Friday, November 9th, 2012

Blog 5

Japanis a very safe country, something people hardly know. When we travelled fromEurope two months ago, dragging our luggage around airports, in trains and finally in buses, we kept an eagle eye on our suitcases and handbags. We are used to do so while travelling and at home as well, shopping on our famous Saturday market inEindhoven. InJapan there is less need to be so vigilant. You can relax.


People are very courteous, will patiently wait for you until you passed in a supermarket or on the streets. They get into lane on the reserved spot on the platform, waiting for the train or bus. They will treat you with respect and greet you politely: “konichiwa!” and bow slightly. One day, while walking an old pilgrim trail with lots of shrines and temples nearNara, we met with a bus-load of pilgrims. This resulted in forty times greeting and bowing: every person individually and face to face.


There are many pottery shops in Shigaraki. All of them have an indoor sales area, with a lot of the ceramic wares on display in the spacious yard in front of it. Sometimes there are special items to attract attention, like a huge tanuki (a mythical raccoon bear), a line of four meter high Buddha’s, or a moving display with big, colourful ceramic animals. Often you see rows and rows of tanuki’s, pots and other ceramics. At night all the shops leave their merchandise outside. In the morning, At half past seven in the morning the owner will arrive and unhook the string in front of his parking ground. In the evening he closes the lot by hooking the same string again.



When we arrived from Holland, we were amazed. In our country it would be impossible to leave all these ceramic merchandise outside: it would be stolen or vandalized. As artists we had some bad experiences showing artworks in public space. Mels’ work was vandalized several times – that is: in Holland. Sometimes the culprits had the nerve to drive a four-wheel drive some kilometres through a plantation of young trees to destroy and steal his artwork. Another time the vandals went to a lot of trouble in the middle of the night in a desolate place, and had to cut an 8 mmsteel cable to bring down his work. These criminals actually had to work to destroy his art.


It is not at all like that in Japan!  During the nine weeks we stayed in Shigaraki, the pottery displays in front of the shops changed only when an item was sold (which was pretty rare).
For Dutch visitors like us, there is an even more telling example: bicycles. In the back of the accommodation centre at the SCCP there is a small shed with several bicycles, to be used by the artists. They are not locked. In front of the supermarket you will always see unlocked bicycles. No bicycles skeletons in the small river, next to the road. No bicycles in lampposts or bushes. All bicycles seem to be in good repair as well.
Usually we worked until quite late in the evening. We had to rent an apartment on the other side of Shigaraki, due to a rule that children (under 20) were not allowed to sleep in the SCCP. Cycling at midnight on small or major roads in Shigaraki was completely safe. One stiflingly hot night, I saw something you will probably only encounter inJapan: a man was walking his dog, holding a fan. But he was not fanning himself – while strolling along, the man was slowly waving his fan over the back of his dog!


We travelled to the active volcano Sakurajima, covering some 1000 kilometres to the south by Shinkansen, the bullet train.  When we looked out of the window, passing through big cities like Hiroshima and Kyoto, we never saw a single bit of graffiti. We have not visited Tokyo, though. It may be different there, since Tokyo is a huge (9 million) metropolis. But the places we saw in Japan were safe and without a trace of violence or vandalism. In my eyes, this is something very valuable – it is something to be treasured in a country. In Holland we lost this treasure a long time ago.
InJapan it is quite obvious that there is a crisis, and the economical decline has been going on for a long time – in fact for about 20 years. Business is down, prices are up and people have a hard time to make ends meet. The paint is peeling from many buildings and many facilities in public space need to be repaired or replaced. The pavement and streets are uprooted and weeds grow everywhere. But somehow, the Japanese disposition is the cement of the society and people are guided by tradition and rules of behaviour.



 I admired the way the Japanese volunteered after the tsunami in theFukushimaarea: teenagers and adults took some days off and came from everywhere to clear away the rubble and restore what they could. This happened within two weeks after the disaster took place. They made their own personal contribution to society, simply to make the world a better place.



