Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Heart of Mingei

My breath steams as I light the fire in the studio this morning. Icicles hang in a crystal fringe along the eaves as I brave the predawn cold and go outside to open the storm shutters on the house. Snow has made the world a study in black and white, and it creaks beneath my boots as I cross the driveway to the kiln shed for a bundle of firewood for the living room stove as well. I carry the wood back to the house, stamping the clinging snow from my boots on the earth floor of the studio before removing them, and climb the step onto the wooden gallery floor. Sliding the paper shoji screen open, I carry the wood across the tatami mat floor to the slow combustion stove by the window and stoke the fire. This is our third winter in this house in Minakami, our new home.  It still feels strange when I drive to Mashiko, for clay or an exhibition, that a mere 200 km away, two and a half hours on the freeway,  it is a good ten degrees warmer during these winter months. However, here inside the house, and to a lesser degree the studio, we are warm and comfortable. 
Alarms start to buzz and chime as various clocks in the next room join cacophonically with the town sirens. Despite all this noise, which gradually dwindles as each snooze alarm is hit, it still requires the Daddy alarm to finally get the tribe moving. Nothing is as effective in getting a child out of a nice warm futon on a cold morning as someone removing the futon, folding it up and putting it away neatly in the next room. 
Amid the bustle of morning ablutions , Mika and I prepare obento lunches for those who need them and breakfast for all. Savoury ommelette, some stir fried vegetables, "natto" fermented soy beans with some chopped leeks, mustard and soy sauce, white rice, "umeboshi" honey pickled plums and, of course, miso soup with tofu and wakame. It is a classic Japanese breakfast today and, though we have a wide variety of western style breakfasts as well, the food is always served on hand crafted vessels, usually my own but often those made by my friends and colleagues. We always sit down together and chorus "Itadakima~su!"  sharing our meal with those we love. Even the simplest of meals, prepared with love, served on hand made vessels with care for colour and balance, can turn the everyday into art. It can make the difference between living and merely existing.
  The morning sun is a pale thumb smudge in the leaden sky as I drive the children to school through flurries of snow. I washed the rime of ice off the windscreen with a bucket of water from the bath, and the children watch in wonder as frost crystals grow before their eyes along the edges where the wipers do not reach. Nature shows us sublime beauty in the most unexpected places, if only we have eyes to see.  The understanding of this beauty is common to us all, regardless of various cultural biases. It is this common beauty that forms the heart of mingei, and the call of that beauty is what brought me to Japan.

As I enter my twenty-fifth year in Japan I am honoured to be included in the Tochigi Prefecture Mingei Association Members Exhibition. I remember the young potter who arrived at Narita with all his worldy possesions in two carrier bags and a two year plan. A new life, a new culture, a new language. I could never have imagined the journey that has brought me here.
I was once told that I should strive to live the ordinary life in  an extraordinary way.  Not success in the conventional measure, and never easy, but a simple, honest life. Full of love and laughter, beauty and hope. If, through my work, I can bring this simple beauty to the lives of others, then that is a life worth living. 
I return home through the thickening snow. Perhaps I will be able to make some pots today, or perhaps the winter tasks will keep me away from clay. It is what it is, and I am happy to be who and where I am. Yes, it has been a long and difficult journey, but I would not change a single day.
A Message from the Mingei Association

 The Tochigi Prefecture Mingei Association presents this exhibition of works by its members who are involved in the making of objects.
Our ancestors nurtured a "Culture of Handcraft" in their everyday lives, a cultural heritage which it is the mission of our association is to pass on to the next generation. As makers, those exhibiting here shoulder their part of that responsibility, however,  the hand of the user exists in the "Culture of Handcraft", and it is there that a point of completion is first achieved. We hope that many people can receive an understanding of the pleasure of selecting a handcrafted "object", along with the joy of using it. 
That is the reason why this exhibition is titled "The Craftsman's Proposal for Life".
The meeting with a handcrafted "object" gives birth to a moment of resonance between the feelings of the maker and the user. At that moment the "object's" brilliance grows and fills the life of the user with colour.
This exhibition also invites you to love and cherish these "objects" 
and to "live beautifully".  It is our hope that it will give rise to many such encounters.

" A Sensibility Cultivated by Mashiko; The Craftsman's Proposal for Life."
The exhibition is of recent work, about thirty per craftsperson, by the 21 craftsman members of the Tochigi Mingei Association; Akashi Shousaku, Ishikawa Masakazu, Ohtsuka Kazuhiro, Ohtsuka Seiich, Ohtsuka Masayoshi, Okada Takahito, Ogawa Hirohisa, Kasahara Yoshiko, Sakuma Fujiya, Shimaoka Kei, Tokoi Takaichi, Hamada Shinsaku, Hamada Tomoo, Hamada Hidemine, Hagiwara Yoshinori, Higeta Masashi, Fukushima Haruo, Matsuzaki Ken, Matsuzaki Touru, Matsuzaki Osamu, and, of course, Euan Craig.

By popular demand, the exhibition has been extended till the 16th of February

1 comment:

  1. Good to read your writing once more.
    Ordinary actions and things are also special.
    Reading what you have written gives me heart to keep on trying when things get difficult or wearing.