It is quiet in the studio this morning as I throw yunomi. The children are off at their various schools, Mika has gone to work at her new job as assistant to the curator at the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art and I have the house to myself. The kettle whispers on the stove and the fire occasionally pops and crackles. Just me and the clay in the pale winter light. As I relax into the rhythm of making these shapes, allowing the amorphous clay to find it's form within the forces at work upon it on the wheel, I remember my first years here in Japan. What was once alien and exotic has become so familiar.
Yesterday I was invited to the elementary school to give the children there a talk about Mashiko Pottery. Next month there will be a follow up seminar with thirty or so teachers from the area, with myself, the head of the Mashiko Tourism Association and the Vice President of the Mashiko Pottery Retailers association heading a panel discussion. Last night I sat opposite the boys at the kitchen table, helping them with their homework. Occasionally I would reach across the table and correct their kanji, upside down. I suddenly realize that in just a few days I will have been in Japan for twenty-one years.
The differences which seemed so significant when I first came here were only superficial after all. The customs and language which bind a race or culture together are only a veneer of commonality that allows them to interact with each other. Beneath that veneer are individuals as diverse in personal values, belief and perspective as in whatever community or family you find yourself in. One needs only to think about how different siblings can be to understand that. Beyond that, however, underpinning our sense of self, is our common humanity. Regardless of race, creed or language, we humans share our need to love and be loved, we all find beauty in the wonder of nature, we are all moved by kindness. We have more in common than we realise most of the time, but we get confused by superficialities. As long as people keep on insisting that there is a difference between East and West, no number of bridges will be enough.
I cut the next Yunomi from the wheel and discover that the ware boards are full, and I have no place to put it. I suppose it must be time for tea. And whether the people who eventually use these cups drink green tea or earl grey, coffee or oolong tea, the hand that holds the cup will be a hand like yours or mine, the lip that drinks from it a lip like the one you love. There are those who romance about the mystic East, but I have discovered that if you go far enough East, you arrive back home.