Summarizing my 10-month study abroad at Joshibi University of Art and Design, Department of Design and Craft, Program in Textiles Weaving.
My 10-month exchange at Joshibi has come to its end. In a way, it feels like I just arrived here yesterday, and in another way it feels like I’ve been here forever. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been an enriching experience that I will hopefully continue to draw inspiration from for a long time.
Overall, studying at Joshibi has been intense but rewarding. I learnt several Japanese weaving techniques—namely different kasuri (絣) techniques (or ikat, as kasuri is called elsewhere)—and even got to try out Japanese embroidery and dyeing in an introductory course. The different art schools in Japan have different strengths and focuses, and Joshibi is known for teaching very traditional techniques. It really shapes the curriculum!
In my experience, Joshibi is a university where students take their work seriously and devote themselves to the projects. The Weaving program is really challenging and the deadlines are tight: I’ve really been pushed to work my hardest here (both by my teachers and myself), and I feel that the work I’ve produced here is more refined than my work in Finland—maybe because I’ve had pretty much unlimited time at my hands to set aside for schoolwork. In addition, I’ve truly enjoyed the facilities at Joshibi: spacious classrooms, a big dye lab, materials available to use and different looms at hand, assistants who can answer your questions… Working on assignments has been really easy when everything just flows.
I really enjoyed learning Japanese textile techniques which (1) quite frankly, I had barely heard of before and (2) would not have learnt in Finland. The courses have opened my eyes to the many different possibilities that weaving offers not only for fabric design, but also for textile art. Although I’m not aiming to be primarily an artist but a designer, it would be interesting to produce some woven artwork later on, time and ideas permitting.
Planning and carrying out my own projects alongside schoolwork was also extremely satisfying. These projects allowed me to develop new fabric samples, to work on a smaller scale, and to explore techniques I had seen other students use. The syllabus at Joshibi is designed around making very big works, which seems to be a trend in other art universities here as well. We always made one big work per course, which is very different from my university in Finland, where sample books/collections are more common.
I struggled quite a bit with Japanese language especially early on during my stay, and I was at times very perplexed by Japanese culture. I had taken Japanese language classes for 3 semesters at my home university before coming to Japan, and while I was able to communicate at a basic level, following weaving classes with a highly specialized vocabulary was quite a challenge at first (especially oral presentations and written reports).
My first semester was difficult for many other reasons too, but I was happy to see that the work I did then did bear fruit later. As we started our second semester, I felt much more at ease with the language, the culture and the workload, and it did wonders! Becoming more confident in speaking Japanese and attaining a level where I was comfortable participating and communicating with my classmates and teachers really made a huge difference for me.
I really cannot emphasize this enough: learning Japanese was absolutely necessary in building a good relationship with my teachers, assistants and classmates. It enabled me to work independently in a school setting that is essentially 100% Japanese speaking, and allowed me to get so much more out of discussions, critiques and classes. My teachers, their assistants and my classmates were really helpful and supportive of my language learning throughout the year, and I owe them a big thank you for that.
During my stay in here, I’ve also been able to explore Tokyo and Japan over the weekends and holiday periods. Japan is a vast country and the different regions have their own, unique character. I had the chance to visit several of them, and have enjoyed my trips enormously! My favourite destination? Hokkaido, without a doubt!
All in all, this year in Japan has been full of adventure, discovery and learning. I’m happy to say that I’ve succeeded in terms of learning a ton about weaving, being able to work on personal projects in addition to regular schoolwork, and gaining a certain level of professional proficiency in Japanese. I’m looking forward to returning home and seeing if I can make use of my designs, Japanese weaving techniques or my language skills at some point in the future!
© 2019 Elisa Penttilä