Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Always enjoy my visits to Koishiwara, the historic pottery town in Kyushu Japan. On any nice dry day, potters will leave their hand-thrown pottery out in the sun to dry. Roaming around the village and you see different processes of their labor of love.
Today Yamamaru Kiln left trays of dirt out to dry. This is the same white clay that the villagers excavated locally for centuries to make their pottery.
"Do you go to the surrounding mountains to excavate?"
"No, this is everywhere. Like, right here." Mrs. Kajiwara pointed her finger at the 2-car parking space we were standing at. She picked up a piece of feldspar (a mineral rock) from the nearby bushes and hand it to me, "Here's your souvenir. We use this to make glaze".
"Oh right, we are IN the mountains. And gosh, this practice has been the same from centuries ago."
When modern day potters procure convenient factory-packaged clay, Koishiwara potters still maintain the labor-intensive way of processing their own clay, feeling blessed by the mountains they reside in.
"This is our treasure. A precious resource."
Indeed, white dirt for clay, feldspar minerals and straw ash from rice fields for glaze. Nothing better than this.
All of a sudden I remembered my very first ceramics class in college in Los Angeles decades ago. The professor told us he makes trips to Arizona with his pickup truck to dig rocks so he can make his own clay. And I was so impressed as a wide-eyed18-year-old, "Really, you do that? Can't you buy clay from the store?" And in my head was an image of a pickup truck loaded with red rocks with dust flying all over while speeding on the highway.
Next time you pick up Yamamaru’s acorn cup or mushroom cup, feel the weight and texture of the material. Be reminded about Koishiwara potters' dedication in their local all-natural material. The sweat and the passion. It's not just a cup from the store. It is a humble piece of work packed with extraordinary story.
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