Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Before and After

Since I bought my collection of woodworking tools last month, I have been busy tuning and preparing them. To tune the chisels, I have to go through a long process of hammering and shaping the wooden end, to make it capable of withstanding constant hammering during typical use.


New Studio Setup

Just rearranged my pottery workspace- I have a large surface to use as well as a view!

A Day's Work

This past Monday I got started on my first pottery project. I used three different types of Japanese clays: Bizen (the brown clay), Porcelain (the white clay), and a mixed clay composed of a bunch of different kinds including Shigaraki (the tan clay). I have never actually used Porcelain before. This kind is 100% pure Porcelain, without any other clay mixed in to add strength- Porcelain is very soft and difficult to work with and control. It felt like throwing with butter. The Mixed clay was my favorite. It was super coarse and wore my hands down, but it was incredibly stable. I plan to make an assortment of mugs and tea bowls, and tea pots which I have future plans for involving wooden fixtures! We'll see what happens.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hiking the Japanese Alps

Just got back from a very last minute day trip in the Japanese Alps!  A fellow Fulbrighter, Shawn, and I made an hour and a half bus trip from Takayama to a small town with a few hot springs and a ropeway to a trailhead at the top of a mountain. Actually there were two ropeways, the first one stopped in the middle and we were able to have some breakfast and dip our feet in shallow hot spring. Then the second ropeway, which was two levels, went all the way to the top. After a very scenic ride to the summit, we completed a treacherous 3 hour hike to the bottom. We couldn't have chosen a better weekend- besides the slightly overcast weather, the Fall foliage was in peak season! After the hike we stopped by an onsen, which is a Japanese traditional hotspring, and had a relaxing dip before heading back to town.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Required Reading

One of my first blog posts, from early this past Summer, was about all the books I had wanted to read before coming to Japan, as preliminary research on topics related to my project. I was actually able to finish most of them! Due to my self-imposed one suitcase rule, however, I wasn't able to bring many books with me. I only brought the very necessary "Lonely Planet Japan Guidebook", a small book on Japanese etiquette, a pocket-size Japanese dictionary, and one design book I bought a few days before my flight. In the past few weeks, I was given a book on traditional Japanese lifestyles from the Edo period, and a book on modern Japanese ceramics. I've pretty much shelved the guidebook for when I travel, and the etiquette book I practically finished on the plane ride, so the other three I've just begun to read. They include "Emotionally Durable Design" by Jonathan Chapman. This is the one I got right before I left home. I am just about done with it. It is great and very relevant to my project. It is about designing new products that, instead of focusing on sustainability as the primary consideration for responsible design, have more empathy and emotional qualities. This can alleviate many of the current problems with our industrialized, consumption driven society. By designing products with what Chapman calls "emotional durability", products can age better, have more meaning and value to users, and be used and enjoyed for years to come instead prematurely thrown away. My reasons for studying the Japanese aesthetic style of Wabi Sabi are of similar intentions. I believe the sentiments of Wabi Sabi, if harnessed and integrated effectively, can create value and meaning in everyday objects, and thus provide an alternative to our wasteful, throw-away society. Very interesting book! The next book is called "Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan" by Azby Brown. I've just started this one and it is great, too. I was given this one by my wood working sensei. He is good friends with the autor and I have actually arranged a meeting with the author next week when I am in Tokyo for Tokyo Design Week! The last book I was just given by my ceramic sensei and is more or less a collection of fine examples of some of the latest ceramics by prominent Japanese potters. My sensei has a piece featured in it!

A look at the Takayama furniture industry

The two biggest furniture companies in Takayama are Kashiwa Co. and Hida Sangyo Co. They are both very established in Japan and have long histories in the traditional and more recently, highly modern, furniture design industry. My ceramic sensei, Dai, accompanied me to visit the showrooms and factories of these two big companies. He is friends with some of the members of the companies so getting a behind-the-scenes look at the inner-workings was possible!

