Re: Japanese Media Inquiry, Possible Filming Request

It all started with an email on Tuesday, July 12th, 2016. I had just returned from my 9th wedding anniversary vacation to the Florida Keys to learn how to scuba dive, I was tired and not exactly in “work mode” yet – when I saw this waiting for me in my inbox:


What?! The first thing I thought was “what a strange scam” but a little bit of googling showed that the author of this email had also put out filming request calls for a couple other shows, so I started to write an email back….and then deleted it and just called, because they wanted to film me this weekend?!

Naomichi answered immediately and told me that yes indeed, he had found my work somehow “through the internet” because I use Japanese paper in bookbinding , and if I could answer a few questions and send a 10 second video introducing myself, I might have the opportunity to be on a segment of Japanese TV!  He offered to send me a follow up email right away:


…I know it’s crazy but also can you make a video and answer all these questions?… By the end of… today?


…You know what? Why not.


*cue panic*

I had no idea where to start with my video, and about 5 hours to figure it out, Ryan had the genius idea to text his friend Jay (of Makey Makey fame) advice for how to cut a 10 second intro video, and his advice was something like:

“This is me
from here…
in my studio…
look at this awesome thing I make…
Using these tools…

tight editing, lots of jump cuts”

here’s my resulting video:

Journals Made With Japanese Paper 12sec from Ruth Bleakley on Vimeo.

Hooray! it worked! I was confirmed for a visit from a film crew July 20-21 – just one more quick question from the producers:


Note, this is 6 days ahead of filming…but I DID put together a last-minute workshop! You can see it here – but all the attendees were sworn to secrecy about being on Japanese TV since I couldn’t talk about it until the show aired!

Ok at this point I should mention that I think this whole thing is just as unbelievable as you do! I kept telling my friends that I didn’t believe they’d come until they actually showed up…but in the meantime I HAD TO CLEAN MY HOUSE! My mom even showed up and cleaned my living room “so you won’t be embarrassed on Japanese TV!” (thanks Mom!)

Ruth Bleakley Bookbinding Studio before and after

At this point, I thought “well, even if a Japanese film crew DOESN’T come to my house, at least I’ve finally put my studio in order!

Just one day left until they arrived!

Wednesday morning – the day they were supposed to arrive! I was nervously pacing the kitchen, gulping down glassfuls of water with drops of anti-stress flower essences AKA Rescue Remedy, and then thinking “oh no, I shouldn’t drink so much liquid right before I go on TV!”

All of a sudden I hear *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*

I run to the door, slowing as I approach so I won’t look like I just ran to my front door…

open the door….


I am greeted by a Japanese man who bows and starts speaking rapidly to me in Japanese! With a cameraman directly behind him, filming my reaction! Oh no…! IS THERE NO TRANSLATOR? AM I GOING TO HAVE TO MIME THIS WHOLE THING? With a panicked eyes and strained smile I say, “Hiiii! I’m Ruth! Welcome…to…FLORIDA?!”

Hahahahahaha, at this moment Kai the translator runs over from the van, wiping his face from the July heat “phew! sorry I am late! Hello! we are from Japan! May we come in?”


Ruth Bleakley in the studio demonstrating watoji bookbinding for Japanese TV

The film crew included the director of the segment, the cameraman, and our translator, who when he’s not translating for Japanese TV shows that come to Florida, translates for Japanese tour groups at Disney World!

First they stopped to take in the view, which is pretty cool because we are lucky enough to live in my late grandparents’ house which is right on the water.

Then we walked around the living room showing off all the things that Ryan had made, including paper lanterns, surfboards, furniture… The director turned to me and said “what have you made here, Ruth-san?” and I was like “uhhhh…this…tiny cat painting?”…

Awkward! I guess I should have staged some stuff in the living room… “let’s go to my studio!”

So we went down the hall to the studio and I did a mini tour, and when I pulled out one of my suminagashi journals, the Director was keenly interested when I told him that I marbled the paper too! “Demonstration?” he asked – and next thing you know, I was in the kitchen whipping up a batch of marbled paper on TV!

Ruth Bleakley demonstrating paper marbling for Japanese TV

I remember the first time I saw marbled paper being made – the film crew had the same amazed reaction, and through the translator told me that they’d never seen this before!

