20 May 2019

Naming DOES matter (my thought on cultural appropriation)

my mum and four year old me standing in front of our home 
on the day of the entry ceremony of nursery. 

On calling out.
The recent feed of @littlecreativefactory, showcasing their new collection called “wabi sabi” that has nothing to do with it, has deeply upset me. I found it irritating and insulting. It followed by @papercutpatterns, presenting non-buttoned top calling “kimono”, which then they’ve amended the name after the apology, whilst they wiped all the discussion, which is another problem in itself.

This is not the first time, not even a small number. Wonky pot called wabi sabi. T-shirts printed random Japanese words that make no sense. I’ve seen them over and over again in the West, well before Instagram. I am sick and tired of seeing people mocking our Japanese culture, whilst they are innocently claimed themselves “inspired by”. And seeing those who continue to voice and call out brands to work better so we can be in the better place, but instead they almost always end up facing the fragility of people who cannot see the problem (or try to ignore it) and having to deal with microaggression, simply makes my blood boil.

Calling out for cultural appropriation is a way to make people aware of that which they cannot see themselves and unfortunately this blindness seems to be happening too often. I can think it is an act of kindness to call out in the hope to create a safe space with no harm. Not acknowledging the harm is dangerous for people on the receiving end. Silence is not kindness. I am more than sad, I am angry and hurt. This blog post is about my honest thoughts on cultural appropriation from the perspective as a Japanese and a maker, and at first and foremost as a human being.


Where is the line?
I must admit I have carried a mixed feeling for some time, when I saw our cultural words were used wrongly. Because I can see their interest. Because I would like more people to get to know our culture. There’s a grey area that we often question how far is ok and not ok. When the grey area get pushed, something worse can happen, and it did as I’ve experienced it.

I am not saying you cannot be inspired by other culture. We all get inspired by something, somewhere, someone. I acknowledge how much Westerners are attracted to Japan. For its mystery. We are often “fantasised”. As I came to study English language in UK, I was inspired too by English language for the communication possibility and seeing the world outside Japan. Of course I understand so well that many people who are interested in learning about foreign country, culture and language. I understand people want to visit or even live in Japan. If you are one of them, good for you. I encourage you. Because that is a start of learning about other culture and people. Through the real living experience and conversation with people of origin. You can’t just get it from the book or screen. What you have fantasised might transcend to a much deeper meaning and understanding than you had before.

However.

Just because you are inspired by Japanese culture or aesthetic, or read some of it, I don’t believe you are entitled to use it in whatever way you want for a mere profit, like naming your products “kimono” or “wabi sabi” that has NOTHING to do with them. Unlike just translating more generic words like ‘flowers’ and ‘stone’ that everybody knows, “kimono” and “wabi sabi”are some of many examples of our cultural words, that have been existing and deeply living only within Japanese people. 

Oh, but, those words are everywhere now. Everyone uses them, so what’s the problem? You may ask. The problem is the fact that everyone is using it so lightly. Everyone is doing it, so everyone think they can do it too. When people in the West take over the foreign cultural words and make them “culturally acceptable” in their white centred term. It’s based on their power to “make it ok” and they propagate such ideas. And it’s done so lightly and no one questions the problem. It happens without respecting the foreign culture, without clear understanding and without considering the significant impact on those on the receiving end. It is offensive. It can lead to a from of racism that was built on such blindness and fragility. And it is worse when this happens a dominant culture - the power holder - appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures. 

For instance, “wabi sabi” is one of the Japanese expressions that we native people find it particularly difficult to articulate, and we hardly use it in our daily life, even though it is rooted deeply within our heart and time passing nature surround us. Whilst native Japanese struggle to express it and rarely use the term, how come Westerners can name as their products with it so easily? Honestly? It is frightening to see 言葉の一人歩き** happens from wilful ignorance.

** 言葉の一人歩き (kotoba no hitori aruki) literally translates as “word walking on its own”. It’s the Japanese expression of the state of misused and misinterpreted information, that has nothing to do with the origin, are spreading selfishly in the society.

