Postcards from Away

Here is a report from Avi Arenfeld about his adventures in Japan.

The thing about trains in Japan is that they always leave on time, making for some interesting departures. Running through a brick wall of central pacific humidity, a sea of faces, umbrellas, and high heels stream past me. Tokyo is a city that breathes so fast that I am left only catching mine at stoplights. Almost everyone actually stops at crosswalks, something I found out in the middle of the street, staring back at a group of law-abiding citizens. The country seemed to function as a whole, revolving around food, history, and culture.

Japan has always magnetized my imagination as a child. Originally so many of my favorite games or comics came from Japanese artist and designers like Shigeru Miyamoto. An early interest in history and art repeated stories about our countries relationships, and the influence that Hamada and Leach had on American pottery affects my own way of working. This July I spent two weeks In Japan, looking for pots, people, and noodles.

The presence of handmade ceramics in Japan was obvious from the start. Most restaurants used combinations of factory ramen bowls and handmade soy dishes, bowl, or trays. Mass production is evident everywhere but still therein lies a constant string of tradition. Food is so incredibly important to Japanese culture, and the ware they use is a part of that relationship. From Tokyo to the Tsukiji fish market, where ceramics get hawked like tuna, we sailed through the outlying suburbs, oceanside mountains, baseball fields and farms. Once in Kyoto temples and shops carrying ceramics and other traditional art lie around every turn. It is a beautiful bustling city with traditional style, on a river that once ran red with the dye of kimonos. Kyoto is surrounded by mountains, bamboo forests, and some very pensive monkeys that appreciate peanuts. The next morning involved a one-hour bus to Shigaraki through beautiful woods, rivers and rice fields. It is a town known for two things, pots, and crazy raccoon figures.

At the ceramic cultural center I met with the Resident Director, and saw their museums, studio, and collection of wood kilns. It is an amazing place with a beautiful facility, and a long list of outstanding Resident Artists from around the world. I headed into town to ogle the pots in the numerous shops where I found every style of Japanese pottery imaginable. The most prized are those made from the local clay, high in feldspar, and fired in local naboragama and anagama kilns.

I wandered into a shop where a nearly 90 year old woman sat talking to a man my age. I spent a long time looking and feeling the work around me. After some deliberation I decided on a small shigaraki Yanomi by Yamaguci. The two noticed the tea bowl and me that cultivated a conversation. The younger man was Takehito Kobayashi, the owner of Wad, a ceramic, tea, and art gallery in Osaka. I explained myself as a student of ceramics, and that I was a first time visitor to Japan. He helped to translate my gratitude towards the owner and we sat and chatted for a while. The best part of any trip is making connections with people you may have otherwise never met, and being open to looking lost and asking questions. With the sun going down I headed back to Kyoto to rest before Osaka.


vicki hartman said...

your blog is great!
there is so much here. thanks for the link. i look forward to watching your posts.

Anonymous said...

Lucky you! Sounds like a great trip.