Wednesday, 30 April 2008

do you know the way through San Jose?

suspect the San Jose of the song to have little to do with the town of that name in California, but a little poetic license never did any harm...

during my travels last week i had occasion to spend a day in San Jose. the reasons why aren't important.

for 6 hours i wandered about, discovered architectural gems and was told stories by all sorts of people. here's one of them...

this is Arlene Tatsuno Damron, whose grandfather founded the Nichi Bei Bussan store. i went there in search of some Japanese silk as i was missing the dyepots and needed cloth. you can read the full history of the store here. it's worth a visit.

we discussed second-hand kimono and Arlene told me how they handle that. when the elderly Japanese in the district began 'downsizing' they were simply handing their precious kimono and fabrics to the thrift stores (because they either didn't have families or their families weren't interested) and the precious fragments were being snapped up for tuppence-hapenny (or whatever the American equivalent is). On Arlene's advice, the charities now bring the treasures to Nichi Bei Bussan, where they are sold on commission for what they are really worth. everybody benefits, the store gets commission, the charity wins bigtime and the giver has their clear space and the knowledge their gift has done some good.

what struck me particularly was a bit of homespun philosophy she offered me. she'd been trying to help a friend who was feeling down, typical story...loss of job, crumble of marriage, feelings of worthlessness. Arlene showed her friend a Japanese sword she kept in the store, and asked him if he knew how the sword was made.
she pointed out the blade went through fire and beatings and foldings (i.e. a generally tough time) before being honed and decorated to become a finished exquisite and dangerous object...not a bad analogy, i thought.

topiary in Japantown, San Jose

still life

and finally a person i met in the street, who was wearing the most delightful sakura-blossom dress...


  1. A wonderful post of pictures and I love the story of the sword.

    There is a jeweller here in Toronto who uses small prints of Japanese silk imbedded in silver frames. They are breathtaking pendants and earrings, just stunning. You see a tray of them and want to buy them all.

  2. I enjoyed Arlene's story. I'm so glad you chat to people and take photographs. It makes for interesting blog reading. Almost as if I am traveling too.