Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Far Enough East

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.


  1. Happy New Year Euan-san. Another wonderful post as always. Love reading your story, so soothing. Funny that you’ve almost lived in Japan as long as I did! And checking kids’ kanji in upside down... this is something remarkable, right? (My husband is trying hard to learn Japanese, but very difficult because of the environment he is in, I hardly speak much here either, which doesn’t help...) Anyway I can feel the similar by having encountered to the different culture, all the individuals underneath matter. Thankfully I made good friends around me and get on well with my step kids. Must say I am still learning many many things, though. I suppose that will never stop in my life. :) Have a lovely week. xm

  2. amen-amen- amen
    One day as i looked at our family which is a mix of white, black and brown I thought of how we are the American melting pot.
    sometimes you do not chosen who you get to love you just learn how.

  3. Dear Euan

    Your post are always very inspiring.

    Cold I ask a daft question? Yunomi and tea bowls have no handles and I know from experience when I pick up my mug of tea that its very hot, you couldn't do it without a handle, I also know there is a special way to pick up a tea bowl. But is the tea colder than here in blighty cos even picking it up the right way you would surely burn your fingers?

  4. Well said mate.
    btw, other anonymous, Y's and T b's are not too bad to hold as they are designed to be thicker in those parts that one would naturally grasp. Also, during the t ceremony, you wouldn't be holding them for a long period of time and the t would only have started off @ 85* anyway.

  5. Euan, if I add up all of the time I have spent in Japan over the last decade it comes to about 3 months,- Including my first trip when Alice was 3yrs old.
    The effects of those 3 months are concentrated like a good stock within my memories.
    They conjures up a Nation with a respect for ceramics akin to none and a people and inhabitants whose respect for and reliance on craft skills brings hope for humanity.

  6. Happy New Year long lost & now found dear friend, Euan you really have to write your memoirs in Japan, it would be a wonderful journey to share & I know it would be a best seller, your words are pure magic. Love to your family from your Aussie mate x x x

  7. Euan you write beautifully about important things. Folk ask me if I get bored making bowls but in repetitive work the mind if freed.

  8. Euan, I am so envious to read another wonderful story of your life! ~because I am still looking for my place in life..... after all this time. I lived in Japan for 14 years and I grew to love it and the people; even though I felt at home I didn't find myself so I chose to leave and now I miss... most of all the art and the people.
    The best to you & your family,

  9. Thank you all, and happy new year!
    Full immersion is the best way to learn, and I too am still discovering new things every day. Not just language, either, but about myself, my work and the people I love. I agree that one does not get to choose who you love, and if you truly love them you accept them as they are, warts and all (and hopefully it's reciprocal!).
    I will write an entry about yunomi design and use for you "Anonymi", but for the interim, yes, 85 degrees is right, but it's still too hot to hold if you fill it up, so there are details of design and use which make it practical. Were it impractical or uncomfortable it would not become tradition. Watch this space!
    Pat and Catherine, no matter where you go, there you are, and the things which you discovered here you discovered because you were you. There is great peace and beauty in Japanese art and culture, but it resonates with the peace and beauty inside you because it's already there. And if you've got good stock after just three months, Pat, imagine the rib sticking soup you could make after simmering me for 21 years!
    Robin, you're a kindred spirit. Repetition is like breathing, and each breath is fresh air. Even more so for you than I, for wood has a more defined structure than clay, and each piece has a different individual character, even from the same tree. Finding your rhythm is part of finding your self.
    Karen, you've always been my good friend, even through the years we were out of touch. I look forward to sharing my journey with you, and I will work towards a book, even if it is only for my family and friends, though whether anyone would publish it is another matter!

  10. Hi Euan, I like your post. I have lived in Japan and have some good Japanese friends. Keep posting. Cheers. - Mehul

  11. My sister Gay Judson introduced me to your blog a few weeks ago with the conversation you had with your daughter on the subject of beautiful.
    Is there a way for anyone here to help or support you and your family at this time?
    We all so appreciate you making the effort to share your story and experience...our prayers are with you and yours.