Living Ancestors, by Frederick Franck

Hamada, Leach and Yanagi in the United States, probably Hawaii, in 1952

Hamada, Leach and Yanagi in the United States, probably Hawaii, in 1952

“The institution of Living National Treasures was started in the fifties–when Japan’s machine culture was preparing to overtake ours–barely a hundred years after the West had forced the opening up of its insular, agricultural society. The title “Living National Treasure” implies more than mere homage paid to excellence in the traditional crafts. It is just one expression of devotion to these still-living ancestors lifted from the anonymity of social security registers, to these citizens whose seniority far transcends the merely chronological.

It is at the same time a wholesome antidote against excessive glorifications of youth and a reverential attitude towards age as a stage in human life-process that has its immense value, a stage that can be life’s culmination and consummation. R.H. Blyth says somewhere that mere oldness is “dryness and decline of life and energy,” but that “agedness” may well mean “all youth with none of its stupidity, insensitiveness, egotism, and cruelty.” Agedness, then, is oldness without cynicism, obstinancy, and pride of power.”

—Frederick Franck from LIVING ANCESTORS: Japan’s aged artists are its national treasures, PARABOLA, Volume 5, Issue 1: “The Old Ones.” This issue is available here.