An American in Japan

When Ruth K. Meyer asked Richard Steiner, an American printmaker who fled the United States during the Vietnam War and since then has lived in Japan, what his prints of unworldly people and strange insects communicate, he replied at length:

“When I first came to Japan in 1970, foreigners were still a rarity. In Hiroshima, to be sure, there were Americans and some Europeans living, but they stayed pretty much to themselves. Certainly, when we went out of town and into the countryside, we were met with long stares, laughter, ignored by staff in coffee houses, stores, shops and so on. Innkeepers refused us, but, happily, no stones were ever thrown. We were odd, we were not Japanese; hence, the natives did not have a clue how to deal with us. No foreigner was ever thought to be able to speak Japanese, and when I did speak it I was sometimes met with incredulity. And yet I grew to feel at home. Americans, by and large, do not have problems settling into Japanese society, mostly because, unlike the Europeans, we don’t have any long, inbred history and culture to carry around on our shoulders. If anything, Americans are supremely flexible. We can make necessary and sometimes cosmetic changes to our thinking and behavior in order to be better accepted.”

See the November issue of The Artist’s Magazine, on newsstands October 9, to see Richard Steiner’s prints and learn more about his story.

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