When traveling to another country, there are so many places to see and so many great things to buy – leaving you feeling a little overwhelmed. The past few years I realized that the greatest memories of a trip are those moments you interacted with the locals and the best souvenirs are those that you feel personally attached to. Try out creating the ultimate memory and souvenir?
In Tokyo, there are many opportunities to join a Japanese art schools just for a day to learn traditional Japanese crafts. The problem as in so many places however is the language. Classes in English do exist, but they are a little harder to find – even in the age of Google. Today I would like to introduce you to a small pottery atelier in a backstreet of the neighborhood Shirogane in Tokyo.
My friends and I went to the studio – neither of us had ever sat in front of a potter’s wheel. It was a first for all of us. We all know the famous scene from the 90’s supernatural romance movie “Ghost” – sexy Patrick Swayze (starring as a ghost) touches Demi Moore’s hands from behind while she is using the pottery wheel and then… Well, this scene was in our heads when we entered the ceramic school.
Inside the school, there was an art class silently working on something that looked like “kyusu”, Japanese teapots. All students were very concentrated on their work and I got slightly nervous, wondering whether I would be even able to create something presentable.
Our teacher Mr. Fumio KADOYA showed us how to sit at a potter’s wheel and how to shape the rotating clay by applying pressure with our fingers. The clay was already prepared so we could start right away.
At the trial course you are free to make anything you like out of your clay. The price varies on the number of pieces that you want to keep in the end and their actual size. A great way to start is a rice bowl (or small soup bowl), a small “torizara” plate or a “yunomi”, a Japanese teacup without handles.
I was afraid that my block of clay might collapse into a “modern art” looking piece of something, but I somehow managed to form it without damaging it. Even though I had intended to create a rice bowl the brim kept getting smaller and smaller instead of getting bigger and wider. When I asked the teacher for advice, he smiled and suggested to keep this work as a mug because of its nice shape – that was really sweet of him!
I tried two more times to create the perfect rice bowl and this time – with a lot of advice from our teacher. And I finally managed to form the clay into a bowl shape. I really love Japanese pottery. There are so many different local types like “Onta-yaki”, “Bizen-yaki”, “Seto-yaki”, the famous “Arita-yaki” and so on. It was really great to be at the ceramic school and to get the chance to get a glimpse of how pottery is made.
At the end, I chose the mug and one of my two rice bowls to be fired in the kiln. My friends also chose two of their works each and it took us quite a while to decide – soon after we were asked to choose to have our works be painted in matte black or in white.
About two weeks later, our pottery arrived! Aren’t they great? I was a little worried about the size because my rice bowl was pretty big when we left the studio, but as our teacher had told us, our works had shrunk about 20% – just to the right size!
I guess, I’ll use my ceramics at home for myself. But they could also make for a perfect present for a good friend or a family member. How about making Japanese dishes yourself as a present when visiting Japan?
I don’t think hunky Hollywood actors will turn up to help you, but I can guarantee that you’ll have a lot of fun!
Shirogane Ceramic Art School
Address: 5-13-4 Shirokane, Minato-ku, Tokyo