Saturday 10 November 2012

The Start of a New Job!!!!!! :)

I started a new job today! I'm working as a potter's assistant near Bristol train station in the run up to Christmas, helping finish work and run a stall at the Bath Christmas market. And it's paid!!!!! However, the best bit is that this stretch is actually mainly a trial run to see if the potter might want to hire me in the future, when I graduate, for a longer period/s. There is also the possibility of a pay rise. This is fantastic for me, as I'd been planning on getting a part time job to supply a steady income, while I try and make a career for myself in ceramics/art and it uses my expertise :)

The potter who has hired me is really nice and friendly, but seems quite quiet, and mainly had me making tree decorations using slabs of clay and cookie cutters, and also glazing "here's several I made earliers" for the kiln. I think he was still trying to get the measure of me after having met me when I visited the studio to see what he wanted/whether I was suitable, so it was simple stuff. He thinks of himself very much as a studio potter making functional ware that the public are demanding, and it reminds me of Emma Bridgewater's stuff, except in terracotta. He makes teapots, bowls, mugs and other kitchen ware in a very simple English style decorated with coloured slips and polka dots. He says he prefers the traditional honey glazes and styles, but the public is demanding colour and polka dots! He compares himself to Isaac Button (and really likes his practice), an incredible man who was the last country potter. Before mass production, this country was full of craftsmen like him who produced work from scratch (he dug his own clay from the bottom of his field) to supply people's daily needs. This amazing guy could turn a ton of clay into pots in ONE DAY. I'm extremely jealous!

Conversely, he also likes Damien Hirst with his half a cow in a tank of preservative and diamond encrusted skull. 

We chatted on and off as we worked throughout the day, about all sorts, everything from art to ceramics specifically, to Obama and the sparrows he feeds outside the studio window. A couple of things he said about business caught my attention. First, gallery commissions are going up and some of the good ones now expect to take 50% with VAT on top, meaning the artist only receives maybe 42% of the sale price! Using galleries is getting expensive, but the potter said he just raised his prices for the galleries so that he still received enough profit. Secondly, that he attends Stroud farmers market every other week, and that this was worth twenty galleries worth of earnings! He said he could achieve a weeks wages in about four hours that the market is on, as handmade products are very popular there, and the clientèle are well off and can pay the prices. Even minor celebrities occasionally go, such as Lily Allen's dad. This is definitely something I'd be interested in getting involved in, especially as it's a regular selling event.

Also and thirdly, there is a Bristol potter who considers himself a businessman first and a potter second who supplies the National Trust with work to sell in their gift shops and makes part of his success through that. I've seen this work myself, it isn't dissimilar to my potter's work, but the hand thrown terracotta is glazed with (at a guess) alkaline glazes instead, which give a cascade of colour not dissimilar to flambe in appearance, but different hues. It's practical and very pretty - I can see it would have a wide appeal. I find his attitude very interesting as it's unusual for a potter to be more concerned with business than clay, and for a businessman to consider ceramics as a worthwhile business opportunity, but it's good to know such opportunities might exist.

I worked from 10am until 7pm, then headed home by train. When I got back, my Dad gave me an article to read on a ceramicists co operative gallery in Bristol's Christmas Steps art quarter called "Potters". It's not for profit, and the artists all have to pledge to work in the gallery for eight days a year to keep costs down. It's been running for 17 years and has a regular customer base. This is also something I'm very interested in becoming involved with! It sounds like a fantastic idea.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

My Little Pony Exhibition!

So, I don't think I mentioned I'm going to take part in an exhibition on my little pony? It sounded like too much fun to pass up! A group of us are receiving an old style my little pony, and after that what we do with them is up to us! Except my friend is banned from burning one and exhibiting the melted gooey remains. There are lots of ponies online which have  been customized; as my little pony is such a nostalgic icon of childhood, people have taken them and started using them as a medium for exploring characters and expressing themselves. There are some uncanny characturisations of everyone from Alien to Gandalf to Oriental princesses: here's some of my favourites

Aragorn pony

Alien pony

Tony Stark pony

Storm trooper pony

Chinese princess Yang Mi

and Tian Li

She's just rather cool

I also saw a really cool one that had been fitted out as a lanpshade.


My friend Kayleigh Young is organising the exhibition (, and gave me my pony today!

