Friday 1 April 2011

The Long March

It is April. Mika opens the storm shutters and morning light streams into the bedroom, stinging my eyes and dragging me from my restless sleep. I do not remember all of my dreams, but they are haunted by images of falling masonry, moving ground and searching for the children. Mika strokes my forehead and whispers, "Good morning." She smiles. The dreams fade.
This last week has been hectic. Since our decision to establish ourselves here there has been no down time. A friend found us a 2 tonne truck for two days free use, and I drove back and forth to Mashiko with trepidation. The house needs to be cleared, paperwork put through the town hall, the kiln dismantled and moved, the childrens school affairs transfered...

The drinking water in Kasama, next to Mashiko, was deemed unsafe for children because of radiation. The list of produce unfit for human consumption grows. The nuclear reactors are not under control, though radiactivity is now leaking into the sea water rather than the atmosphere they say. The levels in the sea water are increasing. They say it will take weeks to get it under control. They say it will take months to seal the plant down. They say there is no immediate danger. They say lots of things. I suspect that they don't know. Neither do I.

We have moved a great deal of our things here now, most of the kitchen equipment, the dining table and chairs. It is difficult moving home when there is no empty home to move to. We are squeezing our belongings into corners, and what overflows I am storing in the hot house on the Sukawa field. I spent two days clearing the south half of the hot house, laying out palettes to keep our things high and dry till we have built our own storage. My brother in law's kitchen is looking like mine.

We have vegemite on home baked bread this morning. A taste of home. With all of us and Mika's parents and brother, we now prepare meals for a family of nine. The children set the table, we sit down together.

Putting our hands together we chorus, "Itadakimasu", the Japanese "Grace", we are grateful to receive this food.

It is good that I can now bake bread, as there are still days when there is none in the supermarket. Today there was no milk. Eggs are rationed, strangely there is no yoghurt...I don't know why that bothers me, it seems such an odd thing to be in shortage. Each day as I walk around the supermarket I check the labels to see where the produce originated. I am wary of contamination, albeit "within safe levels", and prefer fresh foods from Hokkaido or Shizuoka, as far afield as possible. Mika's Uncles have brought us vegetables from their own farms, near us here in the mountains. Our friends in Ichikai were relieved when their strawberries tested safe for radiation, and brought us two punnets while we were moving. Until now my concern has been to give my family a wide, varied and healthy diet...Now I pray only that it is safe.

The phone rings. It is the gallery from Utsunomiya calling to cancel my exhibition which was scheduled to begin on April 21st. There are no customers. Perhaps later in the year when things have settled down? "We look forward to exhibiting your new work." So do I. Till then there is a kiln shed, studio and kiln to build and a family to feed. I thank them for their efforts, I know that they are doing their best too. I hang up the phone.

Mika and I go to the local town office to register our new address. The other day we registered our move from Ichikai with the town office there. We fill in the forms, they check my Alien Card, we transfer the childrens school records. The papers are stamped, we are now citizens of Minakami.

The schools are close, and have either been recently rebuilt or reinforced to make them earthquake safe. The teaching staff are friendly and relaxed, understanding of the situation we are in and I believe they will be supportive of the children while they come to terms with their new lives. While we are at the high school it starts to rain. Whoever thought I would be scared of rain? But I remind myself that the prevailing winds come from the west, it's's ok..

Two letters await us when we arrive home. One is from the Ichikai town office telling us our house there is officially uninhabitable. It is reassuring to know that we didn't over react after all. The other is the quote from the builder. A simple square shed, 7.2 meters on each side, a half slab of reinforced concrete for under the seven tonne kiln, wooden frame and corrugated iron roof. No walls, windows or fixtures at this stage. Just foundation, frames and roof, everything else I will do myself as materials come to hand. 1,310,000 yen, give or take. It's only the first quote. We file the letters for later.

After lunch Isaka san from Gallery St Ives in Tokyo phones. He has organised a five person exhibition in Tokyo of Mashiko potters affected by the earthquake, and a percentage of the sales will go to help the rebuilding fund. Ken Matsuzaki, Tomoo Hamada, Minoru Suzuki, Yuchiko Baba and me. It will start on April 16th. Can I provide him with 50 pieces at such short notice? It just so happens that I can. More if he needs them...

Mika's cousin visit's, her three daughters will be going to the same school as the boys, she can also lend us the uniform for Seans preschool...

The stars are bright in a clear sky this evening as I walk with my family to the local hot spring. It is perhaps ten minutes walk, and only the residents of this district can use it. A priveledge we can now claim. Down the hill in the dark, the children giggling, the scuff of our shoes on the gravel.

Up here in the mountains the stars do not have to compete with city lights, and they twinkle merrily in the cold black sky.

The "Onsen" is little more than a shed, divided down the middle into men's and lady's. There is a small changing room on each side, and an honesty box in which to place 100 yen for the upkeep of the facilities.

The boys and I go through the sliding doors into the steamy bathroom, a faint sulfurous fragrance in the air. The bath itself, a four inch thick wooden box into which the hot spring water flows continuously from a pipe, is currently occupied by three old men. They stare at us curiously as we greet them, but as we scoop bowls of water from the bath and wash ourselves I explain who we are and before long we are chatting like old friends.

