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An oral history project aiming to create a digital archive to help place a collection of traditional Japanese folk art in a museum home
36 backers pledged $1,090 to help bring this project to life.

About

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Introduction:

In March of 1953, only one year after the end of the US Occupation of Japan, Janell Landis, a 27 year old Pennsylvania native, traveled to Japan as a part of a three-year teaching program. Those three years turned into four decades of engagement with the local Japanese community as an English teacher at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University and resident of Sendai, Japan. Landis spent her time there teaching English, traveling the country putting on puppet shows (a hobby close to her heart), and even recording English language television programs for her local station. Through this television connection, she serendipitously met Hiroi Michiaki, an artisan specializing in Edo-koma 江戸独楽 (Edo-style wooden spinning tops), with whom she recorded a New Year’s Day special in the winter of 1981. Over the course of the next decade, Landis was apprenticed to Hiroi (to her, Hiroi-sensei), and collected over a hundred of his handmade tops, each a remarkable testament to Japan’s traditional craft culture.

Janell showing off one cabinet of her top collection (October 2013)
Janell showing off one cabinet of her top collection (October 2013)

Now, at age 87, Janell is seeking a museum home for these works of art, most of which feature a unique story connected to Japanese legend and culture, so that an American audience can appreciate the beauty of traditional Japanese arts. This requires the recording of both her and her teacher’s experiences as well as the background and titles of each piece in her collection. The two of us (Malina and Paula) travelled in October of 2013 to Janell’s home and conducted oral interviews about her time in Japan, being apprenticed to Hiroi-sensei, and the collection in her possession. Recently Janell decided that she will take the last trip of her lifetime to Japan in May of 2014, and wishes for us to accompany her and interview Hiroi-sensei, providing the Japan side of this oral history and cataloguing his information on each piece in the collection (title, the story behind the top, etc.). The ultimate goal of this project will be to produce a digital archive which will raise the profile of this collection and facilitate its acceptance into a museum home. We would like to make this dream of Janell’s come true within her lifetime.

Janell demonstrating some of her tops to us in October
Janell demonstrating some of her tops to us in October

We are already applying for an oral history grant to help support the cost of the tickets (one of which the Landis family generously purchased for us) and food, but the grant’s guidelines do not cover the cost of equipment. In our October interview, we were able to rent university equipment because of the limited timeframe (3 days), but for this week-long trip we will be unable to do so. Therefore we are limiting the scope of our funding project here to the technical supplies needed to complete our interviews and digital archiving. If we receive more than our asked amount of funding, it will go towards our local travel expenses that would otherwise come out of pocket and, in the event of our failure to obtain our oral history grant, the cost of our second flight (these may amount to roughly $2,000).

Timeline:

May 15-22, 2014:

We accompany Janell to Japan, travel to Akiu Craft Park 秋保工芸の里(http://www.city.sendai.jp/keizai/kankou/kougeinosato/), an artisan community where Hiroi-sensei works and resides, where we interview him and collect archival material.

Summer, 2014:

We organize archival material, transcribe and translate our interviews from Janell and Hiroi.

Fall/Winter 2014:

We assemble this information into a digital archive and launch online, using a Wordpress platform.

Qualifications:

Each of us brings a unique skill to the table for this project. Paula is a History Ph.D. student specializing in the premodern history of Japanese artisans, and has an intimate knowledge of Japanese history and society. She has studied Japanese for nine years and will be capable of conducting interviews in Japanese. Malina is a Public History M.A. who has conducted numerous oral history interviews in the past, is familiar with the technical equipment, and is knowledgeable in the legal documentation required for this project. Both of us participated in the first half of this project by interviewing Janell in her home in the United States.

Equipment Costs [based on purchase from Amazon]:

  • $90 TASCAM DR-05 Portable Digital Recorder
  • $240 Canon VIXIA HF R400 HD 53x Advanced Zoom Camcorder
  • $70 VuPoint PDS-ST470PU-VP Compact Portable Wand Scanner
  • $50 Audio-Technica ATH-M30 Closed-back Stereo Headphones
  • $20 Amazon Essential Accessory Kit for Canon VIXIA, including tripod, carry case, and SD card reader
  • $27 Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) and Charger for Canon VIXIA
  • $22 TASCAM PS-P515U AC Adapter
  • $30 SDHC Flash Memory cards (at least 3)

We are purchasing this equipment (and these particular models) in order to maintain a quality of recording consistent with the video and audio obtained in our October interviews. 

Risks and challenges

The biggest risk to our project is not acquiring funding. One of our two tickets has been booked (thanks to the generosity of the Landis family), and our interviews with Hiroi-sensei have already been scheduled. This trip is brief, and will not require any visas. We already have templates for release forms used in our previous interviews. What we do not have is the equipment needed for an extended stay (camera, audio recorder), on-site archival work (scanning images, newspaper articles, catalogues), and supplementary funds for the minute details of travel (bullet train tickets).

Another risk may be that our host, Hiroi-sensei, might become ill or be unable to speak with us. Although this is unlikely, given our week-long stay, in this event we may also have the chance to speak to other traditional wood-carving artisans who reside in Akiu. We feel that the biggest risk to this project may be not acquiring funding during both of our hosts’ lifetimes and missing the chance to document this incredible story and collection.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Receive personal email with thanks, a link to the archive when it’s done, and general good vibes from the both of us!

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    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Receive an e-newsletter with project updates and images from our archival work. (Good vibes included!)

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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    The above, plus we will give you a handcrafted top from the workshops at Akiu Craft Park in Japan and mail it to you as a special thanks from us!

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    25 backers
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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Receive an e-newsletter with project updates and images from our archival work, TWO tops from the workshops at Akiu Craft Park in Japan, and a special thank you by name on the digital archive website for your generous support!

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    6 backers
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Funding period

- (30 days)