Instant Books at Fujino Steiner School

September 24, 2009

Today I meet Liane Wakabayashi, the artist who will host my bookmaking workshop on October 18th. She wanted to meet me and see what I do, and rode up to Fujino on a train from Tokyo. We instantly become good friends. She’s from New York, and tells me she’s one of a half-dozen Jewish women married to Japanese men living in Japan. Maybe we are cousins. Behind us is the entrance to Steiner School’s brand new auditorium.

We head over to Fujino’s Steiner (Waldorf) High School, which meets in a geodesic dome built by the staff and students a few years ago. The high school students commute an hour by train from Tokyo, where the former Steiner High School has closed. I am about to meet the 12th grade English class (7 students) that day. The elementary school students use the building in the background, which is a former public school that closed due to shrinking population in the mountain town. The Steiner staff refurbished it, and the number of students is steadily growing.

One gets the feeling this is no ordinary high school.

Today I am teaching lesson #1, “Instant Books,” from my friend Esther K. Smith’s fabulous book, How To Make Books. An instant book can be folded from almost any size oblong piece of paper, with a slit cut in the middle so it can be refolded to be an eight page book, or a six page book with front and page covers. This is the cover of the instant book I made during the class.

I am not allowed to photograph the students, so I sketch them in my instant book. These seventeen-year-olds were raised on origami (Japanese paper folding) and instantly grasp and master the simple but ingenious design of the book.

The kids brought stacks of magazines, mostly fashion magazines, to cut out and write about the photos, hopefully in English. They relish the task of cutting out photos that appeal to them, and chat happily in Japanese while they are doing this. So, I use a few of the magazine images, to represent the presence of this alternate reality in our classroom. Yay recycling!

I daub on a little watercolor paint to add texture and color to my ink drawings. After we are done with our books, we will unfold them, scan them, and make color copies for each of the students and the staff in our class. Hooray for self-publishing via computer. The power of the press is in the hands of the artists! Later that day, Esther emails me from New York City, to suggest that the scans be posted on the web, as a sort of international publication that people can download, print and fold. She collects instant books.

I copy an idea from one of the projects in Esther’s book, of using photographs of eyes to add emphasis to the idea of reading and observing to the back cover of my book.

Here’s one of the student books I love, a new twist on the fairy tale of the princess and the frog. I get a kick out of the way she used magazine fashion models to depict the characters in her story.

She’s pretty clear about why she wants a man in her life, and who he should be.

But when the proposal arrives (almost immediately!), who brings it? A little bug-eyed green guy from another planet! But our heroine is not daunted.

For her positivity and willingness to look past mere appearances, she is rewarded with a commitment from the man of her dreams.

So, they live happily ever after.

Here is Liane’s book. She is welcoming me to Japan and suggesting I wear comfy shoes. I agree; one does walk a lot here, taking trains instead of driving.

Here is a book of legs and shoes, with lots of excellent English words in it. The students were still working on their books at the end of our allotted two-hour period, exclaiming loudly that they did not want to stop creating their books to do other schoolwork. I therefore consider the workshop a success. Happily, their regular teachers agreed.

After the class, Liane and I enjoy a beautiful lunch prepared by Jun on the verandah of Setsuko and Jun’s house with Setsuko and Yuko Urakami, the teacher of the 12th grade English class who kindly organized my visit to the school. I want to connect Yuko with the staff of the Haleakala Waldorf School on Maui, where I taught music and creative writing, part time, for a school year in the 1980s. The students in the two schools could become pen pals on the web, and maybe even visit one another. Those purple fruits are giant figs from a tree next to Setsuko and Jun’s house.

Yuko made a book, too, called “I believe in…” She believes in the power of flowers, in hand crafts, in “a bit of luxury” and good food. Amen.