On the way home, toHolland, something remarkable happened, which is a perfect illustration of this Japanese character trait. We couldn’t reach the airport in one day from Shigaraki and had to make a stop-over for one night inKyoto. Our airplane left from Kansai airport at the end of the next morning. We had a fool-proof schedule for the trains to take, leaving us some hours to idle away in the departure section of the airport. We were on time (Japanese trains are incredibly punctual) until the Haruka express fromKyototoOsakahalted at a small station, where we weren’t supposed to stop. Some explanation followed in Japanese over the intercom. All people around us took it in resignation. We waited for a while, than some more Japanese over the intercom and the doors opened. We gazed around in panic. A young woman on high heels told us, in good English, there had been an accident and this train wasn’t going any further. We had to make a detour and catch a succession of other trains. She asked where we were going. She was also heading for Kansai airport, since she worked for the FedEx office there. She promised to take care of us. The accident turned out to be a suicide. The detour involved hopping from one to another of at least three or four different trains and dragging our90 kilogramsof luggage from platform to platform – once even from one station to the next, two streets  away. Our Japanese guardian angel started to phone the airport right away, in an effort to warn our Air France desk. She carried our suitcases on stairs, while reassuring us that we still would be able to make our flight. She sprinted to the other side of the platform to a waiting conductor to inquire about destinations and timetables. Then she got us running again from one train to the next, in the meanwhile making phone calls to the employees at the airport. Finally we reached the check-in desk at Kansai airport. The employees were already waiting for us, papers ready and we were rushed through the security checks. I tried to give our Japanese helper some money for all the phone calls she had made for us. She wouldn’t hear of it and answered: “It is my duty”. We hereby thank you. Without your efficient way of dealing with this and without you sticking to us and guiding us through the maze of Japanese railways, we would never have made it. Just before take-off we entered the plane toParis!

Mariëlle, 30-08-2012



Friday, September 14th, 2012

Blog 4

In this blog I will write about the work both Mels and I made in Japan during the residency at the SCCP, Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.
Mels prepared computer-manipulated photographs for large-scale works, which he will print on a huge printer the Graphic Studio het Gooi in Hilversum later this year. The images are based on pictures taken while he travelled through Japan. Some of these photocollages will be exhibited in the Van Abbemuseum’s library next November, together with the artists’ book we make about this residency.
The other work Mels did in Japan was throwing clay. Now throwing clay is nothing new for Shigaraki, because this is a very famous potter’s village with an ancient ceramic tradition, with many masters and deep knowledge of clay, glazes and techniques, on a par with other famous ceramic centres in the world. But Mels threw the clay in his own original way: he didn’t mould a pot on a turning wheel, but literally threw blocks of Shigaraki clay from a small bridge at the centre.


This performance-like work was a direct sequel of the performance he had done during his residency at the EKWC (sundaymorning@ekwc.nl) in Den Bosch. There he let industrially produced ceramics fall to pieces by burning away the wires on which they were suspended from the studio ceiling. Now he dropped blocks of clay on top of each other, the impact deforming each block and the ones he had dropped before, and thus creating a sculpture.


Since the works where massive and firing massive work is a very bad idea in ceramics, they were hollowed out. That is, as much as possible. In consultation with the Japanese assistants, a very long firing process was decided upon, with some drying in the kiln. Biscuit firing took place at 900 degrees. Later Mels applied various glazes and fired these also slowly, up to 1250 degrees. Not only the clays, but also the glazes are typical of Shigaraki.

My work plan, which I had sent to the SCCP a year ago, was about the budding, flowering and dying of flowers. In the meeting with the staff at the start of the residency, their first question was: pressing into moulds or hand building? I chose hand building. I wanted to work with both clay and porcelain. Off we went to the clay shop. Shigaraki produces a vast variety of clays. In the clay shop you can find many small squares of samples, stuck on boards. They come in many colours and varieties for different techniques, like hand building or throwing, with different amount of grog (chamotte), shrinkage and other qualities. In the clay shop you will also find samples of the same clay fired in oxidation and in reduction, when oxygen is removed during the firing process. With glazes, this will usually result in a more or less bluish hue, while colours fired in an oxidative atmosphere tend to be brighter.
After choosing a white clay and a porcelain we went next door to the glaze shop. All glazes were displayed in blocks of 4 tiles: the left 2 were white clay, the two on the right were red clay. On top was oxidation, bottom was reduction. When I saw the difference between the same glaze applied to white and red clay, I decided on the spot to make this the basis for my project. We purchased 6 different glazes and went next door again for red clay with the same shrinkage. This does not sound like anything special for non-ceramists, but in fact it is not done so often: mixing two or more clays together is usually avoided, because each clay is different and mixing clays can cause problems.


