When it comes to "experiencing" Japan, I've been pretty good about modern times. I've spent the night in karaoke boxes, internet cafes, and capsule hotels. I've had welcome and farewell parties. I've eaten nabe, ramen, sushi, Japanese sweets, and fugu. I've fought the crush of rush hour passengers on Tokyo trains many times. I've watched Japanese TV, listened to J-Pop, visited public baths and spas, and done the seasonal activities every Japanese person seems to do, like cherry blossom viewing, autumn leaf viewing, the summer festivals, and so on.
But what of the traditional crafts? Most Japanese people can't do much of them or have even experienced them, either (except for folding paper cranes, apparently), and the loss of a skilled workforce in traditional methods is frequently trumpeted. But for those who have the desire, it is possible to at least try to do some of the production tasks craftsmen used to do - things like fabric dyeing, basket and tatami weaving, calligraphy, and the making of ceramics.
Last month, I finally made my first Japanese things. And I have a knack for it.
Behold: a plate. Amanda found an introductory course on using a potter's wheel in Tokyo, so we made appointments and spent a couple hours with our hands in the clay. For those who are good at following instructions, and with a careful, steady hand, it is possible to learn the basic skill in a short period of time.
For those who just like playing in the clay - stick to free-form. The wheel is not for you.
Anyway, the plate is a little larger than a CD, and despite my poor picture, has a dark green glaze. It's not perfect, but Japanese pottery isn't intended to be. Many of the high-quality pieces I've seen in use at restaurants and for sale in stores have minor deformities and wobbles made to add character, and I enjoy that my plate has that as well!
Here's the bottom. It says "ryan" in katakana. Yes, a Ryan Original! This wasn't my first piece, though.
This flat-bottomed bowl was the first item I made on the wheel, with a mostly-black glaze (perhaps with a hint of green or brown). This is a non-shiny glaze, and while the color worked on the small sample piece I saw, I wish I had gone with a brighter color. That's okay, it's still beautiful as is!
The class itself was 4000 yen, but was semi-private. Firing fees for my two pieces tacked on another 3000 yen (trimming and glazing was free). I'm not sure how this compares to elsewhere, though a quick check on the internet with a random US trial course put the cost of the trial class with one pot at about $75.
I've always been interested in making things, and I fondly remember many of the art projects I did as a kid at school and summer camp. This year, I'm going to try to make more of an effort to try more traditional Japanese things, especially the creation of things. Some of the Tokyo-area museums offer experiences, which is a pretty good start!
Also, my trip to Korea will hopefully work out such that I can go to Hwaseong Haenggung, which has several experiences, including pottery, bow making, and more.