I get it!

The only bad thing about travel is the travelling! We have got used to traveling light. we can both pack bags that are under weight at 12  to 14 kgs. This is quite enough to sustain us for the 5 weeks that we will be away. Some of the extra weight that I carry above Janine’s slim baggage, is all the electronic garbage that we tote along to ‘keep in touch’. Taking all the necessary electronic chargers and adaptors to be able to keep more or less in touch while we travel is an extra few kilos that aren’t really essential, but optional. We travel  prepared for all situations, communications wise.

Of course, we could just travel ultra-light with no ‘telecoms’, but I do like to upload our on-going adventures to our blog as we go and to do that we need cameras, phones and a lap top. This is of course showing our age. If I were a young person, I’d just have a modern phone and that would do all of that in one go. I must think seriously about updating and get with the light-weight modern option.

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Janine has a rather more capable phone than I do. Hers is an iphone4 and it has a remarkably good camera on it. As good as my small pocket-sized Canon handy cam.

Another important thing that I have learnt to take on a long trip is a comfortable pair of shoes. I can’t go past these old leather ‘Walking shoes’ from Adelaide company ‘Slatters’. They are very comfortable for walking around in, something that we do a lot of when we are away. Slatters don’t make this model of shoe any more. They are now a discontinued line and this is very sad. They are not good-looking at all, but by gee, they are comfy!  These are my second pair and have lasted quite a few years. The new range that replace them are not as good for me. They don’t suit me or fit as well, nor are they as soft and snug fitting. From now on, I will be looking out for some other solution for the comfortable footwear conundrum.


While we have been in Japan, we have been renting some studio space and making some work. This is all part of my 10 year long project to go to each place in the world where they make single stone porcelain and make some work there in each of those places. I want to have a show of this collected work next year at Watters Gallery in Sydney. I only have one more place to go now, so I’m getting quite excited at the prospect of seeing such a long term project mature to some kind of completion.

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Some of my work, before and after glaze firing.

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Outside the studio, the bamboo is putting up new shoots. Its spring time here and everything is so green and luscious. The bamboo grows about a foot or 300mm. per day, so in a few days, it’s as high as Janine. We consider collecting some of the new small shoots, while they are still just 100mm. high, but there just isn’t enough time if we want to get our ceramic work done. And after all, this is what we have come all this way for. We see some fresh picked bamboo shoots in the local organic farmers market and this is excellent, as it is just as good and saves us so much time. It’s delicious added to a simple stir-fry/steamed mix of vegetables and brown rice.

Just finding brown rice at all in the supermarket here is such a breakthrough. I’ve never seen it for sale before. It’s a sign! However, it is only available in little slim 500 gram packs for extremists and health food weirdos, whereas white rice still comes in bags and sacks of 5 and 10kgs, up to 20kgs!

The next night I find some sole in the fresh fish mongers little shop, just down the road from our lodgings. He’s a lovely guy, so helpful and sweet. His wife is so lovely too. They operate this little business 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Nothing is too much trouble. They tell all about the days best choices and possibly all about how to cook it too, but I don’t speak any Arita dialect and very little Japanese, so little, that I can only just pick out a few words. This couple are so patient with me though, I can’t help being totally grateful to them for persevering with me.

Each day they have something else different in their shop, whatever is the best option for the day, plus all the usual offerings. We get some super-fresh sashimi from them when-ever we pass the shop. One day, I call in a bit early in the afternoon and I suddenly get it. There is no sashimi in the ice tray display counter as yet. He hasn’t got around to it, too busy preparing all his other orders? He says to me a sentence that includes two words that I recognise. “sashimi” and “mata” and I get it!  “The sashimi will be ready later on in the afternoon. I haven’t had time to do it yet” at least that is what I take from it. I nod, “mata” I reply and sure enough it is all there to choose from 2 hours later. I’m a bit chuffed at this little exchange. I suddenly feel like I’m starting to fit in a bit. I have experienced this sense of being able to hear more than I can speak on other visits to Japan. After a few weeks, I start to get my memory cells activated and somehow, I seem to know what people are talking about, without knowing all of the words that they are speaking. Freaky, but it happens consistently on each of my 6 visits here over the years.


