cover image In Search of the Spirit: The Living National Treasures of Japan

In Search of the Spirit: The Living National Treasures of Japan

Sheila Hamanaka, Ayano Ohmi. HarperCollins, $16 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-688-14607-8

In the aftermath of WWII and the loss of many of its ancient monuments and works of art, Japan gave grants to the elders committed to the traditional arts to continue their crafts and to mentor others. Hamanaka and Ohmi offer a rare glimpse of these master craftsmen of Japan, or ""Living National Treasures."" The authors interviewed half a dozen diverse artisans: a yuzen dyer (who designs and dyes kimono fabrics), a bamboo weaver, a Bunraku puppet master, a sword maker, a Noh actor and a potter. Each brief biography tells how the artist chose the discipline (or how the discipline chose the artist), and the clear, compelling accounts brim with bits of wisdom from the masters as well as information about the culture and history of Japan. Photographs of the artists and their studios, materials, handiwork and performances precede a step-by-step ""more about"" section demonstrating each practice. Whether explaining how the steel for a Japanese sword is folded and pounded into a million layers or what different fan gestures mean in traditional Noh drama, this is top-notch nonfiction. Ages 7-up. (Mar.)