Friday, May 19, 2006

Cherryblossom Special

A brief account of our 3-week raid on Japan:ten days staying in 4 ryokan [trad. inns with mat floors,sliding screens,fresh starched cotton kimono every day,amazing friendly service] in and around Kyoto- each different and exceptional.Kyoto is jammed with things to see- pottery,of course,but also incense,paper,textiles,kimonos,laquerware,pickles,temples galore,Kanjiro Kawai's house,some museums we didn't even get to.We checked out two imperial estates,each with stunning gardens,were unimpressed by the Bizen-ware we saw at Imbe,but bowled over by Shigaraki.Eating was always an experience-new bamboo season,and fiddle-head ferns,many varieties of tofu and noodle,some challenging one's chopstick skills,long meals served in small dishes,all different,invariably beautiful,with instructions ["Dip this in this and eat it with a bit of that"],always ending with rice and miso soup [sometimes an attempted desert,usually involving beans].We even found a pretty good cup of coffee- not cheap,but made with water from the holy well in the shop,which you can't always get;this joint,which played 50's and 60's pop,was our daily stop in Kyoto,often speeding recovery from a Japanese breakfast of rice,tofu,pickles and fish,washed down with green Japanese tea.We acclimatised,but it was still a thrill when we were offered "Western Breakfast",albeit with a pitying smile.
From Kyoto we moved to Tokoname,an old pottery town,where Matsamichi and Chikako,both potters,live in one of the many old wooden potteries.In pouring but picturesque Japanese rain we walked the pottery walk [while talking the talk,of course],visited Matsamichi's huge ceramic wall at the local[international] airport,were shown round the pottery museum by the curator himself [and driven home by him in his hybrid car],and ate memorable meals,cooked at the table, with our hosts and their family and friends.
Next stop was Kasama,an impressive clay facility,with a huge gallery,a museum [exhibitions of Kutani-ware and two National Treasure potters,workshops for part-time learning,and a very fancy noborigama [6 chamber wood-fired climbing] kiln.From Kasama to Mashiko,the heart of our pilgrimage,to Shoji Hamada's house and compound.I took a pinch or two of earth to mix with my clay [so now when people ask,"Where does your clay come from?".....] and bought a couple of sweet small pots made by Hamada's grandson.We reached Hamada's house half-an-hour before closing,and had the place to ourselves- all the sensible Japanese having left in good time.It was quite something to stand in the silent afternoon gloom of his workroom and give his old polished wheel-head a gentle turn.Wonderful.
After a morning browsing the market and galleries of Mashiko,we headed up to Chichibu [just say it a few times-you can't help smiling] to visit Yuichi Kurosawa,with whom I have a long indirect acquaintance through a tea-bowl of his that my wife bought me in a New York gallery quite a few years ago.He has recently finished building a fine wooden house, and almost completed his new nanagama/noborigama crossbreed,whose first firing,in classic style,was disappointing.Some things never change.Nearby lives Dani from Israel,woking in wood,who helped a lot translating our discussions with Yuichi,whose pretty good English only got into its stride after a few cups of sake.
Nearing the end of our journey now- one night with Daniel Rosen,an American ceramic artist completing an M.A. at a Tokyo university,who took us to a performance of Kodo [Japanese drumming] with some Kabuki thrown in for good measure,then to Jun Kamaguchi's new house and studio in Yokahama for our last night in Japan:Jun had met us on our arrival in Kyoto,where he teaches ceramics at Kyoto university,and was our mentor throughout the trip,helping us to get a plan together,and providing us with phone-numbers and vital travel information,showing us Shigaraki and the sights of Kyoto.
Our flights home [via Milan] were long but eneventful,and it's great to be home.What the repercussions of all this will be in the studio remains to be seen.You are invited to remain and see!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

We're back!

What a trip! Three weeks of non-stop knock-yer-socks-off action! Kyoto,Bizen,Shigaraki,Tokoname,Kasama,Mashiko- not forgetting Chichibu,home to Yuichi Kurosawa and Dani the Israeli woodworker.Back with a handful of tools,a suitcaseful of pots,a few hundred pictures,and a headful of ideas and memories.If anyone's interested,I could blog at greater length- or you could come round to see the pictures,hear the stories [see the pots...] A huge Thank You to all our new friends who welcomed us into their homes and gave us a futon to sleep on.Checking in just now to the blog,I saw that the 2 entries I wrote in Japan stayed in Draft form,so I published them.Also somehow managed to set up a Flickr account and get a few pictures up on the blog: neat,eh? [thanks again,Hana!] It's great to be back !

Monday, May 01, 2006


If nothing else,I can now tell my Shigaraki (pale,coarse clay with granular feldspar inclusions,pink/orange flashing,dramatic ash effects) from my Bizen ( dark clay,finer,more subtle kiln effects): tomorrow we plan to take the train to Bizen and check the action.Jun,our guide,says we need two days,but we also have to fit in a ryokan change and a temple or two.Today we sat with the iconic Zen rock garden,whose name ,together with even basic hello/goodbye Japanese,escapes me,and the beautiful Golden Temple (I just finished the novel about it by Mishima before the trip- now I'm savouring the last all-too-brief volume of Proust,for whom the Japanese also have a penchant).We get by on profuse and often gratuitous bowing,wide guileless smiles and pidgin English,so far an unassailable combination.This ancient computer occasionally and spontaneously reverts to Japanese text,with which it obviously feels more at home,and has just done so,so I shall conclude.We had another go at Japanese breakfast this morning,and survived with some tastebuds intact,but tomorrow it’s back to ”western breakfast”,which,like the thankfully ubiquitous Western Toilets,is more our cup of (instant,but we’re thankful) coffee