My New Book – 5 Stones

IMG_7383205 pages, 125,000 words, full colour, soft cover. Written, collated, printed and bound on the kitchen table. A very limited edition hand made book.

I have spent the last few weeks and months editing and formatting my new book. This will be my 6th book and 7th if I include my contribution to Handbook for Australian Potters.

This new Book is titled 5 Stones, and details my recent research into single stone porcelain. The book will be launched by Grace Cochrane at the opening of my show at Watters Gallery on Wednesday 16th of August from 6 to 8 pm. I have a selection of single stone porcelain from all 11 sites on show in the exhibition.

15 years ago, I discovered a white porcelain stone near where I live. It made me think about where else porcelain has been discovered and when. Over the past 15 years, I have travelled to each of the places in the world where porcelain was originally discovered/invented independently from first principles and found that they all had something in common, and that thing was a stone called ‘sericite’. It turns out that originally, porcelain wasn’t made from the white clay at all. Kaolin wasn’t involved. All the original porcelains were made from a special type of stone called mica.
My travels led me to China, Korea, Japan, Cornwall, France and Germany. I even developed communications with academics in California, Alaska and London. Then finally back to Mittagong in Australia. Near to where I started.  I have made my porcelain pieces out of these weird and interesting materials in remote villages, artist studios, back rooms, workshops, even factories. Where-ever I could track down and find amenable people using this ancient technique who were open to collaboration. 
At each site that I visited I made works out of the local porcelain stone, but I also used the opportunity to collect samples of their stone and posted these rocks back to Australia where I could process them myself and make local, contemporary versions of these ancient porcelains. I collected native porcelain stone material from 11 sites around the world and have made what I think are beautiful pots from them, both on-site, where that was still possible and back at home in my own workshop. 
This exhibition shows results of my firings and 15 years of research into these single-stone native porcelains. To coincide with this show I have written a travel journal documenting my travels. My book, titled ‘5 Stones’ will be launched at the opening by Grace Cochrane. The book stands alone in its own right as a travellers tale, as it has its own characters and arc of narrative, but also helps to illuminate the story behind the actual works on display in the show.
I have works in the show that were fired on-site in clean conditions to give very white and translucent pieces and I also have the same materials fired at home in my wood fired kiln with very different results.
4 of the 11 examples are made from porcelain that is no longer available, as 2 of the sites are lost forever and another two have complications.
I consider my self very lucky to have been able to get my hands on all of these ancient and very special porcelain materials. This will be the first and only time that all these porcelain ‘clays’ have ever been shown together in the one place.
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Unglazed and flashed wood fired Arita porcelain
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Wood fired and celadon glazed Japanese porcelain, fired in my kiln in Balamoral.
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Korean porcelain made onsite in Korea
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Woodfired Japanese porcelain
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My woodfired local Joadja porcelain, showing some carbon inclusion on rim and base.
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Korean porcelain stone body, woodfired in my studio.
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Amakusa porcelain from Japan, made in Arita.
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My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with a lot of ember and ash contact. The intense carbon inclusion reduces the translucency.
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My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with ember and ash contact.

Something boro, Something blue

I have started to get stuck into the pile of shirts and jeans that need repairing. I have managed to wear out several pieces of clothing in recent weeks, all work wear items, worn through in the regions of highest wear.

