A recent post introduced you to my ugly mug from Tobe. It has to be said though that having a coffee mug as a souvenir from Japan is more than little odd.
In Japan, tea rules.
The everyday tea that people drink is green tea, generically called Ocha (お茶), and it is the fuel that drives the Japanese business world.
So it makes far more sense that I’d have Japanese tea cups as souvenirs from Japan. And strange as I might seem, while in Japan I actually did the thing that makes sense. Whenever I got the chance to travel, I made a point of buying a tea cup at my various destinations.
One place I had the good fortune to visit was Bizen in Okayama prefecture. During the time I worked in Hiroshima, the student of my teaching colleague drove us first to see Kōraku-en, a famous park in Okayama Prefecture. He then took us to meet some craftsmen who produced Bizen pottery.
Here’s picture of the beautiful Bizen tea cup I bought.
As you can see, Bizen pottery is not your grandma’s china.
Apparently, the clay in the area doesn’t lend itself to having glaze applied to it. Instead, Bizen pottery is fired at very high temperatures and one technique potters use is to throw charcoal into the kiln near the end of the 10-to-14 day firing period to act as partial glaze.
Speaking of the potter’s, here are a few pictures that were taken during our visit. I’m not completely sure that these are craftsmen who made the teacup above, but they were, master and apprentice in the middle of firing some pottery when we visited.
The techniques used by Bizen potters results in a rough, imperfect and decidedly burnt-looking teacup. To our western eye it might look closer to a mistake, a reject.
To the Japanese eye the obvious “imperfections” of Bizen pottery can be seen as fundamentally beautiful.
Only recently, many years after leaving Japan, I think I’ve found out just why that is: it’s an appreciation of things that suggest imperfection because of that in turn suggests impermanence.
It’s part of the aesthetic that’s called wabi-sabi:
My understanding of wabi-sabi only is only Wikipedia-deep at this point, but here’s the best description of it I can find:
The aesthetic [is] defined as the beauty of things “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. Things in bud, or things in decay, as it were, are more evocative of wabi-sabi than things in full bloom because they suggest the transience of things. As things come and go, they show signs of their coming or going, and these signs are considered to be beautiful.Wikipedia
This appreciation for the impermanence of things comes from the Buddhism where absolutely everything around us is considered to be “evolving from or dissolving into nothingness.”
This “nothingness” is not empty space. It is rather a space of potentiality. If the seas represent potential then each thing is like a wave arising from it and returning to it. There are no permanent waves. At no point is a wave complete, even at its peak. Nature is seen as a dynamic whole that is to be admired and appreciated.Wikipedia
I don’t know about you, but this makes complete sense to me. We are born made of the stuff of this earth and we’ll eventually return to again be the stuff of this earth. Our existence is like a wave welling up, travelling for distance, and returning to the ocean from which it came.
If tea cup you use reminds you of the nature of existence, that things are impermanent, perhaps constant reminders might change your view of life? Perhaps you might remember there’s a end to things and your time on earth is brief?
Perhaps you might savour the tea you’re drinking in this moment just a little more?