513 Butsudan

Carla talks about her interest in the butsudan.

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Todd: Now, Carla you have you own website.

Carla: Yes I, when I first came to Japan, I didn't learn languages because actually I'm quite terrible at learning languages. But I'm very interested in culture, and Japanese traditional culture is fantastic. So, little by little I got interested in butsudan. Now butsudan are Buddhist family alters which the Japanese use in two ways. They pray to Buddha by kneeling in front of them, but they also keep family memorabilia. That's like, wedding certificates, or graduation certificates, photographs, post cards from interesting places. They keep all these in the butsudan and they communicate with the ancestors this way. So they have a kind of dual purpose. And, but truthfully, I'm not particularly interested in Buddhism, and I'm not interested in the finished butsudan because it's a little bit garish, and not at all the way I imagined the understatement of Japanese culture. But, the making of them is fantastic and the traditional old-fashioned ways of craftsmanship are going out because Japanese craftsmanship is very expensive. And it can be made in China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea much cheaper than they can be made in Japan. So, a lot of the traditional craftsman are just not finding the work anymore. No new apprentices are training for the job, and it's difficult to find butsudan that are made in a traditional way. The traditionally made butsudan could cost as much as twenty to thirty million yen. A butsudan made in China and imported into Japan and sold here could be, could sell for about three million yen. That just gives a ratio of the relative price. So, there is, there are three wood working crafts, two metal working crafts, and two lacquering crafts that go into the making of the butsudan. So, my aim really, is to document the traditional craftsmanship before it's completely gone. And no one has ever done this in English before. And it's hardly been done by the Japanese because it's one of these things that Japanese craftsman really don't talk about amongst themselves. So it's all kind of, it's not as if it's secret it's just that they have different vocabulary for the same thing. They do things in slightly different ways. They just never talk about it. When they train an apprentice they don't say do this do that the way we do in the West. The apprentice just has to watch the master and copy. So for many things they don't even have words for them. So it's been quite interesting to document that.

Todd: Well, sounds good. We'll have your URL on the bottom. And people will have to go and check out your website.

Carla: Ya, that would be good. I'd like that. It's being made now, it's not quite finished yet.

Todd: Oh ok.

Carla: But, little by little it will be and if anybody is interested it's more of a resource than something that you would sit and read. But you might be interested in the drawings. A friend does the drawings, and I did the photos and the text, and you know it's quite ambitious I think.

Todd: Ok, well thanks.

Learn Vocabulary from the lesson

little by little

So, little by little I got interested in butsudan.

If something changes "little by little," it changes very slowly over a long time.  Notice the following:

  1. We watched the shadow move little by little until it covered the swimming pool.
  2. Little by little children become adults.


They also keep family memorabilia.

Memorabilia are items that are important for personal reasons and reminds the owner of past experiences. Notice the following:

  1. She put concert ticket on her wall as memorabilia.
  2. He kept every letter he ever received as memorabilia.


I'm not interested in the finished butsudan because it's a little bit garish.

If something is "garish" it is very decorated or elaborate, usually to the point of being excessive and maybe ugly.  Think of a woman wearing too much jewelry and make-up.  Notice the following:

  1. The design of the dress is beautiful, but the gold cloth is a bit garish.
  2. Their house is so garish inside you feel like you can't sit down without breaking something.


The making of them is fantastic and the traditional old-fashioned ways of craftsmanship are going out.

Craftsmanship is the work of a craftsman.  A craftsman is someone who is skilled or trained in a particular area. For example, a carpenter is a craftsman trained to work with wood and demonstrates his craftsmanship by building a beautiful table.  Notice the following:

  1. The glass vase demonstrated flawless craftsmanship.
  2. The jeweler was proud of the rings that he sold; each ring showed perfect craftsmanship.


It's not as if it's secret it's just that they have different vocabulary for the same thing.

Vocabulary is words or phrases in a language.  This word may also be used to describe a group of words in a language, such as medical or technological vocabulary.  Notice the following:

  1. It is difficult to understand Shakespeare because he used very old vocabulary, words that we no longer use today.
  2. I studied for my Spanish vocabulary test.  The topic was fruit.


Answer the following questions about the interview.

Keep Listening

Below are some more great lessons!

Vocabulary Challenge

Complete the sentences with the words below.
little • memorabilia • garish
craftsmanship • vocabulary
  1. I would describe her style as old-fashioned and .
  2. All of the sculptures he makes are original and demonstrate excellent.
  3. You should increase your running speed by little until you reach your goal.
  4. Most of this medical is very specific and will only be used in a clinic.
  5. This whole box is full of from when I was a kid.