In case you haven’t seen it – it looks like this – me setting up a baking dish with water in it, and floating alternating black and clear rings of ink on the surface using asian calligraphy brushes! Not high-tech at all – in fact, Suminagashi (literally “floating ink” in Japanese) dates back to about 800AD in Japan:

Ruth Bleakley DIY Japanese Paper Marbling

After I demonstrated Suminagashi, we went back to my studio, where they asked me to demonstrate watoji, the art of Japanese style bookbinding – “uh, right now?” “yes please!” “ok!” – and then right there I made a book start to finish! I don’t know how those of you who are also crafters and artists work, but usually I divide my work up into segments – one day, work on cutting paper, the next, glueing, the next sewing – etc. It’s pretty rare that I sit down and just make a book completely from scratch all in once go (not to mention, with a camera trained on me, and a person asking me questions in another language). I was pretty proud of myself!

Isn’t the paper below lovely? It’s a stencil-dyed paper from Japan called Katazome – I have to order it online because no stores around here carry it, so I told the film crew about it, and then *KNOCK KNOCK* who could that be? Oh! just the perfectly timed arrival of my mailman carrying a new shipment of paper! We did a big unveiling for the camera, and I used some of the paper when I made these books:

Watoji Japanese style bookbinding by Ruth Bleakley with katazome paper

*Phew!* so much demonstration! It was about time for lunch and my husband and the translator went off to pick up some delicious Caribbean food.

We set the table, when the director said “no, no, first you two eat, and we will film you!” ok…so Ryan and I proceed to eat, having the most awkward small talk ever, because right across the table is a camera pointed straight at us (they had us sit on the same side of the table) – Then then translator announced “Ok Ryan-san! Director would like to ask you questions…about your wife!” Ryan just about choked on his pinchos,  sputtering, “…what??”

“Please, tell us what you think about your wife’s PASSION FOR JAPAN?”



(this was a great one! I think I may have kicked Ryan under the table while I smiled at him with an evil gleam in my eye – yes Ryan-san, please describe your wife!)

Ryan, laughing nervously and eyeing any escape route – “uhhh, really?? ha ha…come on guys…geeze”

Translator, “no Ryan-san, please! Tell us what you like about your wife!”

Ryan begins to visibly sweat…


But despite getting the 3rd degree, he said something very nice! If I recall correctly (with my Wife Memory®):
“What I like about Ruth is that she is very creative and has interesting hobbies, her work has already been published in a couple books – I like that she encourages me to do my own hobbies and make things, even if that means taking over the living room to lay out a boat sail, or take over the whole garage with my surfboard projects. I don’t mind if she takes over the  kitchen for her paper marbling, and I think that’s a really cool thing in our relationship – we encourage and take pride in one another’s interests and hobbies


(Side note, Ryan and I have been together a long time – I honestly think that supporting and encouraging one another is one of the number one things that keeps our relationship happy – don’t be a hater! Easier said than done when it comes to motorcycles, but still, “you gotta live a little” to quote Ryan…I did make him buy disability and life insurance when he had that thing though…)

We all sat down and tucked into lunch, fresh for the next thing on the list: THE INTERVIEW


We sat down in my studio, me on my desk chair, the director facing me in my computer chair – the translator’s voice wafting ghost-like from the floor behind the computer chair – “Please, Ruth-san, line of sight to the director, and I will be translating for you from over here” (crouched on the floor, behind the director’s seat)

I didn’t get my questions ahead of time, so honestly it all kind of blurs together – some of the more memorable questions included:

“When did you first become interested in Japan?” (my grandparents have tons of cool Japanese stuff in this house from their travels – you can see them in the picture above)
“Why do you use Japanese Paper in your work?” (it’s the most beautiful paper in the world!)
“You live in this beautiful beach house in Florida…why haven’t you visited Japan yet?! (*mind blank* uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…well, it’s really far away? and expensive to get there? Also this is my grandparent’s house and we live here through the generosity of my family? Also I don’t speak Japanese…at all…I hope to go there someday though! And I will buy SO MUCH PAPER“)

*PHEW* – ok!