She needs a bit of a clean up, and I want to straighten the hair so it's nice and sleek again (thinking an iron on the lowest setting might do it if I'm careful). The hair probably also needs to go black.

I have a few ideas on what to do with her. Despite the daunting precedent set by the above artists, I might try and do my pony up as a shrine maiden, geisha or samurai! From what I can make out, the additions are usually done with a kind of plasticky modelling paste, so I might try milliput, but I also want to try sculpting a purely porcelain pony sculpture in full geisha regalia, and a teapot with oriental ponies on the side having a tea ceremony. However, first I need to draw and brainstorm. We shall see where this goes!

Something amazing

I just wanted to share this - I thought it was amazing and surreal, something far beyond my own experiences so far so I felt like I could slip into a fantasy world for a while :)

Although, of course, this is real.

Image posted on facebook by Hannah Mermaid, check her out! She's an incredible ocean activist and professional mermaid/model.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Water and wisteria

Since discovering hanakotoba (Japanese language of flowers), I've been curious about what the significance of wisteria is in Japan. It was in bloom growing wild in the mountains when I visited Nara and Kyoto, and was the token flower of a shinto shrine I visited. I'd never seen it growing wild before, and it took my breath away! Every now and then you'd see a tree draped in purple among all the green in the steep sided forests where the vine had climbed through all the branches. Unfortunately we drove past all this too quickly for me to manage to get a decent photo, but here are some shots I got from the shrine!.

A shrine maiden with wisteria hair ornament. The hexagonal box says  omikuji, which  is a kind of Japanese fortune telling

Wisteria and brass (I think?) lanterns hung on the shrine building. The lanterns were everywhere, as if the shrine was a glorified Christmas tree, and they were all different, some broken and tarnished, others bright gold and brand new. It must look incredible when they are all lit.

Anyway, I just found this website talking about the symbolism of wisteria:

It's really interesting. The site talks about the Japanese story of a wisteria maiden, a lady holding a branch of wisteria in a painting who falls in love with a man. She becomes so besotted that she steps out of the painting to capture his heart, but her attempts are futile and her love remains unrequited. Rejected, she steps back into the lonely world of the painting with her wisteria. The symbolism here not only talks about lost love, but the endurance of the heart in the face of rejection as well, as the weeping blossoms bloom from an incredibly durable vine. It strikes a chord with me, as I strongly believe that no matter how impossible or hard things are, there is always hope while you believe in it. This is true of art, tradition and culture too. However irrelevant or lost they may seem to have become, if one person finds something meaningful in them, then they will endure. This can clearly be seen in the case of Egyptian hieroglyphs, a written language lost and indecipherable until the finding of the Rosetta stone thousands of years later.

There are other meanings to wisteria too:

  • "Honor
  • Memory
  • Patience
  • Endurance
  • Longevity
  • Exploration
  • Creative expansion
  • Releasing burdens
  • The duality of love
  • Victory over hardship"
"Shin Buddhism also views the wisteria meaning is as a symbol of prayer, or thoughtful reverence for the same reason. The branches and blossoms seem to lower their head in gentle supplication. These vine gestures naturally bring to mind our need for peace, quiet, and time to honor the divine essence (of our own understanding)."

This fits in with the meditative qualities of tea drinking and the tea ceremony - exactly the ideas I want to convey with my pieces.

"Flora records indicate wisteria has been known to live up to 100 years or more, and so here it picks up its symbolism of longevity and immortality. European families mark the ages of generations passing with the growth of this vine, and so it makes sense the vine embodies an essence of immortality (as fathers and grandfathers tell their sons of stolen kisses beneath the same wisteria that grew during the day of their great grandfathers)."

This suits the idea of tradition, a thing that endures and stays the same through the ages. I also like things that speak of the past yet continue to maintain a thing of the present. That is the wonderful thing about Japan, the modern and the ancient exist and carry on side by side, alive and full of vitality. Most old things in England are in decline, being replaced or have become museums.

"Most interestingly, is the wisteria pattern of growth. Like most vines (and ivys), wisteria expansive tendrils grow out in a spiraling motion. The meaning of spirals deal with expansion of consciousness. Spirals also point to our awareness as the inner-most center. This awareness spans outward in a spiraling motion to indicate our influence on the outside world. In this manner, vines and ivys also remind us of our interconnectedness with everything on every level."