The most critical was my welding shirt, which has worn very well for many years, possibly 5 or 6 years. It had become a bit threadbare and almost transparent at the front. To the point that I got a radiation burn on my tummy after spending a day welding up all the seams on the recent kiln. I didn’t realise at the time of it happening, that I’d torn a hole through it. I had a ‘T’ shirt on as well but it wasn’t enought, as you don’t feel radiation, but in the evening, when I showered, I got a nasty shock.
So my first job is to add some dense dark fabric to the front of my shirt. I also have a few pairs of jeans that have worn through in the front thighs and knees, but also suspiciously in the crotch? I’m guessing that this is from sitting on the Leach-style potters kick wheel wooden saddle? I’m hoping so, as I can’t think of any other reason.
These are some sort of stretchy jean fabric, so I steal the off-cuts from the bottom of the legs of Janine’s new turquoise stretch jeans, that she had to shorten, so as to get the same weight and stretch of the materials matched. The colours work OK too. Perhaps not in public? I’d feel a bit like one of those Japanese monkeys!
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I have quite a collection of used, 2nd hand, Japanese indigo fabrics. I buy these off-cuts and old recycled pieces of clothing whenever I go to Japan. They are still plentiful and reasonably cheap in the markets. I really like them. indigo dyed fabric is so long-lasting because of the preserving effect of the indigo. I also just happen to love the colour. There was a time, when I was younger, when I couldn’t feel really comfortable in the colour blue, I preferred orange, then my favourite colour morphed into yellow, eventually into green, and finally I’m OK with blue and mauve, or even a bit of purple. I guess that this leads me to thinking that I’ll end up wearing red. Perhaps I’ll go full circle and wear yellow again? Or will I finally up liking white? I doubt that. I lead a very busy life. I just can’t wear white. It gets dirty so quickly.
What ever the reason, I’m very happy to wear Japanese indigo fabric as patches on my clothes. The Japanese even have a specific word for this, and it’s called ‘boro’. The repair or mending of worn clothing with patches to prolong their life. It was always seen as something shameful in the past, when it was a sign of poverty, but these days, I’m starting to see Japanese patchwork clothing everywhere. It’s finally trendy. I don’t do it because it’s trendy. I’ve been patching my clothes ever since I learnt to sew. My mother taught me to sew on my own buttons, take up my the legs of my new jeans and hem them. So it wasn’t such a big step to add a patch or two as needed.
Next, I work on my worn out shorts that need a new front to one leg.
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then the jeans.
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An earlier pair from the time when I was transitioning out of orange through yellow into green.
This activity fits in well with my philosophy of self-reliance and not throwing anything out until it is really worn out. For me this is not any statement of fashion, as fashion is just not on my radar at all. It’s a political statement. Not consuming stuff that you don’t really need and making things last, it’s cutting against all the advertising and market pressures. Over consuming is polluting the world with toxic landfill and adding to global warming. So much of what we are encouraged to buy is just not necessary. So I’ve decided to minimise my spending and as a result, I’ve found that I have more money left over for the things that I really want and need, when I really need them.
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I spend my evenings these days sitting comfortably and listening to music or listening to the idiot box with half an eye to the screen, while I pin-up and stitch my patches. Some of these clothes that I’m working on go back 15 years and they are still going, and I believe becoming more interesting as they display their work life and history. I’m applying new patches over worn-out older ones. The layers just keep building. It’s an interesting topography of work, wear and repair. A 3D sculpture or installation that gently illustrates environmental activism as some sort of artwork.
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I’m pretty sure that it’s not art, It’s not quite ‘boro’, it’s possibly interesting, maybe it’s beautiful? Maybe not?. Otherwise it’s certainly ‘creative’ and a nice piece of re-cycling, re-purposing and life-cycle extending handiwork. After-all, it’s just work-wear.
If nothing else, it’s a very rewarding evenings entertainment.
Best wishes
Steve

The Art of Embracing Damage

We live in an age of instant access to information and news, except that it’s all mostly bad. I’ve stopped watching the news. It’s all too depressing. I don’t want to be ‘connected’ to this. I want my interactions to be quiet, peaceful and positive. I want to choose a constructive, creative, engagement with my environment and the people around me.

I have spent my life developing a philosophy of minimal consumption and self-reliance. I believe in not buying anything that I don’t need and not throwing anything away that isn’t fully worn out. This has been part of an exploration of how it might be possible to live frugally and gently in a faster, noisier and bigger world of seemingly senseless and excessive consumerism.

My Partner Janine King and I work in isolation, making only what pleases us. This is not good business practice, but we don’t think of ourselves as being in business. We are trying to live an independent creative life, that is sensitive to our surroundings, gentle on the earth, low-carbon and low-impact on others around us. We are attempting to live this life of small monetary rewards, but high satisfaction and so far it seems to be working out OK for us.

I work with the raw materials that I can find around me in my immediate locality and then research and test them, to attempt to discover what interesting qualities they exhibit and then try to make original ‘location-specific’ works from them. I find this approach most fascinating and very rewarding. I have discovered a single-stone native porcelain, and developed a body from it that is very beautiful, especially when wood fired. I have also found and developed a single-stone, washed basalt gravel, blackware body that is gorgeous. These two special materials are the result of a lifetimes research. Not much to show for a life, but I continue to create these Senseless Acts of Beauty, because it pleases me. I am under no illusions. I know that I could not have lived this quality of life without Janine as my partner to help me achieve it, but most importantly, we have been very lucky to have lived this simple, artistic life in Australia, where there has been no civil unrest.