“Great! Just one more thing Ruth-san…”

“Uh oh” I thought to myself “Now’s the part where I have to do a craft obstacle course while running with scissors”

Translator: “So! This is something that all participants of the show do – basically a little intro cut about yourself – so what will happen is that the director and cameraman will be at one end of your yard, and then you will be standing at the other – and you’ll say something like:

“I’M RUTH, I LOVE JAPANESE PAPER, IT’S THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PAPER IN THE WORLD, IT’S SO COLORFUL, I MAKE BOOKS WITH IT!!!’ – the translator is hopping up and down in my kitchen, waving his arms, pretending to shout all of this out – “you know, ALL the things you LOVE about paper! And then! you need to run-run-run, over to the camera and you throw your fist in the air and say “NIHON NI IKITAI!”

At this point I’m staring at him like he’s crazy – “excuse me? what was that last part??”

“NIHON NI IKITAI!!!” *fist punch* “and hold for 3 seconds! one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand – look into the camera!”

“ummmmmmm, can you write that for me?”

“Sure – here I’ll make it a little easier – writes: ‘nippon ni ikitai’ – let’s practice! Say after me – NIPPON NI IKITAI!”

“great! just faster!”
“nippon ni ikitai”
excellent! we shoot in 10 minutes! They are setting up right now”

“wait…what do those words even mean?”

“it means ‘I want to go to Japan!'”


nippon ni ikitai…nippon ni ikitai…nippon ni ikitai…nipponniikitai


At this point I might want to redirect your attention to the fact that I live in Florida, and this next part takes place OUTSIDE in JULY.

“Ok Ruth-san, please stand over here on opposite side of yard – ok, GO!

“wait uh, do I get to practice once, or…”

“no, just go! 1-2-3 – go now!

“Hi! I’m Ruth! I love Japanese paper! it’s so beautiful! I make crafts! with it! here! in…Florida!” *waving arms*

run-run-run, “nippon ni ikitai!” *one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand*



(wait nervously as director confers with translator…)

“great! nice job Ruth-san! Ok! Director would like to  see again…one more time…MORE EXCITEMENT!”

I would like to remind the reader that it was 3 PM in Florida in late July and boiling hot – it became apparent to me that the only way we’d get to go back inside was to do my BEST EFFORT EVER:


run,run,run – JUMP in front of the camera, shout “NIPPON NI IKITAI!!!” with a big maniacal grin! Punch my fist in the air! Hold it while maintaining creepy eye contact with the camera! *one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand*…I couldn’t help but laugh when it was all done! Neither could the film crew! (hopefully with me, not AT me, but at this point, it’s so hot, who cares?!)

“ok! that was great! that’s a wrap! Thank you so much!”

When we went back in to the cool air conditioning I asked Ryan what I looked like out there – he said “I actually went to a different part of the house, and didn’t watch – I figured you might want to preserve some of your dignity” hahaha! Too late, Ryan-san!


Japanese Bookbinding Class taught by Ruth Bleakley

Later that night we filmed the workshop (all these nice folks had to sign a film release!) and after the big day was over, Ryan presented the crew with a few gifts (including some hanging bird sculptures and a small piece of kiri, the official royal wood of Japan that Ryan coincidentally makes surfboards from) because in my nervousness and cleaning frenzy I completely forgot to make anything for them…we shook hands and bowed, and I asked when we’d get to see our footage on the show?

The director, through the translator, said “well what we’ll do is we’ll edit down the footage we shot today into a short segment, which I’ll present to the producers along with all the other participants we filmed and they’ll choose whose short segments are featured on the show – ultimately the producers will choose one of the participants to travel to Japan to learn their craft from the Japanese masters – but in the meantime, please don’t post about this on social media until we let you know if your segment will air or not”

“Wow!” I thought, “maybe I should have mustered even MORE enthusiasm out there in the backyard? Oh well, I hope I get to see my marbling segment on TV!

With a final wave we sent them on their way, and collapsed on the couch – *phew* – that was crazy! What just happened to us? What just happened here in our nice, quiet little beach community? Good thing that’s all over with…

…or was it?



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What an amazing day! I’ve enjoyed reading all about it and I look forward to the next part.


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