May 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Thanks to Karen Griffiths I have just been reading a beautifully written and inspiring book, called The Road through Miyama by Leila Philip. It is a book about Philip’s two year sojourn as a potter’s apprentice in Miyama, a small pottery village on the southernmost tip of Japan, in the 1980s. It is so much more, though, than a book about her apprenticeship, which is what the book hangs on. It is a finely studied travelogue, a coming together of two very different cultures, the experiences of a young American ‘gaijin’ (foreigner) in traditional Japanese society.

As it says on the front of the book, it is a ‘gentle and generous portrait of the village’ written with poetic turns on every page. “Outside, tatters of afternoon sun filter through the clouds, warming my spot for the remaining two hours of daylight.” Philip delights in the life of the village and writes memorably about her apprenticeship, her teacher and his wife, traditional customs and the planting and harvesting of the rice paddies.

One line hidden amongst the pages helped me enormously last week. Philip needs to finish turning the rice bowl she is making and writes that she was needing the bowls to ring when tapped rather than have a dull thud. So, I tried this when I was turning my bowls. As the bowls sat on my wheel I tapped them and there was a definite change of pitch between a hollow echo when the right thickness and a thud when too thick. I had to listen carefully but it was there. I used the hollow echo as my guide and sure enough, if I trusted the sound (a difficult thing to do, as I was putting my faith, and the welfare of the bowl, in the hands of the sound), when I had finished the turning was smooth and even. It was a little revelation, another step on my learning curve.






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