How Japanese Kintsugi Masters Restore Pottery by Beautifying the Cracks

A few years ago, we fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture the Japan­ese art of kintsu­gi, whose prac­ti­tion­ers repair bro­ken pot­tery with gold in a man­ner that empha­sizes rather than hides the cracks. Since then, the idea seems to have cap­tured the West­ern imag­i­na­tion, inspir­ing no few online inves­ti­ga­tions but also books with titles like Kintsu­gi Well­ness: The Japan­ese Art of Nour­ish­ing Mind, Body, and Spir­it, and Kintsu­gi: Embrace Your Imper­fec­tions and Find Hap­pi­ness — the Japan­ese Way. But as kintsug­ist Yuki Matano reminds us, “kintsu­gi is most­ly seen as a refined repair­ing tech­nique in Japan. Japan­ese peo­ple do not usu­al­ly asso­ciate kintsu­gi with art ther­a­py or men­tal health.”

To get back to the essence of kintsu­gi, and gain a clear­er under­stand­ing of its labo­ri­ous phys­i­cal nature, it could­n’t hurt to watch a few kintsug­ists at work. Take Hiro­ki Kiyokawa, who reflects on his 45 years prac­tic­ing the art in Kyoto — not with­out express­ing his own ideas about how he feels he’s also “restor­ing the bro­ken parts of myself” — in the BBC video above.

Or, for a more mod­ern pre­sen­ta­tion, have a look at this tuto­r­i­al video from Chima­ha­ga, a kintsug­ist who not long ago launched his own Youtube chan­nel ded­i­cat­ed to explain­ing what he does. He’s even uploaded videos about not just kintsu­gi, (金継ぎ, or “gold­en join­ery”), but also gintsu­gi (銀継ぎ), which achieves a dif­fer­ent but equal­ly strik­ing effect using sil­ver instead of gold.

Kintsu­gi clear­ly isn’t a hob­by you can mas­ter over a few week­ends. But you don’t have to be a life­long Kyoto arti­san to ben­e­fit from learn­ing it, as empha­sized by psy­chol­o­gist Alexa Alt­man in the video just above. Hav­ing learned kintsu­gi in Japan, she prac­tices it here in a some­what uncon­ven­tion­al way, repair­ing not pot­tery dam­aged over time or by acci­dent, but pot­tery which she’s smashed on pur­pose. The bowl, in this case, rep­re­sents “some aspect of your­self”; the ham­mer is “an instru­ment of change”; the glue is “all about con­nec­tion”; the holes and cracks “can be rep­re­sen­ta­tions of loss”; the gold is “glo­ry, a cel­e­bra­tion.” Whether or not you accept these metaphors, those who prac­tice kintsu­gi — or any craft demand­ing such a degree of patience and con­cen­tra­tion — sure­ly improve their psy­cho­log­i­cal state in so doing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kintsu­gi: The Cen­turies-Old Japan­ese Craft of Repair­ing Pot­tery with Gold & Find­ing Beau­ty in Bro­ken Things

Wabi-Sabi: A Short Film on the Beau­ty of Tra­di­tion­al Japan

20 Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos of Japan­ese Arti­sans Cre­at­ing Tra­di­tion­al Hand­i­crafts

The Mak­ing of Japan­ese Hand­made Paper: A Short Film Doc­u­ments an 800-Year-Old Tra­di­tion

Watch a Japan­ese Crafts­man Lov­ing­ly Bring a Tat­tered Old Book Back to Near Mint Con­di­tion

A Brief His­to­ry of Japan­ese Art: From Pre­his­toric Pot­tery to Yay­oi Kusama in Half an Hour

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

When a Young Sofia Coppola & Zoe Cassavetes Made Their Own TV Show: Revisit Hi-Octane (1994)

It makes sense that Sofia Cop­po­la and Zoe Cas­savetes would be friends. Not only are they both respect­ed film­mak­ers of Gen­er­a­tion X, they’re both daugh­ters of mav­er­ick Amer­i­can auteurs, a con­di­tion with its advan­tages as well as its dis­ad­van­tages. The advan­tages, in Cop­po­la’s case, have includ­ed the abil­i­ty to get Zoetrope, her father Fran­cis Ford Coppola’s pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, to foot the bill for a project like Hi-Octane: in the words of a 1994 W mag­a­zine pro­file, “a non-talk show in which Sofia and Zoe dri­ve around and inter­view cool peo­ple, essen­tial­ly their friends” — a group that includ­ed Keanu Reeves, Mar­tin Scors­ese, Gus Van Sant, and the Beast­ie Boys.