Meditation and reflection. Also, spirals represent creative energy, and tend to creep into my work when left to myself, so I think they are a reflection of me and my thought processes on quite a deep level. I like the flow and movement of them, and the energy that suggests.

Which leads me on to: water and flow.

A woodblock print of the whirlpool at Naruto in Japan - I have a copy of this pinned to my kitchen door in  the form of a calendar page! The energy and lines are really expressive.
The same whirlpool today!
Naruto against it's modern backdrop. The power and movement the deep texture of the water suggests is captivating. I'd love to see this one day, it's such an incredible and mysterious force of nature, and it doesn't seem to eat tourist boats alive contrary to stereotypes :)

Water and flowing movement are a huge part of working with clay, yet I have barely scratched the surface when exploring them. They are also a major part of the general backdrop of Japan - Japan is a collection of islands that relies on the sea after all. The general feeling I got from Japanese ceramics was that it always worked with the flow and nature of clay to achieve it's shape and beauty. It never fought it in an obsessive fight for perfection and a ridiculous level of extravagance, desperate to push the "boundaries" like so much Western ceramics seems to, and like I felt I do looking at all that amazing work. I felt stupid and pretentious.


Continuing what I started in Japan, I am now starting to experiment much more with really thick liquid clay, finger marks and textures, inspired by the movement of water, wind, and clay on the wheel. I'm creating bowls in moulds by gunking the slip in, spreading it around, dragging my fingers through, and pulling up spikes or throwing droplets into the surface. I'm also throwing bowls, teapots and flasks and allowing the motion of the wheel to pull thick slip off my fingers onto the surface of the clay in spirals and amazing textures. It's actually amazingly releasing and relaxing working in this way, the act of making feels more meditative and I feel more creative. It has a similar feel to hakeme, except that uses a rice straw brush instead, but the contemplation, and then the simple sweeping strokes are just the same. I love the effects - they are much bolder and clearer than my previous techniques achieved. Photos soon!

Monday 22 October 2012


Just discovered this while looking for imagery to work from today - the Japanese language of flowers! I've long known about the old Victorian tradition of sending messages encoded in the choice and arrangement of flowers in bouquets, and had heard of a similar Japanese tradition, but never come across a list of meanings before:

彼岸花 /
Higanbana /
Red Spider LilyNever to meet again/Lost memory/Abandonment
The idea of never again and lost memories intrigues me as a way of expressing the losing of cultural identity, as a result of technological and societal "progress", but also that feeling of something missing that comes from individual isolation, due to modern expectations and lifestyle meaning people do not spend so much time together or at all. This is in direct contrast to the idea of a tea ceremony, where people gather together specifically to enjoy sharing each others company and tea together.

蓮華RengeLotusFar from the one he loves/Purity/Chastity

鷺草SagisoHabenaria radiataMy thoughts will follow you into your dreams

Nice image of the conscious going towards the unconscious - of waking ideas and things invading dreams, stable, sure things becoming evanescent and haunting, from established objects to transient shadows that cannot really be grasped, but stay with you. It strikes a chord with me somehow, but one I try not to think about because it makes me sad.

Anyway, much of the language has similarities to the English actually, and I wonder how many of the flowers listed here have been "borrowed" from floriography (Victorian flower language), as with other Japanese words like "Ti shaatsu" (T shirt). Red, white and yellow roses are the same in both languages, but the poppies are different however. I shall investigate further!

P.S. - I don't think much of their illustrative photographs. Violets are not purple pansies! :S


Just looked on one of the reference pages on wiki:

This seems much more authentic! It seems some flower meanings date back to Roman and Greek mythology, hence similar meanings in different cultures today. However, I like the spin that has been put on the meaning of a rose in Japan:

I "language of flowers is suitable for you, Embarrassment, brilliant, shy charm, Fresh, innovative, love you, and I, All your cute, love, Beauty, innocence, refreshing whimsical " (Rose) "Innocent, refreshing" (rose vine) "Special achievement" (Rose Mini)  

This, roughly translated from google translate (haha), means that roses symbolise 
- Shy embarrassment
- All of you is cute/charming
- Charm
- Affection/love
- Whimsical beauty
- Innocence
- Brilliant
- etc

Shy embarrassment is typical of the Japanese romance I have seen portrayed, and gives an oriental twist to the plain English I love you, but I especially like the whimsical beauty idea - a beauty that does not do what you expect, or follow any of the usual rules. A unique, bohemian beauty :)

I also like the meaning of plum - "It is a tough beauty" - I like the idea of a beauty that can endure and shine in a harsh place where other beauty does not survive.