When I see our cultural words are used in the West time and time again, more often than not for their money sake, I get this agonising pain in my spine. That pain can be described as my feeling on the bottom line;
Our cultural words are not your trend. Our culture is not your entertainment. 
To me, being inspired is not enough. Because it does not measure the correctness. The correctness will require the level of respect toward the culture of origin and the level of understanding with all nuance and subtlety that won’t offend people from the origin. You cannot judge those levels by yourself.


Defencelessness
Some of you may think or have said in such debate, too sensitive, too politically correct, too over-reacting, or even narrow minded. Do you know how I feel as I write this blog? I feel alone. I may have no back up. I feel totally defenceless. This is because;
Firstly, I am not an educator, an author, a translator, or an expert. I am limited to explain effectively. 
Secondly, because of the language. I have to exhaust my energy to tell people why I think it’s wrong in a foreign language (English). It took me a whole week to rewrite this over and over again and still feels not enough to explain it all. Quite likely so, many native Japanese (including those friends of mine who share their views) cannot communicate in English. Let alone use it for confrontation. 
Thirdly, as you may know, Japanese are a nation of politeness. We are often too polite to confront for the sake of argument. We respect others and make peace within our heart. It is our nature, our social characteristic NOT to put opinion forward. (unfortunately it can be rather a weakness for us.) Then there are people outside who take advantage of it.
So in the end, we are often left watching the world abuse us. And it hurts. Cultural appropriation hurts people. It even triggers my anxiety. 

I feel this hurts more often and more acute lately than when I was living in Japan. This is quite likely my perception has changed a lot since I live in UK. (will talk about this later why) The truth is Japanese people’s reaction can vary. The degree of involvement and the focus on the matter can differ from people to people. As Emi Ito @little_kotos_closet said herself in her dedicated narrative on Kimono, not every native Japanese who live in Japan are concerning about cultural appropriation. But most of the case, they are not even aware of what’s happening in the West, because such debates do not happen in Japan as often as the outside of the country. They are not sunk in racial problem within their daily living in such mono-racial country. 

But it doesn’t mean that you can ignore those who are aware and care. When people point out the lack of respect, those voices are totally valid. In fact those who are telling you it matters and hurts should be the utmost centre of care. I once talked about cultural appropriation in my past IG post, then now prior to this blog post, I have spoken to numbers of Japanese people including; those who live in Japan, those who live outside Japan, those who are biracial and carry Japanese heritage. Those who speak out their hurts are the centre of my attention and who I would like to support. And I really don’t believe anyone have the right to criticise that we (and those who speaks out) are too sensitive.


But what about Japan?
Yes, Japanese people do that too. Japanese people also have the tendency to use foreign words, often ignorantly. If you have travelled the city of Tokyo, you would have probably noticed that there are many shops written in English logo. Every time I go back to Japan and see people wearing clothes with English words that make no sense, I often feel like crawling into a hole with embarrassment. Yes we seem to love using English in such ways, and it’s been happening a lot, especially since more and more Westernised we get. Must not forget the impact from America that effectively occupied Japan after the war and we’ve been significantly influenced by the white ideology. 

It is so apparent that people in Japan lack the awareness on cultural appropriation within such mono-racial society. It’s our weakness in defence. I believe this contributes to the reasons that why we won’t often get involved in the debate. Because how can we whilst we are doing so ourselves? As I said I have discussed with numbers of native Japanese people prior to this blog, and many have expressed this awkwardness. I admit Japanese people need to learn about cultural appropriation individually and collectively. More so makers and brands hold this responsible for impacting consumers, spreading the ignorance in the society, when we are doing incorrectly and naively. 

Though almost having held back my voice with knowing own nation’s awkwardness in defence, I would like to express it from my personal point of view, after living a half of my life in Japan and another half in UK, seeing Japan and the world from this unique position. In my opinion, I still lean on to that there are more weight on the majority and believe that the power is laid on the whiteness in the West. My focus of frustration is the misuse of cultural related words and that seems to be happening more in the West. Or am I completely biased? Is this the view from someone who has experienced racism (as I wrote here) in the white society? Is this because I am constantly questioning my identity? The more I see Japan from outside, the more I would like to protect my origin of culture, and the eagerer I am to pass down the true cultural influence to next generation, including my daughter. Is it wrong to wish to protect the culture of your origin? Is this desire relatable to anyone?