Cop­po­la and Cas­savetes did­n’t do all the inter­view­ing them­selves. Their cor­re­spon­dents includ­ed the pho­tog­ra­ph­er Shawn Mortensen, whom they sent off to Paris Fash­ion Week to talk to the likes of Nao­mi Camp­bell, Karl Lager­feld, and André Leon Tal­ley, and Son­ic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who host­ed his own reg­u­lar seg­ment. “Thurston’s Alley” was usu­al­ly shot lit­er­al­ly there, in the alley along­side the build­ing where he lived in New York, and, to it, he lured guests like John­ny Ramone and Sylvia Miles. But in one very spe­cial episode, he vis­its the Condé Nast build­ing to inter­view none oth­er than Anna Win­tour — and, in one of the moments Hi-Octane’s view­ers have nev­er for­got­ten, to describe the may­on­naise-based hair styling tech­nique of Pix­ies Bassist Kim Deal.

“I wrote the script ’cause I was so into cars,” the young Cop­po­la told W. “And I have access to all these inter­est­ing peo­ple — these actors and musi­cians. But when you see them inter­viewed on tele­vi­sion, they just talk about their char­ac­ters and it’s so bor­ing. The sets are always hideous­ly ugly. TV peo­ple always say they want to cater to peo­ple my age, but they have no idea how to do it. So we just want­ed to incor­po­rate the things we’re inter­est­ed in — cars, paint­ing, music.” In one episode, she and Cas­savetes take mon­ster-truck lessons; in anoth­er, she gets a bass les­son from the Min­ute­men’s Mike Watt; anoth­er fea­tures an extend­ed pro­file of psy­che­de­lo-sex­u­al-apoc­a­lyp­tic painter Robert Williams, whom Cop­po­la’s cousin Nico­las Cage turns up to praise as “a mod­ern-day Hierony­mus Bosch.”

Hi-Octane aired at 11:00 at night on Com­e­dy Cen­tral, a time slot between Whose Line Is It Any­way? and Sat­ur­day Night Live. It only did so three times before its can­cel­la­tion, but each of those broad­casts offers a strong if some­what makeshift dis­til­la­tion of a cer­tain mid-nineties Gen‑X sen­si­bil­i­ty, whose out­ward smirk­ing dis­af­fec­tion is belied by its over­pow­er­ing sub­cul­tur­al enthu­si­asm and sense of fun. “I wouldn’t change it because part of the slop­pi­ness makes it unique and what it is,” Cop­po­la said in a more recent inter­view. “I think if any­thing has sin­cer­i­ty and heart, this is it.” She may have known even at the time that it was all too pure to last. “Com­e­dy Cen­tral says our show’s not fun­ny enough,” she says to Cas­savetes at the end of the sec­ond episode. “I think it’s fun­ny that they gave us a show,” Cas­savetes replies, and Cop­po­la has to give it to her: “That is… that is fun­ny.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Lick the Star: Sofia Coppola’s Very First Film Fol­lows a 7th-Grade Con­spir­a­cy (1998)

Louis CK Ridicules Avant-Garde Art on 1990s MTV Show

Close Per­son­al Friend: Watch a 1996 Por­trait of Gen‑X Defin­er Dou­glas Cou­p­land

Andy Warhol’s 15 Min­utes: Dis­cov­er the Post­mod­ern MTV Vari­ety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Tele­vi­sion Age (1985–87)

Revis­it Turn-On, the Inno­v­a­tive TV Show That Got Can­celed Right in the Mid­dle of Its First Episode (1969)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Determined Art Conservator Restores a Painting of the Doomed Party Girl Isabella de’ Medici: See the Before and After

Some peo­ple talk to plants.