This site should also be useful for grouping together flowers in bloom at a similar time to give a more natural feel to imagery I use, as it gives flowering periods.

Friday 19 October 2012

End of summer, a new semester :)


It's been such a long time since I posted on here, I desperately need to finish uploading everything about Japan!

I'm starting to be able to look beyond my life at uni now. I feel I can see first steps to take beyond graduation for the first time, and am signing up for some shows and looking at getting a studio and part time job in ceramics! The final year of my MA starts on Monday.

Things I'm applying for:

Campus stand at Rufford Earth and Fire 21st - 23rd June
Helper at Aberystwyth International Ceramic Festival 24th June - 1st July
Helper at Hatfield Art in Clay 5th - 7th July
Newcomer's stand at Farnham Art in Clay 16th - 17th November

and a couple of ceramic places for part time jobs - one in a supply shop, the other as a potter's assistant.

Anyway, watch this space! I'll keep you posted.

Also, found this on facebook today - I shall have to include it in my investigations of Japanese glazes. Different country, different glaze ingredients! Makes international glaze recipe sharing that bit more interesting...

Tough question here: Does anyone have a typical analysis chemical breakdown for Ashinuma Ishi (also known as Aka-ko)? [This is the original stone that forms the basis for the Mashiko Kaki (persimon) glaze.] I have a good "look alike" using US materials but want to see the original chemistry, if I can. I don't want to go to the expense of having some of the already ground rock that I have on-hand analyzed at a lab (if I can help it). Thanks in advance for any help.
Like ·  ·  · 1 September at 16:31
  • Seen by 35
  • John Neely Akako aka Mashiko Stone
    Silica/Alumina ratio: 8.1:1
    Equivalent Molecular Weight: 617.150

    Molecular Formula of Akako aka Mashiko Stone:

    K20 0.110 Al2O3 0.815 SiO2 6.567
    Na2O 0.230 Fe2O3 0.238 TiO2 0.052
    CaO 0.383 P2O5 0.010 MnO2 0.014
    MgO 0.277 LOI 2.091

    Percentage Analysis

    63.91 % SiO2 
    13.46 % Al2O3
    1.68 % K2O 
    2.31 % Na2O 
    1.81 % MgO 
    3.48 % CaO 
    0.23 % P2O5 
    6.16 % Fe2O3
    0.19 % MnO 
    0.67 % TiO2 
    6.10 % L.O.I.
    100.00 % TOTAL
    from Katou Etsuzo page141, Yuuchougo no Kihon
    from building stone called Ashinumaishi or Outani-ishi
  • John Baymore John....... THANK YOU!!!!! Exactly what I was looking for. And amazingly fast also. You da' man!
  • John Neely You might find this substitute using US materials useful, too.

    Mashiko stone substitute

    KONA F-4 FELDSPAR 34.7 

    FLINT 27.1 
    EPK KAOLIN 18.6 
    TALC 5.7 
    BONE ASH .4 

Perhaps this will help Allen and I develop our copper reds further still. It's interesting to cursorily note the differences and similarities here between our glaze recipes and the American substitute. Plenty of feldspar and flint like ours, and bone ash and titanium like in our purple glaze, but the iron and manganese is very different. Of course, this isn't for a copper red, but both glazes aim at reddish hues. Time to play with oxides methinks :)

Thursday 26 April 2012

Diary 12/04/12


I woke up just before 6 A.M. today with the light seeping through my curtains. I went into the courtyard and the morning light was so beautiful, I went and got my camera and took some pictures. There’s a sakura tree just outside Tomoko’s studio, and the light was filtering through all the petals.
After that, I went and waited for Tomoko sat by the kotatsu with my crochet. After a while I heard her alarm go off, and then a bit later she came down. She told me that she’d called me yesterday at 7 P.M. but I was too fast asleep! We had breakfast (baguette and banana for me, baguette and yoghurt for Tomoko) and we chatted again, half in English half in Japanese. It turns out Tomoko loves Disney, and has a few Disney themed bits and bobs around her living room. She’s been to Disneyland in Tokyo and Orlando too, and asked if the European one was popular in Europe too. She also asked if I like Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation house similar to Disney.

