I have been hooked on handcrafting in East Nara Nabari for the past year or two. It may be because I have had many opportunities to meet artisans based in this area. Thanks to its rich natural environment that inspires their creative activities, East Nara Nabari has been attracting artists.
Pottery Making in a Retro Wooden School
In mid-November, with winter just around the corner, I went to Mitsue Culture Community Hall in Mitsue Village, Nara Prefecture, to try my hand at pottery.
Mitsue Culture Community Hall, where various events are held, is a community space renovated from a former elementary school. When you step into the school building, you enter another time. The school interior is kept just as it was for generations. Forestry is one of the primary industries in Mitsue Village thus you will notice right away high-quality wooden banisters, stairs, window frames, wall panels, desks, tables, and chairs.
The highlight is a well-polished 101-meter-long hardwood hallway where a floor-wiping race titled “The Zokin Dash! In Mitsue ” takes place every year (zokin means a wiping cloth). The event even attracts participants even from other towns and prefectures.
A pottery class is regularly held in a former classroom. Working on art in such a beautiful environment really motivates me. One’s environment really matters when creating something.
Once all participants were seated, the instructor, Ms. Yoko Okuno, explained how to make the pieces of the day. She is a potter and jewelry artist based in Mitsue Village who creates beautiful jewelry by combining ceramics and metals.
We could choose two items to make, keeping in mind plates are the easiest, and rabbits are the most challenging.
First, Ms. Okuno demonstrated how to make a plate. She placed a magnolia leaf on a clay slab to copy its veins, then cut the slab into the leaf shape. Looks like the neat plate is easy to make. It can be used daily, too.
Next, she showed how to make a bowl, applying patterns using bamboo skewers and stamps on a pottery wheel.
The third piece of the day was a rabbit figurine, the most challenging one. Why a rabbit? Because 2023 is a year of the rabbit. She rolled some paper into two balls, one large and one small, and wrapped clay around the paper balls just like covering bean paste with mochi. The smaller ball became the rabbit’s head, and the larger one became the body. Then she added legs, feet, and a tail.
Let’s Do It Ourselves
What should I make? — Since I display a zodiac animal ornament at the entrance to my home every year, I decided to make a rabbit. It might be a little hard, but why not give it a try!
Looking at pictures and illustrations of rabbits as a reference, I worked with the clay to see what shape I could make...
A standing rabbit? On all fours? Ears lying down or standing up? Deformed and playful or realistic? After much trial and error...
It looks like Pikachu... But I was told, “Nice!” “It’s so unique and cute!” No, no, no, no, I know they didn’t mean it!！
I was so frustrated that I tried again. This time, I decided to make a rabbit that stays still with its feet on the ground and its ears down along its back, so they wouldn’t break.
What do you think? It went better than the first one, didn’t it? I realized how little I usually observe things and creatures. I wish I had a little more time, but it’s never enough, no matter how much time I have. For now, let’s wait and see how my rabbits turn out after firing and glazing.
Looking around, I saw the other participants were also engaged in making their own pieces.
After working for about two hours, we all finished forming our clay. We wrote our names and finishing colors (white, brown, etc.) on pieces of paper and put them on our works to leave with Ms. Okuno. She fires and glazes our pieces at her studio, so it takes about a month for us to see our creations completed. You can have your works mailed to you or pick them up at the Mitsue Village Office.
Look How They Turned Out
A month later, my rabbits arrived! The second one (left) came out pretty good, didn’t it? The first one (right) still makes me laugh, but let’s consider it a charmer. Creating with clay was so much fun that I wish I could make more zodiac animals. Maybe I’ll participate again when it’s a year of the snake (laughs).
- Mitsue Culture Community Hall
- Location: Sugano, Mitsue Village, Uda-gun, Nara Prefecture
- Link: Official webpage (JP)