Sunday, September 29, 2013


I hope to write about my good friend, Masanori Minami, and of my relationship with him.  He was an artist, a well known painter in the traditional Nihonga style, even though he lost both of his arms at the shoulders when a boy.  Becoming a mouth painter, initially by way of training with a Buddhist nun that had also lost her arms, his story beyond that point of having suffered a devastating injury, is one of perseverance, strength, and fine achievement.

Over the last number of years, Masanori was in poor health, and contemplating that his time remaining was likely short, he asked me to design and construct the butsudan for his home.  Beyond acknowledging the request, I barely considered the project at the time, he was too dear to me to much want to consider his death, but as it turned out, his life came to an end sooner than was expected, and my friend's wife confirmed that she wanted me to build the altar for them.  Her desire was to have the butsudan incorporated with stained glass, accented by a light inside, and overall of a relatively uncomplicated design.

It was a challenging project for me, both figuring out what I wanted to do for appropriateness, along with the technical requirements. The four softly curving glass panels in the front and rear needed to be removable in the event of damage.  Japan has frequent earthquakes, so over years of use, damage occurring is an unfortunate possibility.

 I had a quantity of both Claro and Black Walnut that I had been keeping for many years, some beautiful representation of both woods in the deep color and grain pattern that can make this material so wonderful for woodwork .  I had been saving the wood for what I hoped would at some point be a special and worthy use.  I am deeply saddened by the loss of my good friend, certainly among the individuals that I have met during my life that I have found to be both greatly enjoyable and also inspirational.  He was a man that was loved by many, and it is my hope that the butsudan will contribute to his memory in a supportive way.

Clicking on the photos increase the size, and thanks for viewing my blog.


Anonymous said...

This is a warm and comforting shrine for those remembering your friend. It is a fine tribute from you.
Bruce Mack

djy said...

Thank you, Bruce, much appreciated. The ceremony where the butsudan will begin it's use, is still some weeks away, but i am much looking forward to the gathering.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful monument, obviously showing great respect for his life. May he rest in peace.

The photo shows a pleasing warm red tone. Would you be willing say what finish you used?

djy said...

I appreciate your comment.

Lots of different finishes over the years, but the last five or so, I have been using Egoma, or it is called Perilla oil It is a slightly amber oil, but I think you could say that it is generally regarded as a clear oil, since it doesn't impart any color into the wood other than what a clear oil does in bringing out the natural tones. Perhaps it does leave a slightly reddish hue when it dries, maybe in combination with UV? One company buys the seeds out of China, and processes the oil here as a finishing product. Initially it was only available without a drier in it, but now the option is available to have the drier included type, which I prefer. I like a sheen, and a number of applications will provide that, as well as the oil being surprisingly strong as a moisture protectant for the wood, unlike a lot of other completely natural oil type finishes. I like to thin the initial applications with mineral spirits, the oil is somewhat thick. All around great stuff, health giving it is said, you see it sold in health food stores for eating. There appears to be a bit of a worldwide run on it for various uses, and since only a fairly limited supply of seeds is available, mainly out of China I believe, the price has really gone up on it. There appears to be somewhat limited availability of the oil for finishing in the west, but it is around to some degree. i haven't found anything better for my own finishing purposes. Egoma or urushi generally is on what comes out of my shop.

As to the reddish tone, and the photograph being quite close to the actual color, I think it can mainly be attributed to the material being air dried. Having used a lot of Walnut, I certainly prefer the air dried over kiln dried. The way it is quickly artificially dried seems to bake most of the color out of what is such a beautiful wood, especially the more subtle colors are lost in what more becomes an overall grayish looking tone. Such a shame really, and i also like the workability of air dried, generally try to use it over kiln dried whenever possible. It can be dried slower in a kiln arrangement with the original color better preserved, but I guess that doesn't so well fit the business economics of the people supplying wood.

If anyone should want to get into using Perilla oil, I have some tips on getting good results with it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dennis. I have been doing some reading on Perilla and Urushi.


djy said...

Chris, basically I would say that Perilla is quite easy to use and get good results. It gives good penetration, but longer drying times are required sometimes. You can build it up after a day or two drying, but it does seem to take quite a bit longer to completely harden and give the best protection. If you can get access to the woodwork after six months to a year, and then give it another coat, the warm shine can be very very nice beyond the original.

Our environment here is pretty hostile on oil finishes, due to high humidity certain times of the year. I might want to rub in another application every now and then just to spruce things up, but good maintenance seems to help in that regard as well, something the locals aren't so attentive about, unfortunately. In dryer environments, like what I found in California, the finish seems to do better..

Urushi is a great finish, I would say unparalleled patina and durability. It is rather labor intensive, a profession in itself really, and it also darkens the wood.

matsukaze said...

Thanks for the updated pics Dennis, It's a very sweet piece with plenty of tactful detail. What are the dimensions?
I like the two lites over the doors. Nice touch. The interior looks like some exceptional materials as well.