The difference is that whist Japanese people live in Japan might withhold their voice in order to avoid confrontation or necessity, because they never experienced the trauma, that Japanese people outside of Japan might have had. And my ultimate bottom line - “Our cultural words are not your trend. Our culture is not your entertainment.” - have to be centred to those who are in the minority, who are are hurt and distressed by it. We have to be very mindful about that. 


We all make mistakes
I name all of my pottery collection in Japanese. I know exactly what the name means. I can explain clearly why it is called that way and what idea goes behind it. If you are my customers, you know I do so clearly whenever I was asked. Some design of my work are inspired by my lived experience of non-Japanese element, but I still name it within my clear knowledge. I certainly don’t want to offend anyone from any foreign culture by using their words to name my work just for the sake of it. Because simply there is no reasons for me to do so. 

If you are makers of any products, be it a brand or small business (including myself), you have a responsibility to do it correctly, because you have the influence, be it small or large, to your customers and society, and more so if you are using the online world. If causing harm, whether it was intentional or not, you have to own the mistake and do better.

Ideally you do it right from the start, but unfortunately it is often not the case. We all make mistakes. The important part is to recognise the mistake, accept it, amend it accordingly and do better in the future. You tell that to your kids and you know that yourself, right? Please do not look away, ignore those who took time to call out, or offend them for worse. Please take your accountability to deal with the mistake. This is why having such conversation might be painful but so important as it is the work which is toward a healthy direction. Avoiding conversation is more harmful.


On your naming and your responsibility 
As I said before, it is maker’s and brand’s responsibility to do it correctly. To emphasise that, if you are one of them, you can ask yourself question; 
Why do you want to name (or have already named) your selling products with a foreign cultural word? 
Is it because it’s trendy? sounds cool? sounds better? catchy? sellable? inspired by? read a white American said it means ‘imperfect’? google translation said so and sounds about right? looks ‘kimono-enough’ to you? nobody in Japan offended you? your Japanese friend said ok so you felt you got a 'pass'?
Then please question further. 
Do you really think they are enough reasons to take advantage of our cultural words? Can you confidently explain to your customers? Have you involved people from the culture? How much consultation is enough? Who can pass it? Who gets to say ok? Have you ever thought of people who might be hurt from your products name? How are you going to respond to them?

Ultimately, does it really need to be called that?

How far is ok or not ok might be down to the correctness. That might be measured by the level of respect that was shown to the culture of the origin, and the level of understanding. This validation can be quite different from the people in the culture living within to those who living outside, even though both are genuinely native to the origin. (as I explained previously) Well if you cannot measure it, then you cannot draw a line. Will this be forever blur?

Let me insert an example of exception here.

Once I met an Australian potter called Euan Craig, (written a post here) who lives and works in Japan over 25 years now. Euan is drawn to the Japanese “mingei" influence and the philosophy learnt directly from his early career through apprenticeship to one of Japanese National Treasure. He has been creating his beautifully hand crafted pottery art to date. He is one of those people I call, “日本人より日本人らしい” (nihon-jin yori nihon-jin rashii), translated as “more Japanese than Japanese”. He speaks fluent Japanese, dedicated the study of Japan and understands the culture to the subtlety and nuance we express. His respect is seen within his conversation. His humbleness is mirrored his work. He is someone I would probably never offend if he ever name his work, say “wabi sabi”. I wouldn’t call that cultural appropriation. Because the level of respect and understanding is so apparent to me.

Yet, the truth is, he wouldn’t do it. Why would he? He deeply knows that such words should not be abused from the first place.

Is that too extreme?

