Japan 2016: Pottery class with Shigeru Sensei
The first part of Emmy’s birthday series involved a pottery class with Shigeru sensei (40 years of pottery making experience!), Emmy found this one herself as she wanted to try something really authentic for her birthday, and of course I wasn’t going to miss out. This was a very personal experience as it was a private class with just Shigeru sensei and the two of us. Located near Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, his studio is in some back street that may as well have been underground, there’s no way we would’ve found it based on the address alone, so it’s a good thing he came out to the entrance of the shrine to lead us to the studio. The shrine itself was quite nice and had quite a number of trees showing there Autumn colours, I didn’t get any pictures as we were on the clock a bit and I didn’t want to hold us up.
It was quite good because Shigeru sensei gave us a little bit of a guided tour through the shrine grounds and explained the correct way to pray/wish and what most people go to the shrine for (academic success FTW!) before leading us through a bit of a maze of small streets to his studio.
He has a little presentation room at the front of the studio and lead us to the back where the magic happens. First we had some theory about the different techniques used in moulding and shaping the clay before we jumped in and started wedging. I wasn’t very good so spiral wedging ended up just squishing the same part over and over, but Emmy’s was better and she got some spiral pattern going on her clay. Once our clay had been wedged appropriately we took a morning tea break and enjoyed some yummy mochi and green tea, all served on some of Shigeru sensei’s custom creations I’m sure. Actually, the mochi was really, really nice, soft and sweet, but not too sweet (and its green colouring was actually from some kind of grass which apparently random old people pull out in random areas around the city). And the tea was a blended green tea with rice.
After that sweet break it was back to the grind, and Shigeru sensei explained the differences between the Japanese pottery wheel and the western pottery wheel before showing us what we needed to do to turn our blobs of clay into works of art.
He makes it looks so easy and explains it in words but also helps guide you as the clay spins around, ever the novice my clay didn’t “die” properly and tried to leap off the wheel before Shigeru sensei captured it and we had another go at killing it and moulding some dtraCorp special art.
Eventually, I (with a very large amount of help) had completed my three pieces, a tea bowl, a bowl for all seasons, and a sake cup, and it was Emmy’s turn to turn some dirt into a work of art. Either Emmy is a natural, or listens and follows instructions very well, or I’m just a complete tragic, because she seemed to have a lot more control of the clay than I did. She was going so well that Shigeru sensei decided to show her a technique of trimming some clay off the top, this didn’t go so well and we lost quite a bit of clay in the process :D. Never fear though, we moved on and completed three more pieces although a disappointed Emmy worked her last item a bit too much and it ended up being a bowl instead of a cup.
So we ended up with six items ready to be baked and glazed as Shigeru sensei sees fit, all going well in a couple months they’ll all arrive (we have to pay for shipping on top of the class fee) looking completely different from how we left them :D. If not all, we should get at least three or four of them and the others will be left to return to the Earth from where they came (or back into the clay pile for future students!).
Shigeru sensei was kind enough to walk us back to the bus stop and lend us an umbrella (as we’d neglected to take one out) so that we could head to Nishiki market for some afternoon snacking. This was a great experience and I would think that we’ll definitely do it again next time we are in Kyoto, it’s not only fun and informative, but you get something out of it (as in some artisan pottery) at the end as well. Two thumbs up, definite recommendation!
P.S. Off topic, but I should mention it, don’t let the gritty nature of Shigeru sensei’s studio workshop fool you, his rest room is in full working order and provides all of the Japanese comforts required for peaceful Zen time in the loo.