I made a test piece of 40 cm high, built around a plastic pipe covered with newspaper. I carved the surface of this small tower with a clay tool while the clay was wet. It gave the impression of fluid material, streaming clay. This was a surface that interested me a lot, because with it I could represent the idea of flowers more than how the actual flower itself looks. After this test piece I built a tower of 240 cm, in six sections and getting narrower to the top.


This proved to be quite a challenge and things got even more difficult because of the air conditioning, which made the work dry faster on one side, which caused severe local shrinkage. Moreover, I obtained the best surface while the clay was very wet, which was possible with the first two top parts, but the lower parts had to be partially dry, since they had to support all the weight further up. This Shigaraki clay was quite difficult to build with, because it has a very fine structure, which of course allowed my flower work to be beautifully detailed. We dried the piece in the studio and later in the dry-room. The firing process was extra slow and the biscuit firing went up to 900 degrees. I fired in a gas kiln, o.8 (m3), with 10 gas burners. In Shigaraki the assistants instructed me how to handle this kiln. You start with lighting two burners and after one hour the kiln will reach 100 degrees. Next you fire two more burners, at the opposite side. After 4 hours all 10 burners are working and you can open the air valves and start turning up the gas pressure. You have to do that every hour or thirty minutes. You have to follow a firing curve the assistant makes for your work. If, for some reason, the kiln stays behind schedule, you have to find out why. In my case burners had extinguished and I hadn’t opened the air valves enough. If the kiln is too fast, you may have given too much pressure. Depending on where you are on the schedule, this may not be a problem and you can continue. It was amazing to operate this huge machine by hand and fine-tune it this way.

The glaze firing I did later took 18 hours, and had to work through a whole night, going up to the kiln every hour and getting the pressure up and up while dawn was colouring the Shigaraki landscape around me. My glaze firing went up to 1240 degrees. The glaze came out rather nice with rich details because the semitransparent colour was varied by the unpredictable colour changes of the clay.

I also worked with porcelain, making small flowers, with I painted with underglaze and covered with a transparent shiny glaze. These will be on show in the library of the Van Abbemuseum in November.

The big work, Flower Tower, is on its way back to Holland (by ship) and will be exhibited in Land en Beeld (www.landenbeeld.nl).
Some artists are asked to leave a work behind for the collection of the SCCP. I donated my test piece and a choice of porcelain flowers to the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Centre.


Mariëlle van den Bergh.



Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Blog 3

Just now I am reading Sei Shonagon’s Pillow-book, dating from around the year 990, which is regarded as a model of linguistic purity and highly valued by readers because of the extraordinary beauty and evocative power of her language. Since the book is owned by Mels, I came across a passage he had marked decades ago: It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters. (page 51 under 16. Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster)
That night Mels and I talked about how time seems to fall away and how words from a thousand years ago still can sound so fresh and so nearby. We compared various Japanese writers we had read and then I hit upon the idea that Japanese are very moved by impressions, like for instance a pond or lake with water lilies and dragonflies and a certain light at a certain hour of the day. That happened to be the very thing we had seen a week ago. We travelled for a week, while my big work was drying in the studio of the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. We visited the art projects and museums on Naoshima and Inujima, two islands in the Kagawa and Okayama prefectures. On Naoshima there are 3 very beautiful museums, all built by the architect Tadao Ando.

The main museum is the Chichu Art Museum, which exhibits permanently works by Claude Monet, Walter De Maria and James Turrell. One goes up the path towards the museum surrounded by lush flowering shrubs and past a long pond with water lilies drifting along. Standing in the huge Monet gallery one is overpowered by his five paintings from the “Water Lily” series. The works hang in a vast and empty white space, with beautiful neutral light, with a white floor. Even the frames of the spacious paintings are from white marble. As a visitor you start to float and get sucked into these paintings. One realises after a while that here in this museum everything, and I mean really everything, has been done to honour these art works.

The way to the works is paved with the real thing as you go up to the museum along the pond with surrounding flowers. After you have been in the Monet gallery, you can sit in a white marble empty space to digest the experience. Of course you are walking in slippers provided by the museum and in deep silence, as if walking in a shrine. And a shrine it is! A shrine to art. Standing there, facing the Monet works, I thought: yes, these works are at home here in Japan! I know where they came from and I know how the impressionist’s paintings hang in the Musée d’Orsay and how Paris feels like and many of these paintings seem at home just there. But to built a museum around these art works as a tribute to them is something I never have seen before. I saw it now in the Chichu Art Museum.