It has been my intension during my career to make simple, elegant, and hopefully beautiful bowls. These bowls have been significantly influenced by Japanese and Chinese aesthetics as well as the  Japanese culture of tea and Zen Buddhism  I’m not a Buddhist. But some of the thinking around Zen practice has influenced my quest to live a simple, non-consumerist, low-carbon life. When I was studying the origins of single-stone porcelain in Japan recently. I did a course in Kintsugi. The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and pure gold. I have started to repair some of my more interesting failures using this technique.

Kintsugi embodies three Buddhist concepts and makes them tangible. The first is ‘wabi-sabi’. Realising that something that is flawed and imperfect can still be extraordinarily beautiful  The second is ‘mushin’, the concept of non-attachment and acceptance of change. Nothing is perfect, nothing lasts and nothing is ever finished. The last is ‘mono no aware’, a certain wistfulness at the impermanence of things. We are only here for such a short time together. Our transience is a reality of our life. Embrace the moment as it is.

I feel that when I repair a beautiful pot that is broken, damaged or otherwise ‘non-perfect’ in a Western, conservative sense, I make it all the more beautiful. Spending time recovering and enhancing something that is otherwise lost, is a sign of great respect for that object. It fits well with my philosophy of minimal-consumption, self-reliance and making things last as long as possible.

Because kintsugi has been called the art of embracing damage, it occurred to me that these, recovered bowls might be a suitable and beautiful metaphor for recovery from conflict. Hence my offering them for inclusion in this up-coming end-of-year show at Watters Gallery called ‘war’.

I have very few ambitions in life. When I was young I decided that I would live in the country and to grow my own food, to make a creative life of some sort, build my own house, and live a self-reliant life. I have more-or-less fulfilled all of these modest ambitions.  My lasting ambition is to make things that are meaningful, simple and modest. I go about this work of creating random acts of beauty without any regard to the effect that it may have on others. I am selfish, but not thoughtless.

Our indigenous peoples have a long tradition of respectful collecting, gathering and hunting. I feel that my small experiments interacting with the natural world, collecting stones to grind up to make my pots are compatible as a contemporary continuation/interpretation of this ancient practice. It respects place and biota. It’s 40 years since I moved to this small Village in the Southern Highlands south of Sydney. I’m pretty self-contained here. I don’t want for a lot, so I have everything that I need and I am grateful for that.

My bowls are small, simple gestures. They appear to be empty, but are in fact full of good wishes and calm, thoughtful intent.

The exhibition ‘War’ at Watters Gallery opens on Wednesday 23rd of November.

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Tomatoes for 5 Months

We are now just back from our 5 weeks in Japan continuing our research into single stone porcelain. We were lucky enough to get to many more sites on this visit, where porcelain stone is, or has been mined. See my earlier posts below.

I have been able to make a few nice pots while I’ve been here. Actually, I made a lot of pots, but destroyed all of inferior work that wasn’t up to scratch and didn’t make the cut.  I’m not here to make rubbish. I want to make things that I can be proud of, nothing less. My rejected pots have all been crushed up to dry powder, packed into boxes and shipped back home for a possible 2nd life. My best work was glazed and fired onsite and also shipped home. All my efforts are currently in containers at the port or on the high seas. I will see them again in 2 months. Hopefully they will still look as good when we are reunited.

This work is all a part of my 10 year project to go to all the places in the world where single stone porcelain has been made and then make some work at each of these places, out of the material that is to be found there. These works will then be shipped back here to Australia, where I will exhibit the whole body of work from all the sites along-side my own single stone porcelain pots, that I have made here, in one big show. I’m rather hoping that it will look good when all amassed together in one show. Only time will tell. I’m almost finished. Next year should see the end of it.

As soon as we are back home and settled in. We unpack our bags and put on a load of our soiled clothes into the washing machine, which grumbles and squeeks as it grinds along. I can’t complain, this machine is over twenty years old and still going – just. I think that it is the leaking water pump that is the problem. I have a new one in stock. I ordered it months ago when I noticed the water starting to leak from underneath. It took months to get here. It arrived just a week before we left on our long trip. I didn’t have time to install it before we left. Now that I’m back, I will have to make time.

After the basics are dealt with, then it’s straight out into the garden to check out how all the plants have fared while we have been away. Apparently it has been very dry for most of the time, with just one proper fall of rain. Annabelle Slougetté has been living here in our absence and has kept everything alive for us.