If you are truly inspired by the foreign culture, then you can pay the respect by finding the other way that people from the culture can feel appreciated, NOT appropriated. You are the power holder. Use your privilege to lift them up.
Our cultural words are not your trend. Our culture is not your entertainment. 
If you want to name your selling products with a foreign word, think again. Naming DOES matter. Please don’t take it lightly. 

I am summing up with the beautiful expression by @maiko.hikosaka;
“If you have enough creativity, respect and dignity as a human being, you surely won’t need to culturally appropriate and make a living off of it.”


Ending note
Some of you might know that I have contributed to the recent book “wabi sabi” by British author Beth Kempton. In case you may see this as a contradiction to what I said, I would like to add this as an ending note.

To be frankly honest, when Beth first approached me, I told her that I am anxious about it, because I knew it would be very difficult for me to explain. She well knew that too, because of her life long dedication to experience, to connect and to study Japan and Japanese language. Like I said I am happy for people who want to learn about our culture (or any other country for that matter). I am not against the curiosity and enthusiasm. However, I am not an educator nor author who might be able to explain this all in English effectively. This is where she might be beneficial for many.

The difference is that she has indeed involved and communicated many native Japanese people over decades and prior to the book (including myself) and have put them forward. She has said herself in the book that it is hard to define the word of wabi sabi and used the term of “what she comes to understand” instead. None of these are one line sentence, or absolute definition. It’s a lengthy research that was challenged the misconception and impact have been left in the West by another author. (or google translation for that matter) If anyone can do so quickly, such a book won’t be needed. As she told me herself, her interpretation is still based in a Western upbringing, as an outsider with a keen interest, but feels confident enough to have dug deep from her years of dedication. The way she encouraged the readers was respectfully managed, sharing her hope on how people can learn from the Japanese wisdom and philosophy that might be able to apply into your mind and personal development, possibly to help them as a life lesson. It is written to encourage people to explore more about it but it certainly does not encourage to abuse it.

I guess how readers would take further would depend on individuals - how much respect and care to be taken on their action.




Addendum

In order to clarify, I would like to add and emphasise that there are many people who enrich Japanese culture being of non-Japanese heritage. Like Euan and Beth I mentioned here, there are many other people who are immersing themselves in an adopted culture through their long term dedication of study, understanding and respect. They are the people who can bridge the gap between Japanese cultures and the world, who can help others to understand us better. If you are truly inspired by the Japanese culture, these people are the one who you can learn from how NOT to appropriate, too. 


Thank you so much for reading.


referenced reading 

29 January 2019

Why I have been hiding behind the pretty pots (my thoughts on diversity and inclusivity)


First up, my apology for such belated new year wishes to you all, my blog readers. (You know what January is like… ) Hope we can make 2019 a good one, with a kind reflection and ongoing hope that good will come if we try.

As a first post of the new year, I am going to talk about something different to my usual pottery stuff. The voice inside my head has been getting louder and louder. I have no writing skills, but I’ve tried my best to share my thoughts and what I’ve learnt from others so far. So here it is. I am grateful if you can stick with me. 

If you are active followers of Instagram, you might come across what I have recently expressed in my story, or you might have already seen a big discussion. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please go and see Instagram highlights from brave women, such as Rabya @sehflourished_ and Rida @beforeandagain_. It all started from a genuine voice to a clothing brand @sondeflor, asking for more diversity and why representation matters to women of colour. To be honest I didn’t see or follow much fashion accounts so I only became aware of this after reading the recent threads, but in fact there has been many more discussions on this topic elsewhere too, especially over slow fashion community.

If you are following me only just for pretty picture of my pottery, you may say, 
“You are a potter. You can just continue to show your pretty pots. It’s not your place to get involved.”
Admittedly this was one of my excuses that I have been hiding behind the pretty pictures. 
But it’s not really about pots and pretty pictures, is it? Never has been. 
Because I was afraid. 
Because I did not have the courage to speak and was scared of getting it wrong. 

But after all, there is life behind and beyond my pottery and that is all interwoven and connected. My thoughts, feelings and experience are the big part of who I am, Maki the maker of my pottery. So. I am trying to be as bold as I can, as I write this. 

