[留学生の藝大体験記1]Dave van Gompel(美術研究科・漆専攻)



Name, Department, Home country and city, Duration

My name is Dave van Gompel. I was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
I was trained as an art historian and furniture conservator, and practiced traditional woodcraft and conservation for 10 years before coming to Japan. I’ve been living in Japan since April 2014 and have been attending classes at Geidai since June of the same year. In April 2015, I officially enrolled as a PhD-student in the department of Japanese lacquer ware (urushi).


Why did you choose Geidai as your study abroad destination?

Lacquer work is only taught at universities in East Asia. Japan has a global reputation for producing the finest quality of lacquer ware, with many highly specialized decorative techniques that cannot be found elsewhere in the world.
Geidai is one of the few places in Japan where the traditional craft of urushi can be studied on an academic level. Amongst these, Geidai stands out because of the quality of its classes, its renowned teachers and the well-received work of its graduates. I also find it to be an environment that is generally very welcoming to people who come from a very different background such as myself.



What did you do to prepare yourself for studying abroad in Japan?

Of course, I spent a lot of time studying Japanese, trying to get it to a sufficient level for me to comprehend the classes at Geidai. It is challenging, but also very rewarding once you feel comfortable enough to communicate in a language that is so radically different from your own.
I also spent considerable time reading on both ancient and contemporary Japanese culture. I actually feel that this is of even greater importance than the language itself, because the Japanese tend to have a very different style of thinking and communicating from the people in my country.
Trying to perceive things with an open mind helped me a lot to avoid confusion and ultimately allowed me to connect to Japanese people faster than I had anticipated.


What do you study at Geidai?

I study lacquer ware; an ancient craft native to Eastern Asia and especially Japan. It is made from the sap of the urushi tree. An intricate system of applying a large number of layers of lacquer creates perfect surfaces that can be further decorated using materials such a gold powder, mother of pearl and eggshells.
The Dutch were the main importers of urushi to Europe for over 300 years, where it was universally admired by all who were lucky enough the see it. Even now, I cannot stop being amazed at how human hands can create something so unbelievable perfect. For me, urushi is not just simply a Japanese craft, but a sheer testimony of human ingenuity in working with natural materials to create things that will continue to awe people for generations to come.



What do you like about Geidai?

I particularly enjoy the open atmosphere at Geidai. The teachers and students are generally very open-minded and easy to communicate with. I also admire the wide range of highly specialized departments at Geidai, in which many of the traditional crafts are represented. For me it would seem difficult to balance tradition with innovation within the same school, yet Geidai seems to manage this effortlessly. I also feel very much left free to explore my own interests, even when these lie outside my own department.



What are the things that impressed you or surprised you in Japan?

I personally find that the image of Japan abroad is actually very different from the daily life I experience here. Especially contemporary pop-culture has created the image of Japan being flashy, high-tech, fast-paced and oftentimes a little bit wacky. I never really had much interest in things like anime or manga, but was still very much aware of the image of Japan that is derived from these phenomena. However, I was quite happy to find that Japan is mostly inhabited by hard-working people who live very common lives in simple, yet fulfilling ways. Even living in central Tokyo, I was pleasantly surprised by the pace of life and the small things which one can derive pleasure from on a daily basis.


What are your future goals?

In many countries (including my own), traditional crafts are either dead or dying. The Japanese do much more to keep this part of their cultural heritage alive, yet I feel it is a continued struggle to make the crafts viable for future generations.
I personally believe that communication, education and readaptation play vital parts in their survival. If crafts don’t evolve alongside an evolving society, they will ultimately die out.
There has always been great interest in the West for Japanese crafts such as urushi, but it is very hard to develop an understanding of the craft with the limited available amount of information. I am very much hoping that I can help to bridge those gaps and to share my passion for this art form. Also, having a background in conservation, I will focus a lot of my studies on the preservation of lacquered artworks, many of which can be found in art museums across the world.


Please write a message for students wishing to study in Japan.

I am not going to deny that studying in Japan can be in many ways extremely challenging. Living in a country with a culture that is probably radically different from your own, poses many difficulties. However, overcoming these difficulties and connecting to Japan and its people is rewarding in so many ways that I would always encourage people to consider an academic career in this country.
If you are hardworking and passionate about what you do, Japan offers plenty of opportunities that will allow for you to grow in many ways. However, do not only think about what Japan can do for you, but also about what you can do for Japan. Being a historically isolated island nation, Japan needs foreign students to share with the world the beauty of its unique culture.