Then we got talking about Japanese tea, after I put the water into the teapot too hot (oops). Tokoname is famous for it’s teapots as the clay here is very good for brewing tea in, so there is a lot of expertise here. Tomoko showed me two of her little teapots, called kyushu. Her favourite one is very tiny and incredibly thin, and she picked it up and sat it on the end of its handle to show me the balance. It looked exactly like something Allen would do with his ceramics, find some precarious and delicate way of standing a piece just because he could! Both teapots had been thrown in quite a dark clay, and the bigger one had a kind of impressed pattern which looked like it was made with a saw blade halfway up the side, and a metal mesh for a sieve instead of pierced clay. The lid rested on an inner gallery, and had no tab to hold it in, the Japanese place a hand over the lid when they pour. They also use side handles. Tomoko said she’d try and arrange for the artist of her favourite teapot to show me how he makes his teapots. I can’t wait! As she called him, he truly is a master to make such delicate and well balanced pots.

She’d given me a wheel thrown porcelain cup to drink out of, and I noticed it was very translucent, so I told her it was much better than English porcelain, which surprised her a lot. Apparently there are a lot of porcelain recipes here, some specifically for translucency, and many artists make lights with it. These artists are famous for being scrupulously clean to prevent iron contamination! Tomoko said she was too messy to work with it and never uses it, and I told her I work with red clay and porcelain. She then taught me that I was saying it wrong – terracotta is aka tsuchi, not aka do. The kanji for earth has more than one pronunciation, and I’d got the wrong one! She showed me the writing and a couple more words in Japanese. Apparently a clay mixer (I think ball mill) is do ren ki – dorenki. I told her I wanted to compile a glossary of ceramic words, so I could maybe make some kind of Japanese to English ceramic dictionary, and she showed me a book by Penny Simpson, Lucy Kitto and Kanji Sodeoka called “The Japanese Pottery handbook”. It’s amazing, it has everything in there, information and translation, even for all the chemical names. She has leant it to me, so I can study up! However, suddenly my idea seems a bit beside the point, Penny has done something similar already, but more comprehensive. I’ll probably still do it though, as Penny’s book is a text book, and the words are not in alphabetical order, so it will be useful to have a reference where it is easy to look words up.

After that, she told me next weekend will be a Spring festival in Tokoname, with traditional artforms on display she is going to take me too. There will also be one just for crafts later in April, so we will yoyo between her gallery and the rest of the festival. Today, after she has done her laundry and everything, she’s going to take me on a tour of Tokoname. I can’t wait!

Tomoko’s gallery, studio and home from the footpath


Brain overload! Tokoname has a lot of galleries, and a ceramic mall, and we went around a lot. I saw a lot of very beautiful nerikomi, an interesting mix of marbled clay and a technique similar to Sasha Wardell’s. I really want to find out the name of the artist making those pieces. Tomoko told me that a layer of iron was painted over the marbled clay and then scooped away to reveal ovals of veined colour. There were a few artists I thought I recognised, and a lot I didn’t. One chawan had an amazing lustre glaze on similar to Miyazaki Miyamura, but I’m pretty sure Tomoko said the artist was called Murasaki. She didn’t recognise Miyamura’s name. The glaze was very crystalline , but the crystals were crowded and not obvious from a distance. It didn’t seem to be high fired either, but the clay body was white. I also saw the National Treasure, Yamada, everywhere in special display cabinets with photos of the artist. There were some amazing glazes too, many with jun effects, and even a couple of pale pink ones. Of course, there was a lot of oribe! There was also plenty of white engobes, one artist using sgraffito in it, which I really liked. Her plates and bowls were very simple white with a dun clay underneath, and flowers or vegetables drawn in. Another favourite was an artist who appeared to be using porcelain, or a very pure white clay, and left rough torn edges all over the surface so metal oxides could be rubbed in. The pieces I saw used copper, but some used silver which tarnished to multicoloured hues over six years. What really struck me was how skilled the Japanese are at using composition, form, line and texture simply to produce the best effect, and how much they used the qualities of the clay to create beautiful pieces. It made English ceramics look very contrived. A lot of the pieces had no glaze at all, and were just the fired clay surface, or the glaze was poured or splashed over sections, or created by ash in the firing. It made me seriously question my practice to date. I spend too much of my time fighting my medium. Most of the galleries didn’t allow photographs (but you can pick the ceramics up and handle them). So, I plan to go back later with more time and a sketchbook!

