“Boon chan!” Someone outside my door is calling my nickname. “Huiwen” is far too difficult to pronounce, but take the last character of my name (雯), remove the rainclouds above, keep the bottom (文), then translate it to Japanese, and you get “boon”, which is much easier on the tongue and makes everyone’s life better. Hence my new official Tajimi name!
Outside the door are Yoshi and Yuri, two of the young graduate students who learnt pottery at sensei’s studio. “We cooked something. Shall we go for lunch together?”
I look at my pot of instant noodles already simmering on the stove, and consider my options – stay and enjoy yummy, MSG filled, nutritionless calories; or hang out with awesome people under beautiful trees and flowers? And this is how I ended up bringing an unwieldy pot full of hot noodles to the very first Sakura picnic in my life 🙂
“Tajimi’s best spot for Sakura!” Yoshi declares dramatically as we arrive. His words are not hard to believe at all.
As we lie on our backs to admire the lovely blossoms, I can’t help but sigh aloud, “Isn’t it a pity that the flowers only bloom for such a short time?”
Yoshi smiles. “That is its beauty. If it is eternal, it is not as beautiful anymore. We call it hakanai (儚い).”
And so, armed with an English-Japanese dictionary, we go on to talk about everything under this clear blue sky. We talk about the Japanese spirit of wabi-sabi, the maker’s spirit, the famous tea master sen no rikyu, culture, tradition and what we each enjoy about pottery.
I ask them, “What is the meaning of life to you?”
“To be like an animal,” says Yoshi.
“Life is training,” says Yuri.
For me, it’s to love, and to be joyful.
Because we barely understand each other, it is quite hard to grasp what we are each trying to express about the meaning of life. But then again, even if we understood each other perfectly, would it have made a difference? None of us will ever really know what life is about – why we are here, on this planet, flailing around in the sea of life for a few decades before we sink and dissolve into nothingness. But perhaps that is why life is so beautiful, and special. Just like each and every sakura flower that buds, blossoms, and finally drifts gently to the ground.
Yoshi asks if I want to see some clay material. Not knowing what he is referring to, I agree anyway. Earlier in the morning, Yoshi and I, together with a few others went to a clay factory to help prepare the free clay which the company is sponsoring for an upcoming exhibition by autistic people. That was interesting, and I am always keen to see more!
Yoshi leads us on a short expedition till we reach this small, hidden wooded area a distance from the park. He points to the ground and says, “Here is where I get my clay.” I am astounded. In Singapore, especially for the younger generation like me, we have almost no concept of obtaining anything by ourselves from the world around us without going through some form of purchase and payment. Amazing! I find out that he also makes black and white glazes from some of the stones here. I think I understand now, a little, about what Yoshi means by being “like an animal”.
We head to their house for afternoon tea, and I notice to my pleasant surprise that they actually grow vegetables for food in their garden! They show me the collection of very old ceramic shards; their own works; and even the tea bowls of our sensei’s own sensei. In a corner of their house, there is a quietly beautiful display of the season’s flowers.
I like their pieces very much, and decide to buy one. Only after I make my selection does Yoshi announce to my horror that they will not accept any payment. “Please take it,” I insist. “This is for the future of Japan’s pottery!” Finally, Yuri accepts a token payment of 1000 yen, but not before Yoshi decides to give another bowl to me.
Looking at their pure spirits, I know for sure that one day they will make their mark in this world. Even if its not by the worldly standards of success; even if their goal is always to be an amateur. And perhaps they have already found success, because what else is more important than one’s spirit? It has really been a privileged day of learning for me.
As the Japanese saying goes, “ichi go, ichi e” (一期一会), or “one time, one meeting”. Life is a series of chance encounters – let us make the best out of each single one for who knows if we will meet again?