Inujima is something special. You can take the ferry from Naoshima or take the one from Hoden. This small island has for centuries been the quarry for castles on the mainland, like the Okayama Castle or monuments. Find Keiko Arimoto and you will discover a lot of the history of Inujima. She is the archivist and storyteller of the island and publishes five books about Inujima, seen from different angles. Sit in her restaurant en enjoy her food while you chat about her passion: Inujima, Dog’s Island. A big boulder along the coast has the shape of a sitting dog.

The main art project is situated in the old ruins of a copper refinery which was only in use for a very short time. It opened in 1909 with the newest technology to retrieve the copper from the earth. It closed after just ten years because the copper price fell. At that time between 3000 and 5000 people lived on Inujima. Now, in 2012, the population has shrunk to 50.

Architect Hiroshi Sambuichi writes about his Inujima Art Project Seirensho: My interest is in expressing the details of the earth through architecture. I wanted to turn Inujima into the most sophisticated art island in the world, powered by natural energy.

He did make a very balanced artwork by renovating the copper-mine and building an art museum in it. The voyage down the mine shaft in pitch dark corridors (you get taken along by a guide) is spectacular. At every turn is a mirror, reflecting the image of the sky at the end of the labyrinth. You start your adventure with the smoldering image of the sun in your back. This work is a collaboration by Hiroshi Sambuichi and the visual artist Yanagi Yukinori, whose art works fill the rest of the museum and the art house projects on the island.

Mariëlle van den Bergh



Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Religion onsen

I grew up in a Calvinist part of Holland, which did not mean that there was only a single or even a prevailing denomination in my home town. On the contrary, apart from a single morose Jew and a handful of Catholic outcasts, there were literally dozens of protestant churches, such as the Reformed church, the Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Redemptorist church, the Dutch Reformed church, the Orthodox Reformed church, and so on. And that is without counting the more obscure sects – Lou the Eel Seller, Latter Day Saints etc. And all these groups did not only have their own preachers, but also their own bakers, greengrocers, butchers, and gravediggers. They would all rather go hungry than buy their food at a grocer’s who frequented a different church. And they were all convinced (and usually happy to be so) that every person belonging to other denominations was doomed, as soon as the Day of Judgement would arrive.

How different it is in Japan! Although there are two main religions, Buddhism and Shinto, and a host of different schools and sects, they all seem to live happily together. Most people see no objection in belonging to both religions at the same time. In general, Shinto seems to be the religion of choice for weddings, births and festivities, while Buddhism is associated with funerals and death. The stern Zen Buddhism (also subdivided into dozens of different schools) which Japan is known for, is not very noticeable in public life. Shinto, however, is everywhere: there are around 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan, and Shinto is very much part of everyday life. At the more famous shrines, religion, commerce, superstition and traditionalism mingle happily and form a kind of religious soup, in which Japanese visibly feel at home.

Just out of Shigaraki town, across the river, there is a large Buddhist temple. It even has a small train station of its own, and there is a modest suspension bridge to get there. Although it is obviously an important temple, few people go there. Usually it is very quiet. On asking around, I found out that this particular temple was dedicated to the souls of unborn children. And they are there, row upon row of children who never saw the daylight. Is there any other religion which worries so much about the souls of the unborn, about the untold, unrealised potential lives? I was touched.

Last month we were invited for Shigaraki’s annual fire festival. It is an almost pagan ritual, in which huge torches – at the SCCP everybody had to make his own – are carried from the main Shinto shrine to a tiny shrine for potters, an hour’s walk into the mountains. The almost 1,000 participants made a long, flaming line in the dark. It was a smoky and hazy affair, very wild and communal with Kodo drummers, and firemen in the dark putting out the burning wood shed by the torches , and it was actually the first time that I really felt I was far from home.



Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Blog Quirijn 2

Q. How do I survive my parent’s residency, when I am 14 years old?

A. I  am busy with the computer: I game, watch You-Tube video’s, I communicate with friends at home.
Q. How do you communicate with your friends, 7 hours away in Holland?

A. I use Steam to chat with a couple of friends. I mail with others. Usually my friends know what time I am available: that would be after 3 o’clock here in Japan. That is 8 in the morning in Holland.
Q. What else do you do?