I also choose some lovely lemon sole, or that is what I think that I am buying. I have no way of telling, but that is what it looks like. Mr Fish Monger San tells me a lot about it. I nod appreciatively, so then he cleans it and guts it, trims the fins, etc. His wife, Mrs Monger Okesama wraps it and then shows me the price on her calculator. I pay and then they pack some ice in a plastic bag for me to carry it with in my back pack, as they know all about me and where I am working and living. I haven’t told them a thing about me, but they know. The grapevine is working. They know that I’m walking, it’s a hot day and that I have a way to go. It’s all so civilised and pleasant and inclusive. I feel like a little part of me really belongs here. I serve the sole, steamed in a little olive oil, lemon juice and pepper with some steamed, fresh, hot, still crisp, broccoli on a bed of fresh finely shredded cabbage with some shiso dressing. Yum!

The next day at Mr Fish Monger San’s there are a dozen slim garfish sitting there on the ice. I buy them all, and cook them under the grill. They are so fresh that they don’t even smell of fish, just ocean!  I share them with the others in the kitchen.


Now for something entirely different!

When I get a lift to go to the big supermarket in another town, I’m suddenly aware that there are pictures of whales on the freezer cabinet. I look closer and see lumps of frozen whale meat in vac-packs. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen whale for sale anywhere before, ever! I can’t resist taking a picture of it. So, this is where it eventually ends up. In little towns and villages, in the freezer section.

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Later, when we are about to leave the supermarket, someone says to me that they saw me taking pictures of the freezer section with the whale meat in it.


I say that whaling isn’t approved of in Australia. We stopped doing it 40 years ago. They know precisely what I’m saying and put their hands over their mouths in a shy embarrassed sort of way. Oh yes! Australia doesn’t like it. With that, they let it pass.

I’m pretty sure that they know that Australia took Japan to Court and won the case. A little bit embarrassing for them, but they brought up the subject not me. Japan then withdrew from the court and refused to recognise the decision.  They have been ostracised and have decided to go it alone. An environmental pariah. It was made clear in the legal case evidence, that there isn’t and never was, any scientific basis for killing hundreds of minke whales each year. It was just an embarrassing lie, and they have been caught out. Where does the conversation go from here? It doesn’t!

The Japanese government obviously decided that there was more political mileage to be made by going feral and pleasing its political backers with this unjustified whale slaughter circus, than there was in being a good global citizen. Even if it is all done at a loss and isn’t universally popular. We both probably know that there isn’t any profit in whaling. As I understand the situation, no company wants to fund it, to take the financial risk. It is entirely funded by the government, simply because it’s a loss-making operation. The decision is completely political. It’s desecration at a loss, funded by the political interests. We both decide to let it pass at that and we make our way out of the market. My own position on this is that Japan is an independent country and can probably do as it likes. As it is doing. However, they should be brave enough to tell the truth about it and not lie about the fake science.


Our time is up now and we have finished our time here. I crush all of my pots that were not good enough make the cut. About 50% of what I have made here this time. I burn my poetry. I clean up my wheel. I dry all of my turnings. I pack them into strong plastic bags and pack them securely into strong cardboard boxes and post them back to Australia. I’ll see them again after 2 months spent at sea in the cheap surface to surface mail system. It’s so much cheaper to post dry turnings than fresh wet plastic clay with 30% water content. We have perfectly good water back home in Australia to make good clay from these dry fragments. They may yet have another life?

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As we catch the train out of Arita, I see the fields of over-winter barley are being harvested now. They were looking very ripe and going to head when we trained into here 5 weeks ago. The stubble is being ploughed in in preparation for the next crop. The other fallow fields are being flooded and ploughed ready for the next rice crop. The weeds and purple flowering, nitrogen-fixing ‘vetch’ that has been allowed to grow in the fallow period needs to be turned in as a green manure. It all looks good from the window of the train as we speed by.


When I was here 8 months ago the rice was being harvested, now it’s the early, over-wintered’ barly coming in, with the summer rice being planted.

The circle of life turns. I suddenly feel the need to get back to my own garden and do all of the weeding and planting that I know will now be needing to be done. Annabelle Slougette has been working in our pottery and keeping the place under care-and-maintenance for the past 5 weeks.

I can hardly wait to get home, now that I’m starting on the way back. I’m consoled by the beautiful bento box lunch on the train. It helps!


fond regards from Southern Japan