FOR A QUARTER of a century, Makoto Imai and his wife, Shoko, have lived in Seabeck, a scenic, rural community on the Kitsap Peninsula, where he practices (and perfects, from all appearances and appraisals) the craft of Japanese traditional woodworking and construction. Life on the Imais’ 5 acres is secluded and quiet and blessedly disconnected and, until now, Makoto and his 50-year portfolio of exquisite handcrafted homes and furniture had been, too. Which is exactly how he wanted it.
Times, though, have that way of changing. Plus, Makoto and Shoko’s daughter, Mai Imai Berman, wrote to us.
“My father has always been so resistant to self-promoting because it has never been about money/business/fame, but pure love for his craft,” she says. “Over the years, though, I have seen him change — a softer side — and, I think, realizing at his age it’s perfectly OK to at least share with the community. My father is a true Japanese craftsman.”
With a conscientious, creative process built on authenticity, skill and commitment, Makoto really puts the true in true craftsman.
“Wood and Japanese joinery construction are his passion and all he knows,” Mai says. “Every day is the same routine for him: going into the workshop, creating. Now in his 70s, he said there is no such thing as ‘retiring’ for him; he plans to do this until he dies. He is definitely true to his craft.”
Since he taught woodworking in the Bay Area decades ago, Makoto’s appreciative apprentices have grown into his competitors. While he respects his former students’ talent and quality of work, he says, “My wish is that the younger generation will continue that kind of high level of producing and craftsmanship.” None of his three children inherited his passion, though — meaning, says Mai, “There really is no one left at this point, and not many know of his existence here.”
This is a void that should be filled. Even Makoto agrees it’s time to finally accept a little warmth from the spotlight that radiates from the breathtaking homes and furniture he has crafted around the world all the way back to peaceful Seabeck.
“This is my second life,” he says. “The first life, I taught 25 years. Now I want to have my own time. That’s why now, little by little, I put my name out. I was 27 when I started teaching in Japan. All my young time and energy are in the teaching. I had enough teaching, and now I want to have my time and show my work.”