The Soul of a Tree

George Nakashima, The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker’s Reflections, Kodansha USA, 2011

There is a story in Japan of a young man from the country who went to the city and apprenticed himself to a woodworker. He was convinced that this was to be his life’s work, and his parents agreed. A simple fellow, he had great determination and capacity in his craft. Back in his village his parents awaited word of his progress. First a year, then another and finally a third passed, but still no word. The city was not so far, they thought. Why can’t he at least visit us? Then, after five years, an envelope arrived. Hastily opening it, they found no letter; all it contained was a long wood shaving, then feet long, neatly folded and perfect in every way, not a skip anywhere. The simplest of statements, it told all, like broad simple ink strokes in fine calligraphy. The father, immediately understanding, exclaimed: “Ah, my son has make it.” There was great joy in the household that evening.


Basically the woodworker is not driven by commerce, but by a need to create the best object he is capable of creating. Even if the object were to be destroyed when finished, the craftsman would still give the task his all.


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