A. I prepare things I want to do in Holland, for instance making appointments with friends, planning to buy a new game etc.
Q. Did you read a lot, since you have a lot of time at hand?

A. Yes, “Gone 3”, “Gone4”, “Grijze Jager 11”, “Password”, “Hunger Games” and now I read “Broederband”.
Q. What else did you do which you liked?

A. I cycled to the Ninja Museum in Ueno. It is a fortress. In a house there were trap doors, hidden doors, hiding places. There was a show, where they demonstrated what ninja can do: throwing shurikans (werpsterren), throwing knives, throwing chopsticks through a wooden board, sword fighting. Among the other visitors was a guy with a missing part of his little finger. In Japan this is a sign that this person is probably a jacuza member (Japanese mafia).



Monday, July 30th, 2012

Blog 2 Mariëlle

The artists in the residency program of the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park work in two big spaces. Three artists work in the front room: Leiko, Toru and Toshizi.
Leiko Ikemura is a Japanese artist, who lives in Berlin. She flies to and fro to Japan and works on a couple of works at a time. The staff of the SCCP is completing a giant bunny in a dress, following her instructions. When we arrived we saw two butterfly-like sculptures being glazed in lustre. Weeks later we recognized them in an important show in the Toyota museum of Modern art.

Toru Kurokana is a young and very talented artist. Since we have been here we saw his work growing and his working space expanding. He works exclusively in abstract forms, which are always complicated and detailed. Often holes appear in a double walled surface. Some of his sculptures perform a balancing act which mocks gravity. He never uses glazes, but endlessly sands the surface of the raw clay. The skin of his work is polished and sensual. We saw some of his work in a gallery in Tajimi.

Toshizi Yoshimura is a specialist in large scale work, done by hand building. Currently he is working on two standing figures. Next to it stands a giant hand with fingers clasped in a friendly gesture.

In the other room of the SCCP eight artists are at work, four of which are potters. In Holland you would call the potters designers. Japanese Makiko Suzuki works under the label La Maison de Vent. She sells her delicate and exquisite tableware in Tokyo and in London. Her speciality is extraordinary turquoise and thin tableware, which could have been burial gifts from an Egyptian grave.

The other Japanese potter is Machiko Ishii from Tokyo. Currently she is researching tableware for handicapped and elderly people. Her cups have curved and dented surfaces, where you can hold the cup extra and lids, with holes for straws. I asked her if these were the prototypes for a production line for plastic cups, but that was far off the mark. Machiko values the individual ceramic cup; the ultimate and treasured gift for any person.

Taiwanese potter Ciao Feng is a postgraduate from the Tainai University of Art and is in Shigaraki for the experience and to broaden her expertise. She was one year in the U.S.A. in an exchange program. Although she started out as a sculpture student, she changed to design because in that way her work would be of more service to the people. Her tableware tends to grow into sculpture, like the vessel with 3 cascading lids and interchangeable felted handles. She told the story of how she, together with other students, built a large wood-kiln in 3 months, working full-time. After that, everybody spent a month making work to fill this wood-kiln. When the moment came to inaugurate the kiln, is was loaded and then… an major earthquake struck, which destroyed some of the wood-kiln and all of the work inside it.

The 4th potter also works as a ceramic artist and gives performances/workshops. Hong-Kong based artist Siu Kam-han is working on a ceramic interpretation of the Japanese rice paper sliding door. Her inspiration derives from the story of famous potter Bernard Leach, who failed to work well in his London studio and discovered that the light was wrong. After he covered his windows with Japanese rice paper, the atmosphere became serene and shut visually out all urban noise. Serenity is a goal in Siu’s work and whatever she undertakes to do and what materials she uses, she will pursue this serenity. She is investigating human behaviour, especially in urban circumstances. In Shigaraki she engaged in a blueprint workshop. She got many local people to lay out objects on light-sensitized paper, with exposure rates of half an hour in full sunlight. The merry event was a social gathering for all ages and was hugely enjoyed by both Japanese and foreigners.

Shizuka Okada’s residency is a year long. Just last week her solo show For Anything, for Nothing opened in Tomio Koyama Gallery in Kyoto. Her world is populated by strange animals, ghosts that imbibed golden statues, trees with eyes and gloomy foliage, wriggling mushrooms and twin bears, that hide their faces behind shells. This intriguing artwork and artist will never be out of inspiration. Shizuka’s world is very rich in stories, fabulous forms, magnificent colours and double meanings. Her comment on a sculpture of a curved snake was that there are snakes which bite their own tails an that they are symbols for eternity. Her snake missed its tail and was just an ordinary snake. But what a snake it is!