It made me feel inhuman.
Let me start with sharing some of my experience being a Japanese living in UK for the past twenty years.

People getting my name wrong. Standard.

Strangers suddenly throw some random Japanese words at me, laughing then walking passed. Even with a genuine curiosity, they spot me as a stereo typed perception, never seeing me as an individual. I often find this patronising and sometimes insulting.

I go to a club or pub, people come to me and ask “how much are you?”

I walk on the street, kids throw a tin of coke at me from the school bus window, shouting “f**king Chinese!”

For minor things (even though they were annoying) I had let things go, but as the level increased, I began to shrink. I started to feel inhuman. These experiences did not just hurt me at that moment but scarred my heart for a long time, not that I can just forget and move on. It made me afraid of going outside of my house. At the same time as juggling with fear and anger, I felt really sad for them, thinking about what and who has influenced them to be like who they were, be it their parents, community or media with a poor representation.

A day after the result of Brexit referendum was announced, I went to town for a quick errand with my baby girl in a buggy. I saw a white man on the high street, shouting at another person (looked like an European immigrant to me) in a really vulgar, aggressive manner, saying things like “You are going back to your f**king home soon!” There I was, petrified, instantly flooded with flash back of my past experience, thinking would my girl and I get targeted? So I ran. In the meantime, so many other people were just walking passed. Even some people were mumbling “What an idiot!” “How embarrassing” but no one actually stopped the guy. I have no idea how it went afterward but there was no doubt that person got a scar on his heart.

Most of the direct insults / racism happened to me during my late twenties and early thirties when I first moved up North, where I understand predominantly white British people live. Before that, I was living in Brixton (London) where I truly loved the diverse culture and did not experience any direct insult. I am not sure if it was because of my age or how I looked at that time, (obviously I must have looked so naive), I hardly get any direct racism comment where I live now thankfully. However, there is still ongoing difficulty that I face on a daily basis, which is a silence. 

silence hurts
Of course physical and verbal insults are painful, but being ignored is much harder. To me personally, it really hurts more.

School gate issue, as I have read in Atia’s experience in her recent blog post (→ you can read it here), has really triggered me to think deeper. I have very similar experience to hers, when I pick my daughter from school. I only get approached by two mums (and grandparents) whose daughters are close friends of mine. They are really lovely, and I am sure all other mums are too. But no one else really speak to me. As if I do not exist. Like Atia told herself, because other mums were already knowing each other from the nursery, unlike me and my girl. 

Admittedly, my quiet, introvert character does not help. I may not appear to be an approachable person. I take time to get closer to people. I don’t just jump in and break the ice that quickly. Nevertheless, I did make a conscious effort to speak to people, which has made it a little bit easier to face the problem. But you know what? Making constant effort only from one side is quite an exhausting exercise to be honest.

If I look at it, this is not just the school gate. Some aspects of work environment, gatherings or courses I attended, college I studied, I always found myself the last person in the room to be approached by others. I’m the left-out.

My language barrier has always been another wall to climb before you even stand at the starting point, especially in a group setting. I often find myself already behind the conversation, as it has moved on by the time I am ready to speak. So I often shut up. Even feeling inside tells me that just because I often listen to others more than I speak, does not mean I have nothing to say. 

Then again, I usually blamed myself. I am making excuses. I am not making ‘enough’ effort as an ‘outsider’. I am not trying ‘hard’ enough. Although I made a handful of people who I can call really good friends, those who have time for me, most people won’t have such time, so I guess it’s my fault. 

But is it really? 

A question to you. If you are to speak to someone among many, would you choose a foreigner like me?
I guess not, because it’s unknown or even uncomfortable. So you’d probably ignore one like that. 
Not intentionally, but because it’s an easy choice. 

Ironical realisation
So why have I shared these experience? 
I am not trying to be against white people.
I am not trying to victimise myself or ask for sympathy. 
I am hoping to make it easier for you to see what you might not know and understand what it is really like. 