After the galleries, we got lunch (udon noodles – I didn’t mange to politely slurp mine, as they were busy burning my lips) and later a café for tea. I had a matcha set (sweet first, then matcha and a small cup of sencha to finish), and it was far more bitter than I remembered. Apparently this café is well populated by local potters, so Tomoko said I should hang out there and try to get to know them. If I talk to them about ceramics, they might show me their work shop, or tell me their techniques. She’s friends with the owner (and has her on order for four thousand guinomi – unbelievable. Who needs that many sake cups?!) who does pottery for a hobby. The sweet (made from rice and shaped like a – maybe a sakura or camellia) was served on a stand made by her. It was utterly beautiful with the sweet on. It looked just like a slab of flat rock, except it had feet and marks from the wadding it stood on in the anagama. The rock effect was caused by the rough edge. She ripped the clay when it was leather hard. Everyone was very friendly, and Tomoko got me to introduce myself to them in Japanese. They seemed to enjoy my clumsy attempts, and one lady was fascinated by my hands – first she noticed they were soft for a potter (it was a very sunny day and the heat does that to them), then that they were big compared to hers. English women are big compared to Japanese ladies, who are for the most part pretty tiny! Apart from the ceramics, Tomoko showed me where the supermarket and train station is, as well as tell me other basics. We also saw a glass workshop (again, using the glasses natural characteristics to create the pieces – they were very fluid looking, some with bubbles in, some thick, many not perfectly round).

This evening she laid out the ground rules about work, my curfew, and how to behave. She’s teaching me Japanese manners and how to eat like the Japanese. I must respect my elders and let them go first (including being served in a café and taking a bath), I mustn’t say “Mmmm” because it sounds like “Unnnnn” which means no in Japan, and when eating from a big plate, put a hand under the food like an “osara” (plate) when transferring it to your mouth. As for work, I get two days off per week, and time to make my own work, which I can sell in her gallery for 50% commission, because she’s paying for the clay! Soon it will be Golden Week in Japan, so there will be many visitors and we need affordable work to sell to them. I’m looking forward to getting back to making! She’ll show me how to use her workshop tomorrow. She gets up at about 7:30 A.M.


Internet is semi there, I can use Tomoko’s pc, but the keyboard is difficult (it keeps switching to hiragana script) and the browsers don’t trust any of the websites I need to use. Google chrome lets me on facebook under protest, and internet explorer lets me on blogger and gmail under protest. Ironic! Neither will let me on hotmail.

This is an old soda kiln that was used to fire pipes. It’s huge! The wooden tub is the mould used for the pipes. All the walls were running with glaze and ravaged by the heat.

Brick sculpture/wall in a shopping centre. Areas of it are ash glazed. 

Diary entry 11/04/12 - Arrival


I woke up at about 10 P.M. and found no sign of Tomoko. I think she must have already gone to bed. It’s been a strange day, but not a bad one. The last few days have been pretty hectic really.

I was still busy at uni on the 30th of March with the last of my Japanese exams (the written one) and by that time I was pretty tired. This left me just over a week to sort out my flat, sleep off my deadlines, pack and get ready to go to Japan for two months. My to do list was pretty extensive. I’d already redirected the post and got a working holiday visa (I had to visit the Japanese embassy with an application and various documents, and they then took my passport off to add the visa), undertaken a course in Japanese language, looked at phone rentals, researched the best flight options (Tokyo Narita airport taxes are insanely expensive, so I flew via Frankfurt), and a number of other things. Now I had to clean and tidy and shut up the flat, do the garden, pack, check all my electronics and digital storage, check I’d got everything I needed or go and buy it (my canvas shoes were pretty well worn out and had to be replaced), sort out lines of communication I could use, including for data transfer, and check what medication was allowed (I have hayfever, and some over the counter English medicines are illegal In Japan, with nasty consequences) etc, etc. It’s all kind of blurred in my head now.