The Carnegie Muse­um of Art’s chief con­ser­va­tor Ellen Bax­ter talks to the paint­ings she’s restor­ing.

“You have to …tell her she’s going to look love­ly,” she says, above, spread­ing var­nish over a 16th-cen­tu­ry por­trait of Isabel­la de’ Medici pri­or to start­ing the labo­ri­ous process of restor­ing years of wear and tear by inpaint­ing with tiny brush­es, aid­ed with pipettes of var­nish and sol­vent.

Isabel­la had been wait­ing a long time for such ten­der atten­tion, con­cealed beneath a 19th-cen­tu­ry over­paint­ing depict­ing a dain­tier fea­tured woman reput­ed to be Eleanor of Tole­do, wife of Cosi­mo I de’ Medici, the sec­ond Duke of Flo­rence.

Louise Lip­pin­cott, the CMA’s for­mer cura­tor of fine arts, ran across the work in the museum’s base­ment stor­age. Record named the artist as Bronzi­no, court painter to Cosi­mo I, but Lip­pin­cott, who thought the paint­ing “awful”, brought it to Ellen Bax­ter for a sec­ond opin­ion.

As Cristi­na Rou­valis writes in Carnegie Mag­a­zine, Bax­ter is a “rare mix of left- and right-brained tal­ent”, a painter with a bachelor’s degree in art his­to­ry, minors in chem­istry and physics, and a master’s degree in art con­ser­va­tion:

(She) looks at paint­ings dif­fer­ent­ly than oth­er peo­ple, too—not as flat, sta­t­ic objects, but as three-dimen­sion­al com­po­si­tions lay­ered like lasagna.

The minute she saw the oil paint­ing pur­port­ed to be of Eleanor of Tole­do… Bax­ter knew some­thing wasn’t quite right. The face was too bland­ly pret­ty, “like a Vic­to­ri­an cook­ie tin box lid,” she says. Upon exam­in­ing the back of the paint­ing, she identified—thanks to a trusty Google search—the stamp of Fran­cis Leed­ham, who worked at the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don in the mid-1800s as a “relin­er,” trans­fer­ring paint­ings from a wood pan­el to can­vas mount. The painstak­ing process involves scrap­ing and sand­ing away the pan­el from back to front and then glu­ing the paint­ed sur­face lay­er to a new can­vas.

An X‑Ray con­firmed her hunch, reveal­ing extra lay­ers of paint in this “lasagna”.

Care­ful strip­ping of dirty var­nish and Vic­to­ri­an paint in the areas of the por­trait’s face and hands began to reveal the much stronger fea­tures of the woman who posed for the artist. (The Carnegie is bank­ing on Bronzino’s stu­dent, Alessan­dro Allori, or some­one in his cir­cle.)

Lip­pin­cott was also busi­ly sleuthing, find­ing a Medici-com­mis­sioned copy of the paint­ing in Vien­na that matched the dress and hair exact­ly. Thus­ly did she learn that the sub­ject was Eleanor of Toledo’s daugh­ter, Isabel­la de’ Medici, the apple of her father’s eye and a noto­ri­ous, ulti­mate­ly ill-fat­ed par­ty girl. 

The His­to­ry Blog paints an irre­sistible por­trait of this mav­er­ick princess:

Cosi­mo gave her an excep­tion­al amount of free­dom for a noble­woman of her time. She ran her own house­hold, and after Eleanor’s death in 1562, Isabel­la ran her father’s too. She threw famous­ly rau­cous par­ties and spent lav­ish­ly. Her father always cov­ered her debts and pro­tect­ed her from scruti­ny even as rumors of her lovers and excess­es that would have doomed oth­er soci­ety women spread far and wide. Her favorite lover was said to be Troi­lo Orsi­ni, her hus­band Paolo’s cousin.

Things went down­hill fast for Isabel­la after her father’s death in 1574. Her broth­er Francesco was now the Grand Duke, and he had no inter­est in indulging his sister’s pec­ca­dil­loes. We don’t know what hap­pened exact­ly, but in 1576 Isabel­la died at the Medici Vil­la of Cer­re­to Gui­di near Empoli. The offi­cial sto­ry released by Francesco was that his 34-year-old sis­ter dropped dead sud­den­ly while wash­ing her hair. The unof­fi­cial sto­ry is that she was stran­gled by her hus­band out of revenge for her adul­tery and/or to clear the way for him to mar­ry his own mis­tress Vit­to­ria Acco­ram­boni.

