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This past Thursday the 17th, I went with the first and second year Art students, their teachers, and my co-ALT to the pottery village of Koishiwara to make 絵皿 – ezara – meaning “decorative plates,” or more literally, “picture plates.” About a week and a half before this trip, the head of the art department (whom many teachers at the school say looks like French actor Jean Reno rather than a Japanese person) gave us the handout the students got, and a template for our picture plates. Trudging through the handout full of art terms I didn’t know, I was rewarded with an introduction to three very interesting Edo-period artists: Ogata Kourin, Itou Jakuchuu, and Shibata Zeshin.

Anyway, I decided to go with a common motif in my work, the contrast of hard and soft (just that not Dalí-ish, haha). This is the sketch for the plate:

"Man is condemned to be free..." --Sartre. A meaning added after the fact. ^o^;

I made photocopies and colored them in different ways. We would only have 5 colors available to us: blue, brown, black, black made my scratching, and the beige of the unglazed plate. Of course, laying the glaze on in several coats would make that color darker. We would have carbon paper to transfer the drawing directly unto the plate.

The day of the trip, we got to the school at the usual time. We were told to get on the ichinensei bus. It was a nearly two hour bus ride to Koishiwara. On the way, we passed the Egawa Dam, which sits on the Chikugo River (I think). The mountains around the dam’s reservoir lake were really beautiful. I tried to photograph them from the bus:

I actually took this on the way back.

Once we got to the village, we went straight to the pottery studio we’d be working at, Yamaichigama. “Kama”(窯 – sound changed to “gama”) means “kiln” but in this case it appears to serve more as “house of” as in specific fashion houses (Chanel, Vuitton, etc). Apparently, the Emperor bought pottery from this studio nearly 20 years ago!

Notice the kanji for "Yamaichi." @_@

<Kanji Geek Moment>I noticed it in several places around the village, unusual (to me) kanji that consisted of the upper part “hitoyane” (…or maybe it’s “irigashira,” I’m not sure since they look the same and both would make sense, I think) and things that you don’t normally see under that radical, such as in this case, the kanji for “ichi.” This seems to be some sort of naming system for pottery houses. I have no idea if it’s possible to make regular computers write these things, but online I’ve not been able to find any. The names of the pottery houses with such kanji just get written in katakana.</Kanji Geek Moment>

*Ahem* Anyway, the studio inside was a bit chilly, but all in all a very nice country cabin. There were many pieces on display, and more up for sale.

There were other rooms, but this is where I worked with some first years. Actually, at the table behind the couch there.

I sat with two girls and my co-ALT and got down to business. Given how intricate my design was, I knew I would need all the time allotted. As we worked, I couldn’t help but hear the girls’ conversation. One was telling the other what happened on the previous night’s episode of The Best House 123, a show that, every time I’ve seen it, has dealt with reenacting incredible incidents from abroad (not necessarily with the utmost accuracy).

Then the girl listening to the recap finished glazing her design, that of a boy giving a girl some flowers. I heard her say, “I want to write some English on it…something about love…but what? Should I ask…?” I said, “It’s okay, go ahead.” The girl was surprised and said, “She understood?!” ^_^; (I don’t know how many times I’ve spoken to Art Course in Japanese…) So the girl says, “I want something like, 若い恋人…” Even though I knew that there was an English term for what she was trying to say, I couldn’t remember it. I said, “Young Lovers? But that sounds kinda…” So I asked my co-ALT, “How do you say ‘young lovers’ without sounding–” and before I could finish he said, “Puppy love.”

I felt like an idiot for not being able to remember that term. I said, “I must be too jaded for that.” ^o^;

So the girl wrote “puppy love” on her plate but remained unsatisfied: “How about some lyrics from a love song? An Avril Lavigne song maybe?” I, who don’t particularly like Miss Lavigne’s oeuvre, couldn’t help her there either, but luckily, my co-ALT could. He wasn’t 100% sure he was getting the lyrics right, but close enough.

Time was almost up, so I decided to just leave my design as it was.

After applying the glaze, before firing.