Hida Sangyo sells scrap wood outside their showroom. It's really cheap and perfectly usable- I might swing by and pick some up soon!

small dogs are incredibly popular in Japan

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coffee with Goro Suzuki

Yesterday, after we had picked up all of the supplies we needed in Seto City, we drove about twenty minutes to Toyota City to visit the home of Goro Suzuki, the internationally famous Japanese potter. He's called a 'super-potter', and for very good reason. He holds the record for the most teacups thrown in a ten hour time span- 1,250! We were welcomed inside by his wife as well as his several dogs hanging out outside. We walked through his pottery lined house then sat down and had some coffee (in his hand-made mugs, of course) and conversation, then headed out back to his studio for a private lesson. Though only about twenty minutes, the quick lesson was filled with so much insight and many tricks. From the potter who is know for his speed, it was perhaps the most knowledge filled twenty minute lesson I have ever received.

My sensei, Dai Nagakura, is on the left. He served as Goro's apprentice for a year and a half some years ago.

Seto City/ Pottery Supply Run

My Pottery Sensei took me to Seto City yesterday to pick up some pottery supplies: clay, tools, and glazes. It was only about a 2 hour drive from Takayama. Seto City is the ceramic capital of Japan. It was one of the original places that pottery traditions had migrated to from China a millennia or so ago.

We stopped by a clay warehouse and filled up the back of the car with a few hundred pounds of clay.

Then, we visited a massive 90 year old kiln, with 4 levels- it takes about 2 weeks to do a firing! The studio that the kiln is apart of is still in full operation. It is entirely water powered; a mill in the back of the huge room turns and powers all of the wheels with an ingenius underground mechanism (If you look in the photo, the gears and mechanics are hidden under the wooden panels on the floor), as well as a grinder and a wedging machine.
We pulled over on the side of a road to collect some special gravel directly from the side of a rock wall! The special rock is called Shino, and can be crushed down and used in a bunch of different glaze recipes.
Here's the full collection of supplies: Shigaraki, Bizen, and pure Porcelain clay, matte black glaze, a beautiful metallic silver over-glaze, and several small tools and brushes. Can't wait to get started!

Bike Path!

Providence had an amazing bike path that I really miss. That's why when I found a path that runs along the river in Takayama, that for all I know could go on for miles, I was pretty excited. Now all I need is a bike!

The river is on the right side, though hidden from view in this pic!


I've been venturing out further and further from the main downtown area of Takayama, and I am constantly delighted by my discoveries. I stumbled upon a quiet beautiful park that runs along the main river in town, and then the sun set:

Takayama's Art Museum

When I headed to the Takayama Museum of Art, which is right next to the Koito Pottery studio (the front gates are actually only about 20 feet from the studio's backdoor!), I was expecting a lot of traditional Japanese crafts, which is what Takayama is known for. I was so wrong. There was no Japanese art in the Takayama Art Museum. None. The museum is Japan's only museum devoted to the Interior Arts and Art Deco style. I was pretty impressed. It was shiny and modern, not at all what I was expecting. It had some nice furniture and a room full of some pretty amazing perfume bottles. These extremely luxurious objects are very much the antithesis of Wabi Sabi, the Japanese aesthetic style that I am here studying. They provide an interesting contrast, being so lavish and decorated, to the worn and humble objects I have recently studied.

I'll be doing pottery too

I have always loved pottery- I've done it ever since I was 7! In fact, my entire portfolio that I applied to RISD with was ceramic work, except for one drawing and one painting! I couldn't come to Japan and not try to study traditional pottery to some degree during the upcoming year. So, last weekend, I stopped by the storefront for Koito Pottery, a local Takayama pottery tradition. I expressed an interest in spending time over the next several months at the Koito Pottery studio to study traditional Japanese pottery aesthetics and techniques as part of my Fulbright project. I was warmly welcomed! I will be spending a few days a week at the wonderful studio, learning from a true master potter! I have generously been given a wheel to call my own, as well as access to all of the facilites. Here's a look at my space as well as a few pieces I made the first day!

The first thing I learned was a new forming technique. If you look closely at this close-up photo, you'll notice a seashell on the back right of the table top. I learned how to smoothly form the curve of a bowl with the side of the shell. Simple, effective, and poetic!

Getting Internet

It's been a pain, but finally! The Internet has arrived! I had a 9am appointment with the Internet Company. They arrived at 9 on the dot, then began a three hour installation process... from the telephone poles in the street, in to the stairwell of my building, then finally to my room.

Expect more updates very soon!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Meaning

I guess this is the "stuff room", where stuff is kept.