Friday 29 November 2013

20 years...

The charcoal brazier glows red in the shadows of the gallery. The air is fragrant with charcoal and grilled chicken; this evening I dined at home. Some fresh bread from the Mitsukoshi bakery, an avocado, half price because it was perfectly ripe, a sachet of tartare sauce. One of my guests at the opening brought a bottle of red which needs to be drunk...perhaps I do, too, but one bottle of red does not a summer make. All that is lacking is a book of verse and thou...and some order to be paradise enow. For the middle of Tokyo, however, this is close enough.

It is twenty years since my first exhibition in Tokyo, here at the Ebiya Bijutsuten. A lifetime, well, thinking of my children, maybe four lifetimes ago. The eleventh of November, 1993, representing "Australian Ceramics" as part of the Australian embassy "Celebrate Australia" campaign. On the 1st of January, 1994 I married Mika in Sydney and have been working very hard at happily ever aftering ever since. It has been a long journey, and, barring earthquakes and nuclear disasters, it has been annually punctuated by a nine day sojourn here at Ebiya. This years opening was blessed with the performance of my good friends Bill and Eric. The children sang and it was a joyous celebration.

Each morning I rise and light the brazier, and after breakfast I prepare the gallery for the coming day; clearing away my futon and chattels, rearranging the display, polishing each vessel with a soft cloth. Miyake san comes down from his home on the tenth floor, replaces the water on the "kamidana" (god shelf), pays homage to the god above the door, opens the "Butsudan" (family shrine) containing his father, the eighth in the Miyake dynasty and with whom I share the tea room, and lights incense for his ancestors. After he vacuums the floors and waters the plants, the kettle has boiled and we often sit and chat over a bowl of tea in my most recent tea bowls. The bustle of Tokyo shuffles past outside, we can hear the commuters chatting to each other beyond the shoji, admiring the window display, making a verbal note to come back at lunch time....

The Gallery opens at 11:00am, and I don the official ebiya "Hanten", a light smock of sorts, open at the front, which bears the insignia of the Ebiya Bijutsuten, purveyors to the imperial household for nine generations. Miyake san makes me wear his, the "ten shuu" (shop master) hanten, for he says that while my exhibition is on, I am the master. I'm not sure that that is true, but it is a sign of his humility that he should make such a gesture. He is a very kind and generous soul, and I am proud to count him as one of my very best friends. 

Visitors arrive, one after another, many of them old friends, some of them visiting for the first time. The gallery stands on the corner of Chuo dori, the main street of Tokyo, not five hundred metres from the Nihombashi Bridge, the geographical centre of Japan. All roads lead to Nihombashi, the Bridge of Japan, and even the river which flows beneath it is called the "Bridge of Japan River", a temporal conundrum in and of itself! 

Ebiya is a dealer in antiquities, and has been since 1673. My work is displayed on furniture from the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. In the "Tokonoma" display shelf, Miyake san has hung a Kakejiku scroll from the mid edo period, a painting of a shrimp, its back bent, a sign of longevity, a "Tai" (Schnapper) which is a play on words implying "Omedetai" which is a great celebration, and "Tako" (Octopus) which, when written in different Kanji as a pun, means "great good fortune". What better symbols could be imagined for a dealer in antiquities, the name of which translates as "Prawn shop", its Master and an expatriate Australian who form the core of the "Oyajigag Fukyuurenmei" (Society for the revival of old bloke puns).

"Okyakusan" in Japanese encompasses both customers and guests, and we greet each guest as we would a friend. We explain the work to them, share tea with them in my cups, laugh with them...many of them have been using my vessels for years and come to add to their collection; not to display but to use. So many of them tell me how my pots have become a part of their everyday lives, and that they find solace and peace in them which is a relief from the stress of modern life.

Sometimes we sit around the charcoal brazier and talk about life, the susurration of the kettle hanging on its "Jizaikagi" hook above the embers weaving subtly through the conversation, the wall clocks striking the approximate hours, one after another.

The vessels sit comfortably on the furniture of ages past. They belong here. There is a beauty which can be found in the natural functionality of life, which is not swayed by fashion and transcends language and culture. A beauty which is humanistic and common to us all, and which is relevant regardless of era. It is this universal beauty for which I strive, and there is no better place to test it than in the hands and on the tables of my customers and guests, in the hands and on the tables of professional chefs, and in the peace and harmony of the classic furnishings of this gallery. 

Ever since the first opening party here, the food has been provided by Chef Hashimoto Touru of Kappo Toyoda, a fifth generation Japanese chef and one of the finest Kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo. Much to my chagrin I was unable to provide enough vessels for a course menu at his restaurant this time. But we have great plans!

This week I have dined at several restaurants in Nihombashi which are using my vessels, and it is of immeasurable value to learn the role these vessels play in the meal, the harmonies that they make with the food and the orchestration that the chef creates with the total meal. I will take these lessons home and strive to add to that great song. 

In the end, it is those who use my vessels, who find joy in them, that bring my vessels to completion. I offer them here, in the best way that I can, so that others may see them and feel the spirit with which they were made. I wait here for those who have used my vessels to tell me how they fare. I bide here waiting to return to my loved ones and share my life with them. I will be here a few more days, and then I can go home to where I truly belong. Till then, I await you here, at Ebiya in Nihombashi, as I have for twenty years, and I hope for many years to come.



  1. I would give a lot to be exhibiting in such congenial surroundings. May your stay there continue to be rewarding and successful.
    Very best wishes to all of you from the UK for the season and the coming year. Kate & Steve.

  2. Hi Euan, wow ....20 years. Congrats on your show, wish I could be there to enjoy the experience.
    Christine and I will open a bottle of red tomorrow night and campai you as we share a pre Christmas meal and watch the fabulous Japanese movie 'Departures'.
    It was such an honour meeting you and sharing a very special day with you, your family and 200plus kids!
    Love to you all,

  3. You say so well everything I feel about life and pottery. May you and yours continue to thrive in your new lives .

  4. When I started reading I thought, 'Oh, I wish he had posted some photos.' But as I continued to read I found your words so evocative that I didn't need any photos. You have given me wonderful images
    All good wishes to you and your family..........*s*

    1. I have added some photos for you, I hope they are as you imagined!

  5. A very beautiful and meditative narrative - It brought the peace and serenity of the gallery,exhibit,and interactions of your routine to us, your readers. Thank you and best wishes for this and future exhibits.

  6. Thank you all, it has been a very successful exhibition, and I am proud to have been able to share it with you.

  7. Came back to re-read and there's lovely photos - thanks for the addition.