The Japanese attention to detail and to do things just so amazes me every day anew. Many people here take extreme pride in their work, no matter what it is, no matter how insignificant the detail seems. Especially when it comes to handicraft, the result is always superb. I once watched somebody sew a border strip of cloth onto a tatami, the measuring and remeasuring, the adjusting the strip of cloth and the machine, the measuring once again and the stitching one by one took almost 30 minutes. For one half of a standard, 2 m long tatami.

Of course, nobody is perfect, and every now and then, a little imperfection may slip through despite all the care that has been exercised. For example, a friend of mine is taking urushi classes, where people make their own lacquerware. As written in my post about urushi, a single piece can take months to complete, and the process is quite intricate.

Tea box for Japanese tea ceremonyDuring class, my friend made a small natsume container to be used at tea ceremony to hold the powdered tea. It is a very simple black lacquer cup in matte finish inside and highly polished at the outside, without further adornments. She said it took her six months to complete and it sits on a small red cushion in her tatami room next to her other tea utensils.

The other day, we were talking about it and I complimented her on her beautiful work, and she responded that it was junk because of a mistake she made. So I took a closer look at it to see what was wrong with it, but try as I might, I couldn’t find anything – until my friend turned it upside down. On the bottom of it, there was a tiny speck of dust embedded in the lacquer, smaller than one millimetre in diameter, and invisible for anyone but the most curious of people. But because of this tiny imperfection, her work was considered substandard and could not be sold anymore.

Which leads to the question: when does attention to detail turn into an obsession?