Because that was precisely how I have learnt from WOC for past few weeks. 
Also because I realised the fact that I certainly live in a safer, somewhat privileged place now, in which I am often blinding myself from what’s outside of this bubble. Despite some personal experience in the past and some discomfort at time. Ironically.

Here is my example.

Over years I have made some friends who happen to be mixed race or gay. I get to see or hear some of their struggles (and happiness of course). But maybe because where I live is predominantly white people, I don’t really have many friends in real life who are people of colour (other than Japanese parents). How do I know anything about them? Unless you consciously trying to understand, you can probably just continue to live without noticing them. I’ve only started to listen harder and read things they have been saying. And I cannot emphasise enough that it’s been mind blowing, eye opening and quite heart breaking. 

Another ironic example is about disability. I worked in social care industry for almost 17 years before I became a full time potter. Over years, I have seen and learnt so many obstacles in the society for people I worked with, especially young adults with learning difficulty and autism. So I felt quite confident in knowing what it is like. But I was wrong. Since my daughter was born with some form of disability (and this might be even a minor one comparing to some others), it really hit me. What it is like to be every-single-day. Only through the real experience it has sunk in. 

survival
All those years of living in the UK, especially in the early days, I have been trying to break the wall of being (or feeling) an outsider. Because I am the one who chose to come and live in this country. I am the one who is in the minority. So I always believed that I am the one who needs to make an effort. So what did I do? I tried so hard to ‘fit in’. Even that was not an ideal course of action. (Sometimes it ended up with me being in the wrong crowd and feeling ashamed.) But I did it because it was survival.

And can you imagine those who have to survive whilst receiving consistent insults or difficulties on a daily basis? Trying to (or having to) justify their existence? It must be so so exhausting and draining. 

One of the things that totally widen my view from the past few weeks is to know that their brave voices were coming from a long way away. Most of women of colour who have spoken out may be a second or third generation in this country. Their parents and grandparents might have had to face so much pain and injustice in their life, but they have never given up on bringing their children to stand up, own their identity and not to be afraid of raising their voice. Not for the purpose to victimise themselves, but for a good hopeful future. I salute those first generation parents. 

Having my girl who is mixed race with some form of disability, it’s no longer just about my past experience. I am a first generation parent. It is now my responsibility that she will not go through the same pain. 

Hopeful seeds
Diversity and inclusivity matter and affect everyone who are perceived to be different from the majority of people in society, be it colour, origin, LGBT, size, age, disability, mental health, you name it. I think the majority of people prefer sitting in the usual, comfortable seat to an uncomfortable one. But sitting with uncomfortableness will open our eyes and ears, and I feel that can be the only way to cultivate hope. 

Rabya, et al, have used their voices as a tool to communicate with us, their allies have amplified as far as they can, so that we can hear them. So let’s hear them really hard. Those voices are hope to educate us and the next generation. And I am believing in the hope.

I am questioning myself. How can I educate myself and my daughter in a more realistic way to acknowledge the diversity and how to embrace individuality? I haven’t got a clear answer to that. Yet. This is my first conscious step into the unknown. We can start by talking about it at family time. Familiarise ourself each day. Question ourself why we think the way we think. My husband and I were discussing so much deeper about this for the past few weeks. I have lots to learn from the both mother's and maker's perspectives. Just because I am a maker of small pottery business, it doesn't mean that I have nothing to do. In fact I have loads to work on for that matter, as long as I am using this online space to showcase my work. If you are like me, running a small business, you can always question yourself more intentionally. I am only starting this now, but better than never. You can always find resources. Look where you didn’t usually access, look at it harder with a different mindset. Reach out to the unknown. These people are even taking their own time to share lists of books, podcasts and accounts that can help your awareness.

The past few weeks, reaching out to some of new faces has been a fascinating process for me. Refreshing even. Enriching my understanding. Bringing hopeful seeds to my heart. 