Bax­ter not­ed that the urn Isabel­la holds was not part of the paint­ing to begin with, though nei­ther was it one of Leedham’s revi­sions. Its resem­blance to the urn that Mary Mag­da­lene is often depict­ed using as she annoints Jesus’ feet led her and Lip­pin­cott to spec­u­late that it was added at Isabella’s request, in an attempt to redeem her image.

“This is lit­er­al­ly the bad girl see­ing the light,” Lip­pin­cott told Rou­valis.

Despite her fond­ness for the sub­ject of the lib­er­at­ed paint­ing, and her con­sid­er­able skill as an artist, Bax­ter resist­ed the temp­ta­tion to embell­ish beyond what she found:

I’m not the artist. I’m the con­ser­va­tor. It’s my job to repair dam­ages and loss­es, to not put myself in the paint­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Art of Restor­ing a 400-Year-Old Paint­ing: A Five-Minute Primer

Watch a 17th-Cen­tu­ry Por­trait Mag­i­cal­ly Get Restored to Its Bril­liant Orig­i­nal Col­ors

A Restored Ver­meer Paint­ing Reveals a Por­trait of a Cupid Hid­den for Over 350 Years

How an Art Con­ser­va­tor Com­plete­ly Restores a Dam­aged Paint­ing: A Short, Med­i­ta­tive Doc­u­men­tary

Watch the Renais­sance Paint­ing, The Bat­tle of San Romano, Get Brought Beau­ti­ful­ly to Life in a Hand-Paint­ed Ani­ma­tion

Free Course: An Intro­duc­tion to the Art of the Ital­ian Renais­sance

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Noam Chomsky Explains Why Nobody Is Really a Moral Relativist, Even Michel Foucault

Noam Chom­sky made his name as a lin­guist, which is easy to for­get amid the wide range of sub­jects he has addressed, and con­tin­ues to address, in his long career as a pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al. But on a deep­er lev­el, his com­men­tary on pol­i­tics, soci­ety, media, and a host of oth­er broad fields sounds not unlike a nat­ur­al out­growth of his spe­cial­ized lin­guis­tic the­o­ries. Through­out the past five or six decades, he’s occa­sion­al­ly made the con­nec­tion explic­it, or near­ly so, by draw­ing analo­gies between lan­guage and oth­er domains of human activ­i­ty. Take the pan­el-dis­cus­sion clip above, in which Chom­sky faces the ques­tion of why he does­n’t accept the notion of cul­tur­al rel­a­tivism, which holds moral norms as not absolute but cre­at­ed whol­ly with­in par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al con­texts.

“There are no skep­tics,” Chom­sky says. “You can dis­cuss it in a phi­los­o­phy sem­i­nar, but no human being can, in fact, be a skep­tic. They would­n’t sur­vive for two min­utes if they were. I think pret­ty much the same is true of moral rel­a­tivism. There are no moral rel­a­tivists: there are peo­ple who pro­fess it, you can dis­cuss it abstract­ly, but it does­n’t exist in ordi­nary life.” He iden­ti­fies “a ten­den­cy to move from the uncon­tro­ver­sial con­cept of moral rel­a­tivism” — that, say, cer­tain cul­tures at cer­tain times hold cer­tain moral val­ues, and oth­er cul­tures at oth­er times hold oth­er ones — “to a con­cept that is, in fact, inco­her­ent, and that is to say that moral val­ues can range indef­i­nite­ly,” teth­ered to no objec­tive basis.

