69: The Neverending Lesson of Pottery

I wake up and the first thing I see is this.

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The ceiling of my bedroom is painted with swirling white clouds and a young, growing tree. Sensei must particularly enjoy lying on his back and looking at the beautiful Tajimi sky, so much so that he makes sure all his students staying here also look up and see that same beauty!

Excited about a new day, I have my daily bread with my Bible in a year app, and then I head out to cycle and do my stairs training again. Happy that I have a pretty bicycle all to myself!

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After the morning exercise, I discover that it is still really early. Not enough exercise! But too bad, I’m not about to climb anymore stairs now. I go back and start devouring this secret manual I borrowed, the out-of-print “The Japanese Pottery Handbook”. That’s the proper way to pass time!

Tuesdays and Thursdays see many local students come to the studio to learn. Since it is Friday, there is only me and Naoko san. I seriously wonder if this angel is coming here everyday just so I have a translator…!

Sensei’s instructions for today is to make as many 500g balls of clay as possible for practice. As he is heading out by 10:30am, I decide to ask if I can show him how I usually do my wheel throwing so that he can correct me if necessary.

He nods and then goes to make a drawing of the steps. In the meantime, I start to throw. Midway through, he finishes his drawing and walks over. “Chigau ne“, he shakes his hand at me. Oh no, my dreaded phrase to hear from him!

He shows me his diagrams and it is quite different from what I was taught in Singapore! My teacher in Singapore always said to make sure the cylinder is straight almost from the beginning. However, sensei’s way is to build some sort of cone first, before slowly straightening the cylinder out. He also advocates using the thumb and the index finger to push, while I am used to just using the index finger. Each has its merits and it may sound like nothing much, but in practice, it’s more difficult to execute the changes!

I decide that since I have come all the way here to Japan, I have to be an empty cup – rid myself of preconceived notions and just keep receiving. I believe that with all the teachings by sensei here and the teachers back home, I will manage to figure it all out and distill what works best in each situation.

Ganbatte” sensei says to me. “Yes! I will continue to renshu, renshu, renshu and ganbatte! I say to him in my broken Japlish, promising myself that I will persevere!

As always, Naoko san says ever so gently to me after sensei is out of earshot, “muzukashi ne.”

“Yes it’s difficult, but it’s ok! I will keep at it!” I reply.

Soon it is lunch again! I am really enjoying the cooking here. Naoko san has brought homegrown spinach and some noodles, and she declares that she will be teaching me how to make tamago yaki!

It is … quite simple really! All it takes is to keep rolling the thin layers of egg together each time a new layer is poured into the pan. Excited to learn this new dish so I can show off Kenneth back home!

For spinach, we just boil it in salted water and add some fish flakes and a dash of soy sauce when it’s done. So healthy! “No chemicals added when farming too,”. Naoko tells me. “It took around 2 months to grow this as it was winter.” Ahh, the fruits of labor! I thank her husband for the farming work that led to these luscious vegetables.

For noodles, we add in some mushrooms that I bought earlier and ta-da! Wonderful!

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Feeling very fulfilled, Naoko san muses, “Don’t you think it’s time for some tea and something sweet?” She loves the pineapple tarts I brought from Singapore and we boil some water to make green tea. How relaxing!

I take the chance to ask her about mino ware, which is the famous style originating from this area and I take notes as she describes them to me. It is characterized by three main glazes; namely oribe (green), kiseto (yellow), and shino (white). Mino as a style is also associated with avant garde designs, as they don’t conform to traditional forms.

There is something about these colours which is familiar to me but I cannot not put a finger to it, until by chance I notice a picture of all these glazes being used together on a pot. That is when I realize they are the same three colours as the famous Tang san cai pottery!

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Image via here.

It’s pretty cool that here I am; at the crossroads of two pottery cultures that have intersected ancient years ago. Hopefully I can create a new contemporary style out of these colours!

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