Saeko Kuwana was working on a huge black skull when we arrived at SCCP. On a small black and white picture in her studio space we found the image, that had triggered this work: a painting of a skull on a open book, surrounded by some objects. In the weeks to come, we witnessed the creation of the open book, mirrors and the strange objects, all overgrown by intriguing patrons in relief. The skull and the book were very large indeed and the race against the clock with the ultimate deadline of the booked kiln was in full swing. The skull was raised with a glowing light-bulb under it. Then it was raised even higher so more air could pass under it. Saeko was working for two solo exhibitions in Tokyo, shortly to be opened.

Singapore based Indian artist Madhvi Subrahmanian had a short residency of only 3 weeks, but managed to make 3 tall towers. To value this effort one must know the extraordinary flexibility of the Shigaraki clay, the humidity in mid rainy season and the limited timescale with working with ceramics. Yet Madhvi created a dreamlike landscape with slender, elegant towering silhouettes, painted in tribal slip patterns. One of these minarets will be permanently on show in the sculpture garden of the SCCP. In 2013, Madhvi will be one of the Indian artists who will represent her country in the U.S.A. and China.

Naoki Koide is a famous Japanese artist, who’s work was featuring in the Doki Doki show in the SCCP museum. This work is a cloud on stilts, with inside the cloud a scene of a domestic gathering, complete with living figures and grandparents-in-heaven. Strange, leering animals can be seen in corners and other out of tune details. All is made in highly detailed ceramics and painted in beautiful watercolours. One has not enough eyes to take in Naoki’s world: the enchantment is total and breathtaking.

When we came at the SCCP the Chinese artist Wu Hao was leaving after a residency of 3 months, for which he was awarded a Chinese grant. Wu had studied in Japan and spoke fluent Japanese. Moreover he also was highly valuated by his Japanese colleagues for his skills in ceramics. His work was on show in a small exhibition, with work, fired in a wood kiln. I saw big sculptures, formed on a potter wheel, but shaped with a mature artist’s twist. Some were covered with a strange surface, like half unfired on one side, yet dripping with a green ash glaze, which indicates a very high temperature. At Wu’s farewell party we had fireworks and a lesson how to built and eat sushi. Weeks later we discovered a set of very beautiful chairs, the underglaze painted with fat toads and cherry blossom trees in Chinese style.

Mariëlle van den Bergh



Monday, July 30th, 2012

Blog Quirijn 1

1. Pachinko’s zijn gokhallen, ze zijn oorverdovend en gigantisch groot. Elke stad of dorp heeft wel een of meerdere pachinko’s. In Kyoto gingen ook kinderen naar binnen om te gokken.
2. Mensen zijn vriendelijk, omdat ze je altijd proberen te helpen. Als je bijvoorbeeld ergens heen wilt, en ze weten het ook niet, dan brengen ze je naar een persoon die het misschien wel weet. Japanners zeggen altijd “hallo”, dat is “konichiwa”.
4. De taal vind ik gek, omdat het helemaal anders is als onze taal. In het Frans of Engels kun je nog wel sommige woorden begrijpen, maar met het Japans is dat helemaal niet. Het schrift is ook helemaal anders. Je kunt dus niets lezen. Japanners spreken vaak slecht Engels. Ze draaien de r en de l vaak om in het Engels, bijvoorbeeld “cora”in plaats van “cola”.
5. Ik heb slangen gezien. Er zijn er veel. Ik heb er nu al vier gezien. Eentje lag te slapen bovenop een dam , eentje lag met een dikke buik op de weg te slapen en de andere twee lagen in de bosjes.
6. Een bijzondere gebeurtenis was de Trommelles, een oefening voor een groot evenement. Wij kwamen in een zaaltje waar wel dertig mensen waren. Dat waren kinderen en volwassenen. De kleinste kinderen waren ongeveer zeven jaar oud. Er stonden kleine, gemiddelde en grote trommels. De grote trommels stonden op poten en waren enorm groot en er werd tegenaan geslagen met grote stokken. Zelfs hele jonge kinderen speelden al op deze trom. Iedereen zat voor een grote spiegel, zodat ze het ritme konden volgen. Ze sloegen op trommels en dan staken ze tussendoor de armen omhoog met de stokken in de lucht. Het zag er gedisciplineerd uit.



