As a project that aims to promote exchange and understanding, you may think that Bound in Japan workshops are full of chatter and exuberance. They sometimes are, but usually a better part of the day is spent in silence as participants concentrate on the task at hand. I am always awed by how absorbed participants become in the making of their books, especially as many will confess that they rarely make anything.

So when does the exchange part take place? Well, here is a brief description of how a workshop usually proceeds.

In the beginning we do introductions. I sometimes have participants introduce themselves. Sometimes I pair them up, have them converse, and then introduce each other. As most participants are local residents, their first connection is through place. Even if they did not know each other before, they occupy a common space and thus can identify with each other through similar experiences.

Once the bookmaking begins though, participants are so focused on their work that they don’t even take breaks. Their first break is most likely lunch, which we usually have together as we chat and eat. Some people are so loathe to stop that they actually work through lunch.

During the second half of the workshop, I like to encourage participants to take breaks, stretch, and have a look at what others are doing. This will usually lead to conversations that continue as the books progress. If there is time, we also have show and tell at the end.

I don’t know if the workshops have created lasting bonds among any of the participants. I will probably never know. However, the simple fact that they sat down next to someone different from themselves and opened up will be an experience they will always remember.

Sharing an experience can create a powerful connection, especially when it is a positive experience like the book art workshops. Even if they never see each other again, the conversations and stories shared will remain stretched between person and person, invisible threads woven into each person’s memory and history. And the next time they sit down next to someone of a different nationality or ethnicity, or simply someone from a different place, they may choose to open up to that person too.

Once they have crossed that threshold, the door always remains open.

Bound in Japan brought me to Okayama Prefecture for the first time, and it was truly a pleasure to live and work there for six weeks. My heartfelt thanks go to Jane and Motoaki Fujiwara who very kindly provided me with a room with a beautiful view as well as endless support for the project. Bound in Japan would not have been possible without the two of them.

While in Okayama, I met several people, including Jane and Motoaki, who are in an international, multicultural marriage. For foreigners who come to Japan to work or study, there is always the possibility of leaving. However, for those who marry and remain in Japan, they are making a commitment to embrace life in another country and a different culture. This was a very special opportunity for me to get a glimpse of the unique dynamics that are part of such a relationship.

I would also like to acknowledge the staff at Cifaka. They were very generous with their time and assistance, and the exhibition would not have been successful without their support. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of working with them and hanging out at Cifa Café.