One of them grows cherries, the ones that Mika's mother sends to us each year, and he knows all about us from her. Another is the owner of the general store, apparently a distant relative.

The water is gaspingly hot as we sink into the tub, and I feel the tension leeching out of me into the water. We are not alone, though sometimes it feels that way, and with the help and support of family and friends we will come through this.

I walk behind Mika and the children as we make our way back home. Sean sets the pace, we all match in with him, we all stay together.

Tomorrow morning, very early, I will go back to the house in Ichikai to say my final farewells to the community there, who accepted me so warmly into their midst, and to pack up what remains for the final move.

It has been a long march from the housing commission estates of Broadmeadows in Melbourne to the mountains of Minakami in Japan, and fortunes seem to change with the wind. But I am not alone, and wither so ever the winds of fortune may blow, I will persevere.

I am a potter, and a potters strength lies in their ability to remain steady. Yes, the march has been long, but this last month has been the longest March of all. I am glad it is April.


  1. Last night, as I was falling off to sleep, I thought of you and your family. I began by imagining that you were trekking back to get your things, I imagined the kiln coming down, brick by brick, and your work boxed and traveling to the mountains with you. So strange, but also beautiful, that you would come into my consciousness as you have only been known to me since right after the earthquake.

    I was struck by what you write about being afraid of rain..... yes, of course - intense!

    Wishing you continued safety, abundant steady ground, healthy air, and some yogurt.

  2. You wrote honestly and eloquently about a very serious situation. It's good that you could re-locate to such pleasant surroundings and with such nice people. It's good that you have such a strong support system.

    I tend not to believe sensational news or, to hold the thought until more evidence comes in. Having said that, it appears criticism of the Japanese government for not being upfront with the people sooner was justified. It also appears there's no short-term fix to the radiation situation. When my hub and I see video footage of people in shelters, we often talk about what we would do. Our answer thus far has been to do what you've done. You do have the 'Australia option' and it may come to that. I hope not.

  3. I have been thinking of you and your family day to day wondering if you have been informed of the devistation that surounds you, the ongoing concern of the reactors meltdown, the shortage of food, the acid rain. My god I pray for you all. The people of Japan how much more? Safe wishes to you all. David, Southern Grampians Australia.

  4. we are thinking of you often and it is good to hear that life is moving along even if it is slowly.
    keep the faith and hold your family tight.
    If we wanted to send you mail the address below is the one we would use-correct?

  5. It is good to hear that things are going in the right direction.
    I hope that the pots sell well

  6. Welcome to April!
    And may there be a blessing in these turn of events for your family and you. Life is truly never dull and so full of beauty when seen through the eyes of an artist.

    Best of luck with settling in to the next chapter of your life.
    Renee & David

  7. Thank you for the update. I look and anticipate daily for a new post from you, hoping that life is getting easier, safer, and happier for you and your family. I have never met you and probably never will, yet you have become a part of my life. I wish you a speedy recovery to new happiness.

  8. We are thinking of you in pottery tutor and friends ask how you are and what is happening.... You are blessed to have Mika's family, it is hard now but what would you have done without them? All things happen for a reason, however hard it seems at the time...I think there is a bigger plan for you my friend...have faith....have strength...sending love and support your way! Am really enjoying my sculpture classes...thanks for inspiring me to go back to art...I think that is where I belong.... K x x x

  9. Euan, you and your family are an inspiration to us all. Good luck with your final journey back to your past home and friends.

  10. May you & your family find many blessings whilst rebuilding your lives & new home. Stay safe.

  11. Hi Euan,
    you write so beautifully..I am,therefore, quite lost for words.Such a rich life with family who loves us and takes us in, not everyone is as fortunate .You and your family are truly blessed
    Euan.I see Minakami as a great forest, the trees parting to accept you, then closing again after you become part of it,protected and loved.
    Take care

  12. I'd love to know more about the Gallery St. Ives exhibition so that I can publicize it on my blog to interested folks in Tokyo. If you have a moment and more information, please post it or pop over and send me an email. Good luck and God speed! Jacqueline (from Tokyo Jinja)

  13. Dear Tokyo Jinja,
    you are very difficult to contact, please email me So that I can provide you with dates.

  14. I just found your blog through another potter. My only connection with you is that I am a potter, too. I pray that you, your family, and your community will continue to heal and rebuild. Also, that you can continue your beautiful work! Wishing you the best! Pam

  15. You and your family astound me with your strength... and yes, your steadiness, too. :)

  16. Thank you for continuing to share your life with us...for me it is extremely touching...reminding me that being in Tampa during NCECA where I visited some pottery exhibits and saw various just one way of viewing pottery on this day, at this time. Sending continuing good wishes for you and your family and friends...
    Barb Rogers

  17. Lost for words but thinking of you.

  18. I am catching up with your story and I am sitting here with such admiration for you and your family and hope your strength and courage keep your spirits hopeful. I hope you stay safe and wish you well in your move.