I have made her. At one point while they are filming and talking with us, Terry and I noticed that the cameraman was focusing on our holding hands and a comment was made that we were a cute couple.; this will become important later on.
We discussed mokume gane and when I became interested in it (high school) and how I learned to make it (reading/self-taught). I brought out the books and papers that had been my starting point with mokume gane. I explained that Hiroko and Gene Pijanowski had brought the technique from Japan to the US metalsmithing community in the 1970s and that their and their students’ writings were what had given me the information to begin my exploration with mokume gane. The director asked if I was chosen to go to Japan who would I like to meet: I told her Norio Tamagawa would be my ideal choice. He taught Hiroko how to make mokume gane and is a Living National Treasure in Japan for his work in mokume gane.
After the initial shooting in the house we went to the studio and I began demonstrating the process of making a mokume gane billet. I had been asked to have some material prepared in advance so that we would not have to go through the whole process sequentially from start to finish. However, even though we did jump around a bit they filmed the whole sequence of preparing, firing, forging, patterning and finally making a ring from the billet. It was a long day in the studio. This will not be surprising to those who know me: when it comes to mokume my ADD switches into the hyper focused mode and I can easily lose all track of time and they were happy to keep filming. After finally finishing the whole process it was time to go tend to dinner.
Since I like to smoke brisket around 10 hours and we had discussed having dinner around 5pm, I was up very early that morning to put the brisket on the smoker. I had planed to pull it off the smoker around 4pm, but we did not return from the studio until close to 8PM so it was getting a bit dried out. We prepared some pinto beans, cornbread and an apple-bell pepper salad to accompany it. The crew filmed the preparation and then shot a lot of close up images of the finished food. It really was beginning to make me wonder if I had somehow ended up on a food show! Eventually the director, Terry and I sat down and ate the meal while the cameraman and interpreter filmed and provided translation. Once the director was satisfied she had what she needed everyone was able to relax and eat. This was their first taste of smoked Texas brisket. Prior to their returning to their hotel plans for the next day were discussed. They wanted to film downtown Bellingham in the morning but it was going to be pretty quiet since it was the day after Christmas; we suggested the Fairhaven area with its many shops and views of the Bay instead.
The next morning they spent quite a while with Terry and I sitting on our couch on camera while the director interviewed us. She wanted to know more about mokume gane and my background; a lot of it was repeating things briefly covered the day before. They are very observant. Terry was only answering questions when asked, but at one point the director said something to the interpreter who smiled and told Terry she could jump in and add comments to Jim’s comments if she wanted to…because they knew she usually would! Again we noticed the cameraman taking some shots with our arms entwined while we talked. We were beginning to wonder if public displays of affection were somehow unusual in Japan. We returned to the studio to capture a few more things the director wanted to focus on.
They had asked Terry if she would mind if it was only myself they took to Japan. Since 2018 is our 20thwedding anniversary year we had hoped to go to Japan in the fall; we suggested our paying for Terry to come out at the end of my trip to Japan for time on our own. The last thing they needed from us was to capture a signature piece for the show: all the participants are filmed moving in towards the camera and loudly saying “Nihon ni ikitai” while raising their arms up in the air; this means “I want to go to Japan”. This was probably the funniest part of the experience. We were outside and the director had both Terry and I run at the camera while holding hands saying loudly “Nihon ni ikitai” (and then extending our arms out to the camera) and it took several takes to fully understand what was needed and get it right. We finally did it right and after the director said cut the cameraman pointed up in the air and we could hear the airplane that had chosen that moment to fly overhead so we had to do it again so that that would not be in the audio. They also had me do it myself as they explained they might sponsor both of us or only me so they needed both versions.
We said our good byes and were told that after they got back to Japan and the production people had looked at the video someone would be in contact. So the wait began. There was no guarantee I would be chosen. They had filmed someone else in the US prior to filming here so we did not know if we would be picked or someone else would.
The story continues in my next post…