Monday, July 30th, 2012

-More Food

SIU Kam-Han is a Chinese artist, doing a ceramics project in Shigaraki. She is from Hong-Kong and obviously participatory art is very much the thing to do there. The faintly political, but inoffensive nature of this kind of art practice may be the reason for its popularity.
Anyway, a friend of hers, Teresa Leung, asked me to participate in a cooking project:

I liked the idea, although I almost never cook from a recipe, and I fail to see what is so special about ‘following your heart’ in cooking. I usually follow my heart (and my nose, and the contents of the fridge) when I cook a meal – I would not know how to do it in another way.
However, following my heart did mean that I refrained from using chicken meat or stock. So my contribution was this:

The recipe tastes really good, especially with a glass of Suntory whiskey. Which goes to show again that less is more – at least in a Japanese kitchen…

Mels Dees, Shigaraki 28-07-2012



Monday, July 30th, 2012

More details

In many respects, Japan is like other countries in the World – with a twist. Of course, they drive on the wrong side of the road, but there are more places where they do that. They also have red, orange and green traffic-lights, but they call the green blue (and sometimes it is). They use can openers, but after 15 baffled minutes I found out that the Japanese models work counter-clockwise, instead of clockwise, as can-openers in the rest of the world do. The same goes for the direction in which keys must be turned to lock and unlock doors. And for the way books are read (from back to front).

But I discovered that, apart from the ticket pocket on train seats (see last blog), Japan also made some major breakthroughs in the small commodities that are so important in human life:

I don’t often wear suits or trousers with a crease, but whenever I do, I have to struggle to keep it in the right place when I put my trousers on a European hanger. They are just too narrow. The Japanese solved the problem – in style, of course.

Better, sturdier, opens wider and is infinitely more beautiful than our models…

This system (a tap on top of the toilet cistern, which runs to fill the cistern) is a solution for many problems at once: it saves water (the water used for washing your hands is used again for flushing); therefore it also creates less sewage; it saves the space and money needed for the extra tap and washbasin; it saves you the trouble of opening and closing a tap; and it prevents contamination by handling a dirty tap. I think this design (which is not common in Japan, but which I have not seen anywhere else) deserves to be applied all over the world – mandatorily.

I’m not sure if this idea is in the same category as the design above… It is the keyboard attached to most lavatory bowls here. It has been awarded prizes and is in the collection of (Japanese) design museums, but I have simply never dared to use it. I think it looks too much like the operating panel of an ejection seat …



Monday, July 30th, 2012


Eating is a major issue in Japan. It is one of the ways in which the position of Japanese culture in the East might be compared to the place of France in Europe. Of course, we cannot afford real Japanese haut-cuisine. Simple food is expensive enough as it is.
Prices are high, mainly because most farming is necessarily small-scale –a large part of Japan consists of mountains, and much of the arable surface is urbanised. You can see tiny rice paddies, only slightly larger than a futon, squeezed in between railways or buildings. And every single rice plant is planted, tended and harvested by hand.

To protect the small farmers, the government has put heavy import duties on rice and other agricultural products. Rice in Japan costs several times the world market price, fruits are very expensive, but seafood is relatively cheap, and exquisitely fresh fish is available practically everywhere – another parallel with France.

Cooking in Japan is an adventure, even more so if you don’t speak or read the language. Japanese love wrapping and packaging things, including food. And in the supermarket, even if you can see through the wrapping or if there is a picture on it, you can never be sure what a familiar-looking product will taste like. Plums are salted, black beans are canned with sugar, grapes have a faint medical taste.
But some of the new smells and tastes we discover are spectacular. We quickly learned to appreciate the green tea with roasted rice (Genmaicha) people generally drink here. There are some spices and herbs (I keep forgetting their names) which taste like nothing I ever had before. Fish and mushrooms (two of my favourite foods) are terrific, so cooking up a good meal is no problem at all. The funny thing is – even if I try to cook a European dish, it will always acquire a faint Japanese aroma, whatever I do. It’s in the water, or in the air, I suppose. Japanese culture is pretty pervasive.

Mels Dees, Shigaraki, 28-07-2012



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