Before I arrived in Japan, I knew that I had to pick an activity for the Community Involvement Project, otherwise known as CIP. Because Kyoto has a long history and culture of artisans, I decided that I wanted to involve myself in the arts in one way or another. There were so many options but the reason I chose ceramics in particular is that I had thoroughly enjoyed my experience when I took a ceramics class back in my senior year of high school. I honestly would not have minded choosing something I had never done before but at the same time, CIP was something I was committing myself to for the entire semester. As a result, I chose something that I had at least some exposure to so that I had a clear idea of what I was getting myself into.
Now, I knew that taking pottery classes was going to be a bit expensive but I was willing to pay up to a certain amount. With the help of my Japanese teacher, I found two that I thought were reasonably priced and made plans to visit them. The cheaper of the two, unfortunately, was not taking students as the teacher was not in Kyoto that often. As a result, I ended up at the slightly more expensive and slightly further studio called Asahiyaki in Uji, Kyoto. It is about an hour commute for me but Uji is one of the most serene, and most beautiful places that I have ever been to that I feel it is always worth the time to make that trip. To be completely honest, I buy a bento and sit by the Uji River every week before pottery class to reflect on my life and my experiences (lol).
Learning to throw pots at Asahiyaki has led me to many interesting observations. The first thing I noticed was how casual the teacher was with me. Knowing Japanese society and having studied some keigo at this point, I found it very interesting that the teacher omitted all forms of desu/masu and spoke as if I was a friend. However, I noticed this with not just myself, but with the other students as well — and by students, I mean the elderly. The pottery classroom is mainly full of adults and the elderly, which, in retrospect, makes sense. After several weeks of going there, I believe that I am the only college-aged student that goes there regularly. But I digress. My teacher is young, but she is definitely over a decade older than me. She definitely has the upper position in not just status, but also age and therefore, can speak casually with me. What really surprised me was how casually she spoke with the elderly and how they responded in polite form. This led me to believe that in a classroom, no matter the age, the teacher is the one with the most power — the most “erai” person. But still, being that casual with the elderly — some parts of me believe that that is really just my teacher’s friendly personality.
Having grown up in America, many of Japan’s customs and culture is somewhat of a culture shock because the two countries are so different. However, as a Korean, I often notice many similarities between Japan and my own culture and many of these differences suddenly become “understandable” to me. But that does not mean that I fully understand how Japanese society works so studying pottery at the Asahiyaki studio has definitely been a meaningful experience for me. It has allowed me to see a classroom dynamic that is not only different from the traditional school setting, but also different from America’s classroom setting.