If moral­i­ty is trans­mit­ted through cul­ture, “how does a per­son acquire his or her cul­ture? You don’t get it by tak­ing a pill. You acquire your cul­ture by observ­ing a rather lim­it­ed num­ber of behav­iors and actions, and from those, con­struct­ing, some­how, in your mind, the set of atti­tudes and beliefs that con­sti­tutes cul­ture.” He draws a nat­ur­al com­par­i­son between this process and that of lan­guage acqui­si­tion, which also depends on “hav­ing a rich built-in array of con­straints that allow the leap from scat­tered data to what­ev­er it is that you acquire. That’s vir­tu­al­ly log­ic.” And so, “even if you’re the most extreme cul­tur­al rel­a­tivist, you are pre­sup­pos­ing uni­ver­sal moral val­ues. Those can be dis­cov­ered.” When he spoke of “the most extreme cul­tur­al rel­a­tivist,” he was think­ing of Michel Fou­cault?

Back in 1971, Chom­sky engaged the French philoso­pher of pow­er in a debate, broad­cast on Dutch tele­vi­sion, about human nature and the ori­gin of moral­i­ty. There he prac­ti­cal­ly lead with lin­guis­tics: a child learn­ing to talk starts “with the knowl­edge that he’s hear­ing a human lan­guage of a very nar­row and explic­it type that per­mits a very small range of vari­a­tion.” This “high­ly orga­nized and very restric­tive schema­tism” allows him to “make the huge leap from scat­tered and degen­er­ate data to high­ly orga­nized knowl­edge.” This mech­a­nism “is one fun­da­men­tal con­stituent of human nature,” in not just lan­guage but “oth­er domains of human intel­li­gence and oth­er domains of human cog­ni­tion and even behav­ior” as well. Per­haps we do have the free­dom to speak, think, and act how­ev­er we wish — but that very free­dom, if Chom­sky is cor­rect, emerges only with­in strict, absolute, whol­ly un-rel­a­tive nat­ur­al bound­aries.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Michel Fou­cault and Noam Chom­sky Debate Human Nature & Pow­er on Dutch TV (1971)

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Michel Fou­cault, “Philoso­pher of Pow­er”

A Brief Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Noam Chomsky’s Lin­guis­tic The­o­ry, Nar­rat­ed by The X‑Files‘ Gillian Ander­son

Michel Fou­cault Offers a Clear, Com­pelling Intro­duc­tion to His Philo­soph­i­cal Project (1966)

Noam Chom­sky Explains the Best Way for Ordi­nary Peo­ple to Make Change in the World, Even When It Seems Daunt­ing

Moral­i­ties of Every­day Life: A Free Online Course from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Martin Scorsese Breaks Down His Most Iconic Films: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, and More

“Did Scors­ese make the best movie of each decade since the ’70s?” asks GQ’s Zach Baron in a recent pro­file of that long-lived auteur. “Prob­a­bly not (I think his case is weak­est in the first decade of this cen­tu­ry), but you could argue it, and many peo­ple have.” And indeed, you may well find your­self believ­ing it after watch­ing the video above, also pub­lished by GQ, in which Scors­ese him­self dis­cuss­es a selec­tion of fea­tures from the past half-cen­tu­ry of his career, the ear­li­est of which, Mean Streets, was a break­out project for both its young direc­tor and even younger star, a cer­tain Robert de Niro, in 1973.

Scors­ese’s lat­est, Killers of the Flower Moon, opens next month as not just anoth­er of his many col­lab­o­ra­tions with de Niro, but the first Scors­ese film to fea­ture both de Niro and Leonar­do DiCaprio. “We were acquaint­ed with each oth­er when we were six­teen years old,” the direc­tor says of de Niro in the GQ video. “He expe­ri­enced what I expe­ri­enced grow­ing up” in rough-and-tum­ble New York neigh­bor­hoods like Lit­tle Italy and the Bow­ery, and thus “knows who I am and where I came from.” Hence the trust with which Scors­ese took de Niro’s rec­om­men­da­tion of DiCaprio in the ear­ly nineties: “You got­ta work with him some­day.”

That some­day came in 2002, with Gangs of New York, after which the Scors­ese-diCaprio pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ship would mature to bear addi­tion­al cin­e­mat­ic fruit with projects like The Depart­ed and The Wolf of Wall Street. At this point it has become a par­al­lel enter­prise to Scors­ese-de Niro, which can be traced from The Irish­man, which came out in 2019, back through the likes of Good­Fel­las (though it stars the late Ray Liot­ta), Casi­no, The King of Com­e­dy, and Rag­ing Bull — a pic­ture that, along with oth­er brazen­ly ambi­tious Unit­ed Artists releas­es like Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la’s Apoc­a­lypse Now and Michael Cimi­no’s Heav­en’s Gate, Scors­ese now sees as mark­ing the end of “the pow­er of the direc­tor.”