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The first thing that I notice when I get into the garden, is how dead so much of the garden is. The last of the summer corn, has finished, dried out and turned up its fibrous toes. We made an effort to mulch as much of it as we could in the week before we left and this has really paid off for us. There are so few weeds now. A couple of days of intensive work will bring it all back into healthy production again, as there are loads of winter vegetables coming on. I made an effort to get all these planted early in the season, at the end of summer/early autumn. So, now we have broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and spinach ready to pick.

Surprisingly, many of the late summer plants are still lingering on and still producing food. Others, their time being up, have gone to the big veggie patch in the sky. They will soon be headed into the compost bin, where they will rot down and be fertiliser for next seasons crop of summer vegetables.

As I look around, I see that there are still some little yellow tomatoes ripening on the old, almost dead, vines. We have been picking tomatoes now for 5 months, pretty amazing for us. So this is global warming?

This will likely be the last pick, as the plants have lost all their leaves and are pretty much dead now. Interestingly though, there are still some small new tomato plants germinating and growing up. One is even flowering, but I can’t believe that this will amount to anything, as the first day of winter is only 2 days away. The first frosts can’t be too long after that.

We  used to get our first frosts at the beginning of May, now its the end of May or early June and possibly later? A couple of years ago, we went right through winter with only minimal frosts, to the point that we didn’t get any apples on any of the trees the following summer. Apples need a minimum number of frosts (or winter chilling hours) to develop the hormones that are necessary to make the flowers fertile.

I go straight back out into the garden with my basket and fill it with little yellow tomatoes, the last of the lingering sweet basil and a load of capsicums and chillis.

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I set about making a tomato/caps/chilli salsa by browning a few onions in good olive oil and adding 6 small knobs of garlic. The ones that are so small at 20 to 30mm. dia. that it really isn’t worth peeling them. They will add heaps of flavour to this mix and the small amount of skins and paper will be removed when I strain the whole batch. I let them softening down along with all the diced fruit over a long time at low heat on the wood fired kitchen stove.

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I will  pass it all through the kitchen mouli sieve to take out all the tomato and capsicum  skins and seeds, then reheat it to sterilise it and bottle it in heated glass jars. It will keep for a year or so, but probably won’t last that long. It’s too delicious, although very ‘hot’ with chilli flavour. It will make a great addition to winter stocks and sauces over the coming cooler months.

This little effort marks the end of our summer preserving for this year. I’m very pleased, as I wasn’t expecting there to be any fruit left to preserve. This simple garden-to-kitchen-to-pantry excercise grounds me and resets my emotional and spirituual compass to ‘home’ after being away. This is what I do. This is what I live for. This is me. The self-reliant potter/gardener.

A close inspection of the garden beds reveals a lot of little germinating seedlings of onions, carrots, beetroot and rocket. I planted these seeds just the week before we left. I also planted a few hundred cloves of garlic. Most of which have now germinated and are showing their green shoots. Peas are also up and growing quite strongly, I hope to see them flowering soon.

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There are a lot of capsicums ready to pick, so I decide to stuff them with ricotta and bake them in the oven, as the stove is lit, we are making hot water and warming the house up as well, seeing that we are now home and the weather is so windy and cold. Such a change from the weather in southern Japan, where it was almost summer and the weather was balmy to hot.

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I make a stuffing out of whatever we have at hand in the fridge. Before we left I had bottled some little cucumbers and some dried tomatoes. I add these into a lump of fresh ricotta. I add a few cloves of our garlic, along with a few capers and an anchovy or two, a few olives, a shallot and some parsley. I dice it all up and mash it together with some veggie and herb salt substitute. I would like to add a little bit of finely diced feta cheese to give it a little bit of chewy texture to the cheesey mix, but I don’t have any at this time. I’ll add to my shopping list for next trip into town. There are plenty of capsicums left to pick, so we will be having a meal, not unlike this one again in the coming days or weeks. I like to use what I have in the garden and pantry. Our main food expense these days since we lost our chickens and ducks is protein, which these days consists mostly of fish.

The fresh fish truck is up from the coast today, so I buy a small piece of super-fresh sashimi grade kingfish, we have a small fillet for lunch. I skin it and slice it up and we have it with a little soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger in vinegar. Yum. Itadakimas!

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Teppanyaki

On our way home, we let our hair down and go out for dinner a few times. Just cheap places, mostly okonomiyaki. We get three different meals in 3 different cities. We get to try okonomiyaki in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.