If you have read this far, thank you so so much. I am sure there are many more people yet to discover and learn from, but here I would particularly like to say a big thank you to: 

Atia for inspiration 
Huma for her beautifully uplifting words
Africa for her positive attitude and compassion
Vicki for her determination
and of course
Rabya and Rida for their courage

Note to myself:

Never too late to learn
We can always re learn
Sit with uncomfortableness
Look into what really matters
Until you find your own little voice


links to people who inspired me to write this post (with their kind permissions to share this):




21 December 2018

seasons greetings


Studio doors are shut. 
School finished. 
Time for family begins. 

Thank you so much for all your support this year and those who come and read my rather 'neglected' blog!

Wishing you a wonderful festive season and a bright 2019!

Maki xxx

5 September 2018

Visiting artists in Japan - volume 3: Shinpei Mawatari

Beautiful hibi-kohiki bowl by Shinpai Mawatari, with our harvested beens

Our final destination was Hokkaido, the North Island of Japan. 

It was in the middle of unusual typhoon approaching that made us worry about the flight, but fortunately it had eased off and we managed to visit Shinpei Mawatari and his family, in Yoichi, Hokkaido. 

I first came across with his work via Instagram feed of a well known pottery shop Utsuwa Chidori in Tokyo. Among many potters work they present, Shinpei’s original “hibi-kohiki” (“crackled” kohiki) ware stood out far from others to my eyes. Its simplicity, the warmth of its texture and tones, variety of shapes and sizes. 

To someone who loves food (both cooking and serving), it is undoubtably a pure joy to see his work. Certainly it was to me (whether I’m good at cooking or not is another matter!) and I have been thoroughly enjoying his Instagram images, which often combined with lovely food with all their homegrown vegetables.

Sinpei at his studio

The scale of their allotment is huge. The dynamic of it was rather unreal to me. An ideal life style, one might think, yet the hardship in Northern country like Hokkaido with meters of snows piled for a long winter that he shares in his feed has actually made me feel so intrigued to seek more about his potter’s life all together. 

I enjoyed seeing his fatherhood from his little girl appearing now and again, and also in his wife’s Instagram feed too. I began to communicate with them both ever since. 


Wouldn’t it be nice to visit them? I asked my husband. It’s Hokkaido. It’s a long way just to visit a day. But we felt strongly right about this. So we have send an email to him. 

His response was so so genuine, and even more so, they offered us to stay. We were worried if that is going to be too much, being too rude. After all, it was the first time we’d meet. But we really liked Shinpei’s response saying that “I would like to follow my instinct. I believe that good will come.” How lovely is that! We of course loved his answer so went ahead to follow our gut feeling too.


Shinpei and his wife kindly came to pick us up from Otaru station. On route to their home, we saw many mountains as well as coast lines. I was rather surprised to see so many mountains as I always imagined the flat fields in Hokkaido. With such beautiful sights passing by, we headed to his house, surrounded by a huge land he owns with his allotment and his studio within.

Shipei harvesting fresh vegetables form their huge allotment 

Shinpei grew up in Hokkaido. He is slightly younger than me, but he has fifteen years of career as a professional potter. He recalls the beginning of his potter’s life, some struggles and changes he made. Having mentioned about how scary for me to have gone full time, he tells me that he would have been the same if he took a long journey till late. He was young and naive, just went for it without knowing much, he says gently. 

What he creates today is truly beautiful with his established experience, and yet doesn’t have 'snobby' 'sharp' look or any sorts, but the gentleness to welcome people who hold his tableware. 


His unique kohiki style has yellow ochre like tones and crackled surface texture, which I love. Each piece are slightly different depending on firing, which makes more exciting for us to choose own favourite. 

He also creates white version of these, as well as some hakeme (brush decorated slip) and ash glazed pieces, which he uses the resources from a local orchard. At outside his studio, there are natural spring water running that fills numbers of buckets to filter the ashes. 

spring water supply used for washing ashes
Shinpei’s ash glazed ware

The evening we stayed was so heartwarming. His wife served us a wonderful feast on his tableware, with all the vegetables freshly harvested by Shinpei that day. Even my daughter who can be a quite fussy on eating, did enjoyed freshly picked tomatoes, which were so so sweet. 