In “new Hol­ly­wood” era of the nine­teen-sev­en­ties, Scors­ese remem­bers, “things were wide open, and we went in and took it like the bar­bar­ians at the gate, and we trans­formed what­ev­er we could, but they caught us.” Still, since then he’s “nev­er stopped work­ing for any notice­able amount of time,” as Baron puts it, though in recent years he’s been giv­en to rue­ful com­ment about the artis­tic and eco­nom­ic dynam­ics of his indus­try and art form. As for the state of the world in gen­er­al, he makes an equal­ly grim diag­no­sis with ref­er­ence to his and de Niro’s best-known col­lab­o­ra­tion, Taxi Dri­ver: “Every oth­er per­son is like Travis Bick­le now.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Mar­tin Scors­ese Directs a Movie: The Tech­niques Behind Taxi Dri­ver, Rag­ing Bull, and More

The Decay of Cin­e­ma: Susan Son­tag, Mar­tin Scors­ese & Their Lamen­ta­tions on the Decline of Cin­e­ma Explored in a New Video Essay

The Film­mak­ing of Mar­tin Scors­ese Demys­ti­fied in 6 Video Essays

What Makes Taxi Dri­ver So Pow­er­ful? An In-Depth Study of Mar­tin Scorsese’s Exis­ten­tial Film on the Human Con­di­tion

Mar­tin Scors­ese Explains the Dif­fer­ence Between Cin­e­ma and Movies

Scorsese’s The Irish­man in the Con­text of his Oeu­vre – Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #29 Fea­tur­ing Col­in Mar­shall

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Behold the Jacobean Traveling Library: The 17th Century Forerunner to the Kindle

Image cour­tesy of the Uni­ver­si­ty at Leeds

In the strik­ing image above, you can see an ear­ly exper­i­ment in mak­ing books portable–a 17th cen­tu­ry pre­cur­sor, if you will, to the mod­ern day Kin­dle.

Accord­ing to the library at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leeds, this “Jacobean Trav­el­ling Library” dates back to 1617. That’s when William Hakewill, an Eng­lish lawyer and MP, com­mis­sioned the minia­ture library–a big book, which itself holds 50 small­er books, all “bound in limp vel­lum cov­ers with coloured fab­ric ties.” What books were in this portable library, meant to accom­pa­ny noble­men on their jour­neys? Nat­u­ral­ly the clas­sics. The­ol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, clas­si­cal his­to­ry and poet­ry. The works of Ovid, Seneca, Cicero, Vir­gil, Tac­i­tus, and Saint Augus­tine. Many of the same texts that showed up in The Har­vard Clas­sics (now avail­able online) three cen­turies lat­er.

Appar­ent­ly three oth­er Jacobean Trav­el­ling Libraries were made. They now reside at the British Library, the Hunt­ing­ton Library in San Mari­no, Cal­i­for­nia, and the Tole­do Muse­um of Art in Tole­do, Ohio.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Napoleon’s Kin­dle: See the Minia­tur­ized Trav­el­ing Library He Took on Mil­i­tary Cam­paigns

Behold the “Book Wheel”: The Renais­sance Inven­tion Cre­at­ed to Make Books Portable & Help Schol­ars Study Sev­er­al Books at Once (1588)

The Har­vard Clas­sics: Down­load All 51 Vol­umes as Free eBooks

The Fiske Read­ing Machine: The 1920s Pre­cur­sor to the Kin­dle

Stream Hundreds of Hours of Studio Ghibli Movie Music That Will Help You Study, Work, or Simply Relax: My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away & More

The Boy and the Heron, the lat­est fea­ture from mas­ter ani­ma­tor Hayao Miyaza­ki, opened in Japan this past sum­mer. In that it marks his lat­est emer­gence from his sup­posed “retire­ment,” we could label it not just as late Miyaza­ki, but per­haps even “post-late” Miyaza­ki. But the film nev­er­the­less shares sig­nif­i­cant qual­i­ties with his ear­li­er work, not least a score com­posed by Joe Hisaishi. Since Nau­si­caä of the Val­ley of the Wind — which opened in 1984, even before the foun­da­tion of Stu­dio Ghi­b­li — Hisaishi’s music has done near­ly as much to estab­lish the sen­si­bil­i­ty of Miyaza­k­i’s films as their lav­ish, imag­i­na­tive ani­ma­tion, and you can stream hun­dreds of hours of it with this Youtube playlist.