I was nervous coming to an almost complete strangers house in a country where I’m only just learning the language, but I thought I’d be more so. Monday night my parents took me to the airport hotel in Birmingham, and I spent a lot of time after they’d gone to bed doing a last minute copy of a large amount of my Japanese notes with my camera. We got up at 6 A.M., had breakfast and then headed over to the terminal so I could check in. I’d cut my baggage down pretty ruthlessly so I’d be within the weight limits, and I wasn’t carrying any books that weren’t Japanese phrasebooks or sketchbooks, only roughly enough clothes to last a week, a few pairs of shoes and my laptop. Not to mention various toiletries, as last time I came to Japan, one of the people I was with accidentally bought floor wipes thinking they were face wipes. Not a mistake I want to make! Check in went fine, and soon I was at the security gate saying goodbye. The flight to Frankfurt was short and I slept for most of it. There was a small amount of turbulence at the end, and then the plane taxi-ing to the terminal felt longer than the flight. Once off that plane, I had to catch the next flight to Nagoya after some lunch. To my surprise, the airhostesses spoke English, so it was a pretty easy flight, but next to impossible to sleep. The flight path took us north and through Russian airspace, over part of Siberia and over North Mongolia, China, then Korea.

During the flight I had to fill out two immigration forms to hand in at customs, asking the purpose of my visit and whether I was carrying restricted or illegal items.

I’d done this last time I flew to Japan so was expecting it, but I did wonder what category the hayfever tablets fell into all the same. In the end I left that section blank.

Eventually we came in to land, and for a minute I thought we would land in the water. All I could see was ocean underneath us until right at the last minute. Then we were down, and I saw a sign saying “CHUBU CENTRAIR” and then one saying “STOP” painted on the ground. So much for the language barrier, I swear everywhere speaks more English than their mother tongue….

Going through customs went ok in the end. Once I found the right counter, they decided piriton would be permissible, and I managed to hold a conversation with the customs people in Japanese. Getting out the other side, I rearranged my luggage and put the passport away while keeping an eye out for Tomoko. I couldn’t properly remember what she looked like having met her only once, I had an impression in my head of a small older lady who wore glasses. The lady who caught my eye was not wearing glasses, and looked taller and younger than I remembered.

She came over and then we went out to her car, which was bigger and less boxy than most Japanese cars, and she drove me a short distance back to her house in Tokoname. The area we drove through reminded me very much of the back streets in Tokyo, but with fewer buildings. There was the odd concrete block, and then streets of tiny dark wooden houses with bamboo screens over the windows and greenery by the door. Tomoko asked how long I’d been learning Japanese and told me it had been really sunny the day before despite today’s rain, and that because of a long cold winter, the sakura had only just come out so I’d truly be able to see the Japanese spring.

Then we got to her house. Tokoname has a pottery path, a kind of trail for visitors to take with a lot of galleries and sights to do with the ceramics industry on it, lined with old houses and walls made of old pots, and she lives next to it. It’s old, and looked very small and cute. She told me it’s rented, and there are two parts or wings to it. The toilet is separate again, in a small bit by itself, and had a western style seat over a hole in the floor – no flush. The room she has given me to use is traditional Japanese in the opposite wing to where she sleeps, and seems to be used for guests and storage (bags of different clay are stacked by the front door), with a separate front door. The walls are made of some kind of chipboard with gold sparkly flecks in it that catch the light, it is eight tatami mats big and has a futon, low chest of drawers and dressing table in it, plus a floor cushion and a couple of her sculptures. Simple but quite cosy. Her studio is semi outdoors, it’s kind of a semi courtyard and is a covered area between the toilet, two front doors and her garden. There were shelves of half made pots, her kiln and other kit. Her Mum and herself live in the other wing, where the living area, shop, kitchen and bathroom are. The bathroom is tiny and is the usual showerhead and stool next to the deep bath, with a separate basin area through a curtain off the kitchen. The lounge has a kotatsu in. I’d never seen one before! They are low tables with thick blankets under the table top hanging down to the floor, and they have a heater underneath for keeping your legs warm.

Tomoko introduced me to her Mum and we chatted for a bit (she asked where I lived, and told me that English potters Penny Simpson and her friend Ruth had been visiting the previous week as well), before Tomoko said she had to take her Mum to the hospital for an appointment, but would be back at about 2 P.M. and we’d have lunch. Since then I unpacked my bag, had a shower and slept until now. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Tomoko won’t be working, but I’m going to try and get up at 8 A.M. as I don’t know what her usual routine is.

P.S. Thankfully, I have discovered that my phone really can call and receive in Japan. No internet yet though.