When I first started looking for a CIP project I had a few ideas: sado classes, dance club, working at a café, ceramic classes. I decided upon sado at first, as I have an interest in tea ceremony. That ended up not working out , so I turned my attention to pottery. My initial interest in Sado was in fact due to my interest in ceramics so it seemed fitting as a CIP. I would learn a skill as well as make new friends and become better at Japanese. I had a bit of a struggle finding something that was going to work, but I am really glad that I ended up taking a pottery class at a local workshop near my home in Uji.
In my class I am decidedly the odd ball out, not only am I a foreigner I am also by far the youngest person there and arguably the least experienced. Before this class I had only tried my hand at pottery in a middle school art class. It’s hard to admit, but I’m afraid I have not improved much since then. The first class skipped an introduction and went right into work on an imperial palace style tea cup, which is a wide mouthed slightly disfigured model. It wasn’t super straight or clean cut so I assume that it wouldn’t be too difficult. That was a mistake. It turns out that there is a lot of skill and effort that goes into making a cup look perfectly imperfect. Skill that I do not possess yet, but many of my classmates hardly need any help in creating beautiful cups and bowls. I on the other hand am becoming adept at asking my sensei what in the world I did wrong to get a tea cup with cracks going down the side and a whole near the top.
One of the things that makes my pottery classes difficult, but also extremely useful in learning Japanese is that my teacher does not speak much English. Nor do any of my classmates. As one of the lower level Japanese speakers in this program this does cause a problem. Luckily my teacher explains what he is doing in both words and examples, so I can match the common phrases I am picking up with his actions and vice-versa. At first there were many misunderstandings, for example I couldn’t figure out why he was telling me my cup wasn’t hot enough (暑い) when he was trying to tell me that it wasn’t thick enough (厚い). When I got home after class I expressed my frustration to my host mom who laughed and explained the difference between the two あつい to me.
Through this class I am also able to study the politeness levels of Japanese interactions between the students and the teacher. Most of my classmates are retired お婆ちゃん and お祖父さん、 but my teacher is in his forties. There is also a father-daughter pair in the group. This makes the interactions really interesting. The sensei, while still in charge and referred to as sensei by everyone, is also treated in a congenial nephew fashion and he refers to the father in the father-daughter pair as お父さん. There isn’t really much idle chatter in my class, most people are focused on their pieces, and being so much younger and rather limited in understanding I think that some of my older classmates hesitate to talk to me. Most of the chat that does happen is about the weather, or why I cam to japan. I was once asked if I thought that all Japanese people would be wearing kimonos. Which threw me for a loop.
The path to my class is through the Uji-Bashi district and the walk itself is a really interesting look into Japan. Surrounded by various temples and beautiful scenery it is a popular tourist attraction, as well as hiking and ritual shrine visits. Every so often I get to see young kids on their way to shrine to celebrate shichigosan, which again had to be explained by my host mom when I came home with questions. Overall I really think that my CIP project helped me get more involved in the city that I live in and improve my Japanese and confidence when it comes to talking to Japanese speakers. Now I’m more worried with how I accidently carved a hole in the bottom of my tea bowl than whether I am going to mess up saying something.