Each of the playlist’s 121 two-hour videos offers musi­cal selec­tions from a mix of Ghi­b­li movies, includ­ing Miyaza­ki favorites like My Neigh­bor Totoro, Por­co Rosso, and Spir­it­ed Away, and also the works of oth­er direc­tors: Yoshi­fu­mi Kondō’s Whis­per of the Heart, Hiro­masa Yonebayashi’s Arri­et­ty,  Gorō Miyaza­k­i’s From Up on Pop­py Hill.

If you’ve seen those pic­tures, these qui­et, often min­i­mal ren­di­tions of their music will sure­ly bring their ani­mat­ed fan­tasies right back to mind. Even if you haven’t, they can still ful­fill the func­tion promised by the videos’ titles of set­ting a mood con­ducive to study, work, or sim­ple relax­ation.

So beloved are Hisaishi’s scores, for Miyaza­ki and oth­ers (most notably come­di­an-auteur Takeshi Kitano), that it’s pos­si­ble to know the music long before you’ve seen the movies. And even in per­for­mances con­sid­er­ably dif­fer­ent from the ver­sions heard on the actu­al sound­tracks, they always sound imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able as Hisaishi’s work. Shaped by an eclec­tic set of influ­ences (born Mamoru Fuji­sawa, he took on his pro­fes­sion­al name as an homage to Quin­cy Jones), he devel­oped a com­po­si­tion­al style nei­ther strict­ly East­ern nor West­ern. The same can be said about Ghi­b­li movies them­selves, which often pos­sess both fairy-tale Euro­pean set­tings and Japan­ese philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­nings. Wher­ev­er you place your­self on the cul­tur­al map, you’d do well to make their music the sound­track of your own life.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Calm Down & Study with Relax­ing Piano, Jazz & Harp Cov­ers of Music from Hayao Miyaza­ki Films

De-Stress with 30 Min­utes of Relax­ing Visu­als from Direc­tor Hayao Miyaza­ki

The Films of Hayao Miyaza­ki Cel­e­brat­ed in a Glo­ri­ous Con­cert Arranged by Film Com­pos­er Joe Hisaishi

Hayao Miyaza­ki, The Mind of a Mas­ter: A Thought­ful Video Essay Reveals the Dri­ving Forces Behind the Animator’s Incred­i­ble Body of Work

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Makes 1,178 Images Free to Down­load from My Neigh­bor Totoro, Spir­it­ed Away & Oth­er Beloved Ani­mat­ed Films

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Welcome to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoc, the Town with the Longest Name in Europe

Its name can be squeezed onto a tea tow­el, a dec­o­ra­tive plate, a mag­net, a mug, and oth­er touris­tic sou­venirs, but has the north­ern Welsh town of Llan­fair­p­wll­gwyn­gyll­gogerych­wyrn­drob­wl­l­l­lan­tysil­i­o­gogogoc been cel­e­brat­ed in song?

Indeed it has. The Great Big Sto­ry’s Human Con­di­tion episode, above, has vinyl proof, though the tune’s unlike­ly to give The White Cliffs of Dover, The Bon­nie Banks of Loch Lomond, or The Rocky Road To Dublin much of a run for the mon­ey.

Still, whichev­er out­side-the-box Vic­to­ri­an thinker had the bright idea to attract tourists by expand­ing the village’s orig­i­nal name — Pwll­gwyn­gyll — by 46 let­ters was onto some­thing.

Turns out you don’t need nat­ur­al won­ders or world-renowned cul­tur­al attrac­tions to stake a claim, when out-of-town­ers will make the trip just to take pho­tos of the local sig­nage.