The green will turn black, the blue will stay about the same, and the brown will hopefully remain light enough to pass for gold. The plate will be fired and varnished by the studio’s people.

Now here’s some unfired plates by three different student artists:

I didn't feel like waiting for Photoshop to load so I could smudge out the student's name on the lower right plate, so I just miniturized my iTunes window, put it over the name, and took a screencap. ^o^;

I can’t wait to see what these will turn out like! I don’t know when we’ll get them back though. At least in time for bunkasai in May, since the plates are put on display then.

Once everyone had finished their plate, they went about chatting with their classmates and buying a little plate or cup. I was enchanted by one of the studio’s motifs, and felt it was a bit pointless to buy just one plate, so I got 2 chawan and 2 plates. ^_^; They were on sale, and I got one of them for free because it had a tiny little crack in the foot. Besides, I can’t help but respect people who make their living off of their artwork.

This design spins me right round. Photographed once I got back home.

Once we left the studio, we headed to the pottery museum. Near the entrance, there were some pieces on sale. As I was looking at them, one of the very few boys in Art Course came up to me and said of one of the mini flower pots, “It’s very cute.” I said, “Oh yes, it is. Maybe you can buy one and give it to your mother?” To which he replied, “It’s a desk.” Myself now confused as much as he must’ve been, all I could muster was an “ah.” He then went back to his friends, told them what he said to me, and one of them told him, “You idiot, you just said ‘it’s a desk’!” ^o^;

Photography was allowed in the museum, but my batteries were low and I wanted to save energy for the mountains near the dam, so I only photographed a few of the pieces. Here’s my favorite, I think it’s what black holes would look like if they had any Aesthetic Emotions:

Believe it or not, that center black part is actually a good 5 inches deep! @o@

I didn’t try to remember the artist’s name, thinking it would show up in the picture, but unfortunately it’s a bit hard to read. Using my mad Google skillz, I think I found the right potter: Ohta Tomitaka (太田富隆). The title of the piece is 「青釉掛分鉢」which I really don’t know how to translate. It seems to be just a description of the piece, something like “Blue Glaze [some sort of] Bowl.” But I much prefer to think of it as “Infinity Basin” or “Black Hole Bowl” or something else cooler sounding than Blue Glaze Bowl. ^o^

After the museum, we got back on the buses to head back. Due to my sleep-deprived weekend, once we were past the Egawa Dam and I got my shots, I let myself doze off. The students had also fallen asleep by then.

~Side Post: Calligraphy in the Juutaku~

As for the cause of said sleep-deprived weekend, it was mostly that everything I had planned on doing got interrupted by watching coverage of the Touhoku disaster and answering messages from the States. Add this to the fact that I’m a terrible procrastinator, and the main task I needed to finish in time for Monday’s classes didn’t get done until 5AM that Monday. ^_^;

There were a few kids who had earned so many participation points throughout the year that they had more points than they needed to achieve a perfect score on our Oral Communication test.  (We make the test have only about 45 points each time, so that they cannot achieve the full 50 point score without participating in class.) I had asked the teachers what to do about these cases, since I thought it was unfair that the kids not get credit somewhere for their work. I was told to write down the names of students with leftover points, but I got the feeling nothing would be done with it, so I decided to give these students a present.

What I usually give out are nameplates/bookmarks done in calligraphy, in a style based on Gothic Black Letter. Depending on how much time I have, I’ll add an outline of silver or gold on the letters so that they pop out. With even more time, I like to laminate the nameplate so it can better serve as a bookmark, but unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to do so here in Japan.

I’ll end this post with a picture of the ones that I think turned out the best from that all-nighter. I took this photo before I erased the guideline. I don’t have photos of the ones I did before this.

I wasn't sure which system of romanization each student prefered, so I just did whichever looked best. The non-Japanese name is that of an immigrant student.

次回!Ahhh…mmm…and I just realized that from the standpoint of symbolism, it was a bit strange to end the concert with “Smoke on the Water.” Good thing they called it “Deep Purple Medley” instead.