Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
A pang of guilt at the pottery fair
Spare a thought for Japan’s foreign clay throwers.
The plunging economic tide has exposed some interesting characters here, like Graham McAlister, who came from Australia in 1983 to study pottery and never moved back. I met him at the Himatsuri Festival, a huge pottery bazarre-cum-folk festival held over the Golden Week holidays in the town of Kasama, where craftsmen and women have been throwing the soft local clay since the 18th century.
“It’s been a bit rough this year,” said Graham. “There’s still loads of people turning up, but not many are buying.”
“It was just a great big potters’ party at first,” said Roland Sachse from Germany, a veteran clay-meister who has lived and worked here since 1972.
“You should stay for the music tonight,” he smiled, sipping a bottle of beer and watching over his stall.
Himatsuri is now the largest event in the Ibaragi prefecture calendar. About 200,000 people come to the Art Forest Park each year to stroll around the 200-odd stalls offering food, drink, face-painting for the kids, and mountains of pottery, all around an open stage where musicians play through the day, with full concerts laid on at least twice during the week.
After chatting to Graham at his stall for five minutes or so, I started to feel awkward. It was all very well sounding sympathetic about his sales, but I hadn’t actually bought anything myself.
I picked out a little soy sauce pot for 2,800 yen ($28) and held it up to admire the flecks of red and gold glaze. Graham explained how it took three turns in the kiln to fix the clay, then the first layer of glaze, and finally the extra dashes of coloured glaze at a lower temperature.
“It should really be four, though: one each for the red and the gold. But then I’d have to charge more for it.”
Hard times don’t change good nature, though. When I took out my wallet, Graham said: “Let’s call it 2,500 yen. You had to pay 300 for the car park, eh?”
Photo credits: REUTERS/Hugh Lawson