Monday, October 03, 2011

Morioka weekend

The rest of Saturday was filled with visiting old friends. Tetsu met up with two of his buddies from high school. Although everyone is grayer and heavier they joked around as if no time at all had passed from their judo days together.

I went off to the Christian center where I had once worked and visited with old friends and even a student from 34 years ago. He made the long trip himself from a more northern prefecture just to spend a couple of hours chatting with me alone and in a class. (My friend Nobuko-san, in charge of the English office, efficiently arranged for me to hold a free-talk class.)

Although the building has changed (rebuilt a few years ago) and the students are different, I felt that time had jumped backwards somehow and I was 22 years old again trying to act like a grown-up in a new foreign-to-me world.

Around 4:30 Tetsu showed up again and then with Nobuko-san navigating in the passenger's seat we drove the hour to her house in the mountains of Iwate Prefecture.

I'm afraid even our wonderful stay at the Japanese inn was overshadowed by the one night stay at Nobuko-san's house. But it is hard to express what was so magical, so timeless, so thought provoking about being with her and her husband. Nobuko-san has been my friend from the day I stepped into Japan. She married a few years after me and though Tetsu and I have met her husband a couple of times, we have never had a chance to talk with him in length or know much about him. Nobuko-san has described him to me as "a poor potter".

Not long after they were married, Nobuko-san and her husband bought an old farmhouse in the cold Iwate mountains. Actually they bought the land and the 300 year old farmhouse came along with the deal for free. The house had a thatched roof that was caving in and so they spent their savings to put a metal roof over the thatching to make the house livable.

Tetsu asked me as we drove home,

"Could you live there? Would you want to live somewhere like that?"

I chewed my lip and thought a few seconds.

"I wish I could say that I could. That that is the type of life I could adapt too. They seem to have no hurriedness, no schedules. They eat what they grow from a plot of garden. They don't wish for more or envy what other people might think as necessities. They go with the flow of time and of nature. They seem perfectly content."

The front door.

Nobuko-san's husband is a potter. Actually we discovered that he is an artist. Most of his time he spends in a converted farm shack where he creates masterpieces. Nobuko-san goes in to the city to work at the Christian center while her husband creates and maybe cooks their evening meal keeping it warm for Nobuko-san until she gets home late at night.

They live in a decidedly tilting 300 year old house with straw falling from the ceiling and a drop hole in the floor for a toilet. The floors are hard packed dirt or tatami mats. The "kitchen" has a deep irori, a large hibachi pit where hangs an iron kettle from a truly ancient wooden hook. The walls are black with soot from generations of families building their fires in this pit and in another one in the living area.

The irori. You can't see Nobuko-san's husband through all the smoke!

Though they have water, for cooking they prefer to draw water from a spring nearby. They have a couple of wood burning stoves that Nobuko-san prefers for cooking because the irori makes the house smokey. The lighting is sparse and there are no windows. I took many, many pictures but they all come out dark and muted. This also is part of the charm of Nobuko-san's house. The whole place has a black and white quality about it. Primitive, proud, historic.

The entryway with a lovely integration of wildflowers and farm equipment.

We awoke to a cold Sunday morning and Nobuko-san's husband (Mr. Ito) invited us into his workshop where he enthused about the stones and tools dating back from the 14th century BC era that he had found along the roads or in the rice fields. Mr. Ito brought out arrow heads and tool sharpening rocks, even a stone whistle that he had found (the indentations fit perfectly to a clenched hand). His neighbors give him pieces of neolithic pottery that they dig up in their fields and Mr. Ito delights over telling where each piece was found, how it was used etc. By the way... he used to be a geologist before he became an artist...

A tray of arrow heads, a small stone knife, sharpening stones, the stone whistle... and my tea cup that Mr. It made.

As we chatted Mr. Ito brought out clay for us to work with and let us play with his tools and materials. Tetsu and I THINK we made a couple cups that Mr. Ito will fire for us in his kiln and send later.

An artist's hands

It turns out that despite Nobuko-san's humble description of her husband, he is actually quite a well-known artist in the ceramic world. Two years ago he was written about in an international art/ceramic magazine, and besides regular exhibitions in Japan he has had a couple of art shows in the States also. His artwork, despite being roughly textured and heavy, appear to flow and float and he says he keeps in mind the sea shells and sea creatures he has gathered, when he is creating new art pieces.

We pushed aside the ceramic tools to eat breakfast around Mr. Ito's workbench.

Our day in Morioka ended with attending church where Tetsu was baptized 32 years ago. 7 or 8 of the members of that time still attend and welcomed us joyfully!

Driving home from Morioka, Tetsu and I talked of life there and how our lives might have been if we had never moved away. It is a cold area that endures a long winter, but the hardness of the land seems to make everything more beautiful and the people more appreciative.

As Tetsu and I left the city we looked back and just had to stop to take one more picture. Another rainbow, this time embracing Morioka and wishing us a safe trip home and an invitation to come back soon!

No comments: