Note: Longtime UNS Member, Sharon Meyers, is currently studying pottery in Japan for several months. This is a glimpse into her world and journey.
Kyoto ceramics, Kyo-yaki, started with tea ware in the early Edo Period, 1605, due to the emerging popularity of the tea ceremony. Here in Kyoto, skilled arJsans gathered and were blessed under the patronage of monks and priests, the Imperial family, and aristocracy.
Kyo-yaki continues this tradition of excellence, offering a profusion of techniques, more masters than I will be able to meet, and more kilns than I will be able to visit, much less use. This feast of work and its history are inspiring, while also a bit daunting! For research this week my four fellow students and I visited a curated antiques market, held just once each month, which specializes in old ceramics. I was stunned to see how old … old really is in this market: Displayed on tables and even on mats upon the ground we spotted living history of Edo period ceramics for sale, lovingly preserved, or in need of loving repair. As I am learning to do traditional urushi lacquer and gold repair (very patiently) as part of this ceramics program, the cracked, broken pieces did not deter my interest. I could not resist an ikebana vase from this time period.
I also picked up a “new” piece of less than 100 years old, with one long fissure, perfect for repair. My intent is to complete the process of urushi and gold repair for this shallow bowl, then return it to the owner who gave it to me as omiyage /gi`. He can then continue the story of its history and use it for himself once more.
Time itself is considered energy here, measured into 12 months, further divided into 24 sub seasons, divided again into 72 micro-seasons. This week is considered the coldest sub-season of the winter, while these five days having started on Wednesday, herald the first micro-season of the new year. This is the time of “underground water flow”, meaning that while the ground is frozen, the water one cannot see below the surface is flowing, heralding the beginning of blossoming spring. Knowing this, it was easy to then understand the toji /porcelain and shoji /ceramic wares for sale in this market and elsewhere – they are displayed intentionally for winter dishes of soups, and stews, along with tea ware that is deep to retain heat, and somewhat lighter ware in looking forward to the coming spring season.
Working with clay right now is considered auspicious, as the mythical dragon of this new Year of the Dragon is the zodiac animal who guards the earth. Clay is literally from earth, yet the variances in local clay I have seen, ranging from heavy red ceramicware with notable grit and texture, to white porcelain stoneware so fine that it is translucent, offers so much range. In my own work here, I am increasingly perceptive to “listening” to the clay as I work with it, to give it a voice of what it wants to become. I realize I have been doing this all along, while studying here, now I know. That is part of the journey!
P.S. Please click on the downloads below to see Sharon's original newsletter along with photos from her, and a Bento Box recipe she shared in the Garden Chat zoom session.