Image by Adraio, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Vil­lage Com­mu­ni­ty Coun­cil Chair­man Alun Mum­mery attrib­ut­es the name-length­en­ing pub­lic­i­ty stunt in 1869 to a local cob­bler.

Or per­haps he was a tai­lor. That’s what poet John Mor­ris-Jones, author of 1913’s A Welsh Gram­mar, His­tor­i­cal and Com­par­a­tive, main­tained, while refus­ing to out­right iden­ti­fy this clever civic boost­er.

Wikipedia throws doubt on these ori­gin sto­ries by cit­ing an entry in an eccle­si­as­ti­cal direc­to­ry pub­lished a few years pri­or to 1869, which gave the full parish name as “Llanfair­pwll­gwyn­gyll­goger­bwll­tysilio­gogo.”

(Close enough!)

Some­one in the tourist infor­ma­tion office told trav­el writer Dave Fox that it trans­lates to “St. Mary’s Church in the hol­low of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave.”

It’s tempt­ing to think this lit­tle Welsh town has the longest name in the world, but that hon­or actu­al­ly goes to Bangkok.

Wait, what?

The name by which most for­eign­ers know Thai­land’s cap­i­tal city is actu­al­ly an archa­ic ref­er­ence to its pre-1782 loca­tion.

Thai peo­ple call their cap­i­tal Krung Thep — short for Krungth­ep­ma­hanako­r­namorn­ratanakos­in­mahin­tarayut­thayama­hadilokphopnop­pa­ra­tra­jathaniburiro­mu­dom­ra­jani­wes­ma­hasathar­namorn­phi­mar­na­vatarn­sathit­sakkat­tiyav­isanukam­pr­a­sit.

It means “City of angels, great city of immor­tals, mag­nif­i­cent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of roy­al palaces, home of gods incar­nate, erect­ed by Vish­vakar­man at Indra’s behest” and looks like this, when writ­ten in Thai script:

กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลก ภพนพรัตน์ ราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์ มหาสถาน อมรพิมาน อวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะ วิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์

Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­gochians still get to brag that they have the longest town name in Europe.

Their foot­ball club, Clwb Pêl Droed Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch Foot­ball Club — CPD Llan­fair­p­wll FC for short — might well be the longest named foot­ball club in the world if it weren’t for that damn Amon Rat­tanakosin Krung Thep Mahanakhon Mahinthara Mahadilok Phop Nop­pharat Ratchathani Ayuthaya Burirom Udom­ratchani­wet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathat­tiya Wit­sanukam Pra­sit Bra­vo Asso­ci­a­tion Foot­ball Club (aka Bangkok Bra­vo FC).

Some of the fun of liv­ing in a town with such a cum­ber­some name must be amaz­ing tourists by how casu­al­ly it rolls off local tongues.

Pub own­er Kevin Bryant oblig­es vis­i­tors from The Great Big Sto­ry by down­ing a pint on cam­era before rap­ping it out.

Any­thing for the local econ­o­my!

Llan­fair­p­wll­gwyn­gyll­gogerych­wyrn­drob­wl­l­l­lan­tysil­i­o­gogogoc also got a boost from men­tions on Grou­cho Marx’s quiz show, You Bet Your Life, in a Bossa Nova-inflect­ed Stephen Sond­heim song, and in sev­er­al films, includ­ing 1968’s Bar­barel­la.

As YouTu­ber Tom Scott points out below, long words are invari­ably short­ened in every­day speech, and place names are no excep­tion.

Post­mas­ter Jim Evans advo­cates short­en­ing the town name to Llanfair­pwllgwyn­gyll.

When not active­ly impress­ing tourists, local peo­ple say Llan­fair­p­wll.

Which is still a pret­ty impres­sive con­so­nant to vow­el ratio.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Medieval City Plan Gen­er­a­tor: A Fun Way to Cre­ate Your Own Imag­i­nary Medieval Cities

The Atlas of True Names Restores Mod­ern Cities to Their Mid­dle Earth-ish Roots

Fly Through 17th-Cen­tu­ry London’s Grit­ty Streets with Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tions

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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