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Vol#12 Kibataraki (気働き)


Hello everyone.

This time I would like to talk a little bit about the artisans’ culture in Japan and bonsai craftsmen. 

In the old days, there was a strong apprenticeship, 丁稚奉公」"Detchi-Bokko", culture in Japan. 

Some children were hired as apprentices by family own businesses. In exchange of their labor, these young apprentices were taught good manners, reading, writing, arithmetic as well as the family trade-related expertise. They subsequently would work as the successors or even start their own business. 

 Even though this became an oversimplified aspect in many kinds of jobs in Japan, when it comes to the world of craftsmanship, the apprenticeship culture and system are still very much alive. 

Naturally, we do not teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to the apprentices anymore, however we often begin by teaching and training them about etiquette and mindfulness. 

For example, when I first worked at a bonsai nursery, they did not immediately assign me to any bonsai work. I mostly did some cleaning and chores. I was only allowed to practice pruning bonsai from time to time. I would be lying if I said it never felt like I was only doing nothing but chores, but in fact, I came to realize that these chores also hide an important aspect of being a bonsai artist.

The aspect I’m referring to is the concept and skill called 「気働き」“Kibatarakiin Japanesewhich can be translated to “Consideration by taking appropriate action”. 

In modern terms, we also call it 「空気を読んだ気配り」"Consideration for other by reading the air" 
For example, when I was sent to work with the Master, I always prepared the tools and cleaned up the surroundings even before he arrived. I wanted to set up a proper working environment to allow him to work with great ease.  

While tending to my own tasks, I also paid attention to other people working around me so I could lend them a hand before they ask me to. I even prepared the necessary tools ahead of time. A Bonsai nursery is an environment that demands 「気働き」Kibatarakiskills to constantly observe and pay attention to the actions and movements of those around you. 
Furthermore, it is an important and essential skill for any bonsai craftsmen. 
Observing your tree when watering it and giving it proper care at the right time are fundamental principles of growing a bonsai tree. I soon realized the connection between mastering this skill and the art of cultivating bonsai trees after I started to work at a bonsai nursery, 
In recent years, the AI-enabled technologies development pace has been vertiginous and the number of services that do not require human intervention is increasing. However, a robot will not be able to use and apply「気働き」“Kibatarakiskills. I still believe that only a human being can properly perceive and respond to someone else situation and feelings. 
I would like to invite all of you to make a habit of not only observing your bonsai trees, but also to take the time noticing and paying attention to casual things from your loved ones and everyday life scenery. 

Perhaps you may be able to come up with your own original「気働き」“Kibataraki skill. 

ReBonsai Yusuke Ogawa   

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