Selections of beautiful tableware at their home

Personally I was also very fond of his wife’s style in the kitchen, from the selection of items to how she stores and displays them. She used to run a food related shop, so no wonder she has a good taste.

Sabrina enjoys freshly picked tomato

Another wonderful aspect of this visit was that Sabrina got to play with their daughter, who is happened to be the same age. She absolutely loved the company, enjoyed the every minutes of it, laughing and giggling, and at some point, they were totally hysterical! It was so lovely to see them two together and has certainly made our trip extra special.

Thank you so much Shinpei's family for your hospitality and such a wonderful memory. 

Shinpei’s Instagram can be viewed here.

31 August 2018

Visiting artists in Japan - volume 2: Tamotsu Suzuki

beautiful vessel made by Tamotsu Suzuki

Back in UK, slowly recovering from a jet lag as I write this blog post. Time does go so quickly when you are having a good time, indeed. I always feel that the holiday can become extra special when you meet “people”on the land, rather than just sightseeing or laying on a beach, as it can enrich your experience and create memory. It has certainly did for us and visiting a family of Tamotsu Suzuki was one of such lovely memories.


I have been admiring his work for nearly two years ever since I have started Instagram. His expression of clay work and the details of nature around him on his Instagram feed must have been aspired so many viewers, not to mention myself of course, and I have been wishing to visit his studio one day. That day, did come true fairly quickly in a best possible way. 

Instagram community in UK (or all English speaking basis, should I say) has been somewhat life changing experience. Connection you can make with like-minded people is not just comforting but encouraging in a real life. 

Luckily the same has happened to me by using my native Japanese language and the result was quite significant. When I asked about visiting his studio in Kobuchizawa in the middle of beautiful mountain side, he kindly offered us to stay over night with them.


To be honest, we hesitated at first. We felt it would be too much, especially with a little one too, thought we would be too imposing. Plus, he is an experienced potter, unlike myself. Wouldn’t it be rude in Japan? After all, we are strangers other than our occasional comments on Instagram.

Then again, I also felt that it would be a great opportunity to get to know each other better, see their life and culture, which would also benefit to my daughter and husband. After some discussion with my husband, we have decided to trust our gut feeling and my instinct about him from our conversation. 


It’s funny when you worry something like this, often the others feel the same. Tamotsu later said the same. But we quickly felt it was the right decision and found our comfort in his family home.

Tamotsu in his own studio

In fact, our daughter Sabrina has instantly made a bond with his daughter, who’s a little older than her. Quietly but comfortably played together, to the point that she did not even want to come to visit his studio with us as she wanted to carry on playing with her, which was very unusual to her! Actually it was so sweet to see these two girls in their own world, and with that bonus, we have managed to explore Tamotsu’s studio and get his insight for some time without any distraction! Ha!


He hand builds each piece and finishes with slip in Japanese “kohiki” style, which mostly leaves matt surface texture. Every details are taken cared of, such as rims, which I particularly adore. Glaze colours he uses are often mono tone and they give somehow rustic yet modern style on your table.


He also makes sculptural pieces inspired by plants. I could spot them here and there in his house and studio, totally naturally, as if they are gently breathing and inhabiting. 

The view from his studio was magnificent. Clean air, sound of spring water. Everything was meant to be there to inspire you and balance your life. 

a stunning view from his studio even on a cloudy day

Hospitality from his family was genuine and at the same time so natural. We had a short trip to a local onsen (public bath with a hot spring), made gyoza (Japanese dumplings) as a part of the lovely dinner that night and played hanabi (fire work - one of ‘must do’ during summer in Japan) in the evening. Many of these were first experience for Sabrina and she absolutely loved every minute of it. Tamotsu’s down-to-earth, honest and open character made us feel at ease. There were laughters and smiles. Conversation lasted till late evening.

his guest room welcoming us with calmness
his daughter’s ‘teeny’ origami creations! 

Thank you so much for having us Tamotsu and his family. It was wonderful to have spent time together. We shall definitely treasure our memory as much as his pottery we happily brought home with us. 

Tamotsu’s webiste, click here

Tamotsu’s instagram, click here