Although the technique varies from city to city, from restaurant to restaurant. The general taste is pretty much the same, because most of the ingredients are the same. The overriding flavour is that of the brown okonomiyaki sauce and cabbage. The sauce, which is not unlike brown BBQ sauce and the smothering of kewpie mayonnaise add a very distinctive character. These tend to be the dominant flavours.

There is however, a noticeable variation in texture from place to place. In Osaka the texture of the batter is a little bit creamier. In Tokyo, it was a bit more dense and solid in texture. In Kyoto we saw one place where so little batter was used, that it was mostly the egg holding the whole thing  together. Yet in another, there was plenty of flour in the mix.

Of course, I realise that you can’t just eat half a dozen meals and say that these represent the whole of each locality. We were eating at the markets and in cheap cafes and restaurants while in transit around the country. So what I write has to be taken with a sprinkle of bonito flakes and a pinch of salt!

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It was an amazing series of taste and textural experiences in a short period of time. The  Tokyo version was quite firm with what seemed like a lot of flour in the batter. I noticed that when the chef flipped it over to cook on the other side, the thing bounced a bit like rubber! Very dense indeed. I watched the other chefs cooking other varieties for other customers at the long teppanyaki grill table, and they were all of the same dense texture.

I Kyoto, the batter was a lot thinner and the resulting texture was a lot more fibrous with the cabbage showing a major influence on the finished dish. There is a very slim layer of batter applied to the hot plate first. Then a big pile of cabbage is placed on top. a dressing of some sort of liquid is ladled onto it and after some time a little hole is made in the pile and an egg is cracked into it.

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Some more batter is ladled onto the cabbage pile and then the whole thing is flipped over and the other side is cooked. If bacon is to be included, it is added on top just before flipping over.

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While in Osaka, the texture was soft and creamy. I’m told that they use a local mountain potato or yam, that when it is grated, it turns directly into a thick, sticky liquid and it is this that defines the taste and texture. I don’t know, so I can’t say. This is just what I was told, so I’m repeating it.

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At the Toji markets in Kyoto we make a point of always having the okonomiyaki from the same stall. It’s a hot day this time around and the pancake goes down very well with a chilled beer. It’s a filling cheap and cheerful respite from the crowds and all the hussle and bussle and delicious with it.

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In Arita, down in Kyushu, we were served a special okonomiyaki, made at the table of our friend, for a dinner party of mixed international visitors. This was the most rewarding to eat, because of the circumstances and company. We are very fond of the friends that we have made here in Japan and we value their friendship highly.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Why?

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.

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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.

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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!

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fond regards from Southern Japan

 

 

 

A Visit to the Organic Sake Brewery

Having taken an interest in drinking sake. Well, you have to don’t you? I’m in Japan and I just want to fit in, so I’m keen to learn about sake. After doing the workshop in Kintsugi gold lacquer porcelain repair. We got to talking with our teacher about all things Japanese, and it turns out that he and his wife have a friend locally that owns and runs an organic sake brewery.

We have arranged a date and they are expecting us. We get the full tour. This lovely old wooden building is the original structure, but the thatch roof has been replaced now. The building is over 150 years old and the young man who shows us around is the 5th generation of his family to be running it.

The water for the sake fermentation is drawn up from a deep well down under the brewery.

The water here is really clean, as it is located well away from any industry, surrounded by steep hills and deep valleys. It rains a lot and the rivers here run powerfully. The granite hills are flawed with millions of tiny cracks and fissures. The water percolates deep into the granite hills and seeps down into the water table.

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The rice used for sake making comes from all over Japan. Each district has its own specific character and is used to make different styles of sake. Some are polished more then others to improve the taste and mouth-feel. We also learn that there are innumerable different strains of sake yeast. The life long training and study of Sake making is just like the study of vinology. Learning to match the different yeasts and rice strains to get the best result from the current years rice crop.

As this brewery is a small family affair, they are very flexible in their approach to getting the best result. Everything is done in small batches, so many different brews can be produced during the season.

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The equipment used is a combination of the antique and the hi-tech. The giant press is still the original one, where as some of the modern filtering and pumping equipment is stat of the art.

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It’s a beautiful old wooden structure. I love the antiquity, the wabi/sabi well-used and loved atmosphere of it all. The sake is excellent too!

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We buy two different bottles one medium and the other dry. We are warned that because there are no preservatives used in the manufacture and bottling, unlike commercial sakes, we should keep the sake in the fridge until use and then drink it fairly quickly after it is opened.

That won’t be a problem!