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Advice on Studying Ceramics in Japan


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#1 AndreasBastian

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 09:48 AM

Hello All,

I'm a senior at a small liberal arts school studying engineering and ceramics. I'm applying for a fellowship that funds a year of independent study and travel (the Watson), which I plan to use to travel in Japan, South Korea, and China to learn more about the ceramic traditions that came to influence the aesthetics of teaware. I have contacted a variety of gallery owners, workshops, and artist-in-residency programs (see below) in Japan and the US in hopes of getting in touch with a potter who might be willing to take me under his or her wing for a several months of rigorous study. I understand that a traditional apprenticeship lasts for years, which is not feasible for me, but I am a hardworking and dedicated to the craft, and will bring this passion to whatever opportunity that I can find to study ceramics in Japan.

I would deeply appreciate any suggestions, advice, or contact information you could offer regarding studying ceramics in Japan, Korea, or China. Again, all of my expenses would be paid: I am only looking for the opportunity to study ceramics, learn more about the ceramic traditions of various regions, and to improve my skills in the company of other stimulating artists and craftspeople.

I have contacted the following programs:
International Workshop on Ceramic Art (unfortunately the program is not active in 2012)
Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park
CAP House
Kyoto Arts Center
Akiyoshiadi International Art Village
Seto International Ceramics and Glass Arts Exchange Program

Additionally, I am pursuing leads with several American potters who have studied in Japan.


Thank you all so much for your time!

#2 JBaymore

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 04:54 PM

Andreas,

A very laudable and exciting idea, and I dearly wish you luck. But relative to Japan, (I can't speak to Korea or China) this idea might turn out to be むずかしい (muzukashii .... difficult) to find that kind of situation. Or at least more difficult than you think it will be. Not to say it will not happen, but it might take some significant relationship building, time, and lots of legwork on many levels.

Interestingly, the money business is probably the least of the issues when it comes specifically to Japan.

How much do you know about Japanese culture? I am guessing that maybe it is not a lot.... otherwise you would likely not be pursuing "finding leads" like this on this kind of location. Japanese culture is very different from the west. It will go a long way to studying the culture in quite a bit of depth.

There are some inherent potential very basic cultrual "roadblocks" that sit there that make developing a situation like you describe not and easy prospect. Japan is basically a "closed society". There is something called the "inside group" and the "outside group". At the most basic level, as a foreigner, you are instantly and very much "outside" the biggest and most fundamental "inside group" there is in Japan....... you are simply not Japanese.

Until you get accepted as an "inside person" in some context, it will be difficult for a Japanese person to help you out. You are not "safe". Ther are many circles of "groups".

Japanese people highly value personal relationships to be developed before they will entertain professional or business relationships. So to find someone to study with (other than paying to be attending something like IWCAT), without that person knowing you reasonably well first, you are at a very severe disadvantage. And this relationship building typically takes time.

Attending something like the IWCAT program at Tokoname or being a residen at the Shigaraki Cultural Park are good ways of you getting to know some Japanese ceramists, and most importantly, THEM getting to know YOU. That kind of "investment" of your time and money is the kind of thing that could (not will.... could) open some doors for you. Or maybe take a semester of "special student" status at a Japanese college. Or go to simply visit various pottery centers and meet some people and then slowly, over time and repeated contact, let them get to know you.

Somehow you need to start to build a relationship with someone....be that a foreigner that has the such contacts, or a Japanese person that either has the contacts or IS a potter.

"Cold calling" in any kind of professional or business relationship in Japan is close to useless. They will generally be very polite, at a surface level, but there will be a "wall" underneath. And you will never know what they are really thinking, because that will not be communicated nort be seen on their faces.

An answer of "no" generally will not be forthcoming directly. They don't like saying "no" .... it disturbs both your and their "wa" (harmony). You will just hit vague non-committal answers, a slowly deteriorating lack of communication, and an eventual silence on the subject.

Japanese potters are not used to the kinds of educational exchanges that we in the west kind of take for granted. Nor the deep sharing of information between one potter and another potter. Potters of different "levels" (professional success level) do not really socialize and have much contact with each other; that fact is also true across other strata of Japanese society.

To make this a bit more difficult, in Japan, when one "recommends" someone else for something, the person recommending that other person becomes very much "responsible" for that recommended person.

So for example, if I were to recommend someone to one of the people I know over there, and that person turns out to be "less than optimal" Posted Image in any one of many, many ways, then that will very negatively affect MY relationship with the people that I made the arrangements with. That puts my professional reputation right on the line. So to refer someone, I too have to know that individual VERY well and be darn sure that they will work out not just OK....... but STELLAR.

So people who do HAVE professional connections in Japan, will likely well understand the two-way cultural obligations involved in their culture, and will likely be VERY careful about recommending someone, or even for initiating contacts.

As an example, I am a ceramics professor at a college. Of course I get to know the undergrad majors quite well. There are only a few people in any few yerars who come through the program that I would seriously consider recommending for such a study opprotuinity in Japan with the folks that I know. And I get to really know those students over the four years.

So finding some who does not "know" you very well is likely not going to do you very much good.

Your best resource will be people you already know very well... and who know you very well. You need to find that person in your "inside group" who knows and respects you and ALSO knows that you will be able to "fit in" in such a situation, and then have them make some sort of intitial contacts for you. And that initial contact likely will not be a "move in and study for 3 months or 6 months" deal. It might just be to initiate a short studio visit on a casual "pottery village" initial preliminary tour.

Hopefully one of your college professors might have some contacts there. Or might themselves know someone who does have contacts really well. If they believe in your sucess at this venture, then they will be more willing to put THEIR reputations (in Japan) "on the line" for you. THAT goes a long way.

Lacking that, try to get into one of the more "commercial" situations that are sometimes out there like IWCAT and the Shigaraki program. Or "bite the bullet" and go over there and try wandering around pottery centers and maybe getting lucky and developing a relationship out of those meetings.

This is not impossible, ..... but it is also not very easy at all. And I do wish you the very best of luck. I sincerely hope that this little discussion is actually of help....even if initially it may seem the exact opposite.

Ganbatte (do your best).

best,

..........................john




John Baymore
Immediate Past President; Potters Council
Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

http://www.JohnBaymore.com

#3 Guest_HerbNorris_*

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 05:57 PM

As soon as I saw this question, I thought if there was any question custom made for John Baymore to answer, it is this one!
Very interesting read, even for someone not going to Japan.

#4 JBaymore

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Posted 01 September 2011 - 11:13 AM

As soon as I saw this question, I thought if there was any question custom made for John Baymore to answer, it is this one!
Very interesting read, even for someone not going to Japan.


Thanks Herb, for both the kind words as well as finding it interesting. I could say a lot more.... but that kind of gets to the main "starting point" pretty well.

Japanese culture and Japanese ceramics, are fascinating subjects.... been pretty much focused on them since my Ceramics 1 instructor, Brenda Minisci, showed the Edith and Robert Sperry film, "Village Potters of Onda" in her class back in the late 60's.

That film (and that wonderful teacher) changed my life.

best,

.................john
John Baymore
Immediate Past President; Potters Council
Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

http://www.JohnBaymore.com

#5 rosebrands

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 04:17 AM


As soon as I saw this question, I thought if there was any question custom made for John Baymore to answer, it is this one!
Very interesting read, even for someone not going to Japan.


Thanks Herb, for both the kind words as well as finding it interesting. I could say a lot more.... but that kind of gets to the main "starting point" pretty well.

Japanese culture and Japanese ceramics, are fascinating subjects.... been pretty much focused on them since my Ceramics 1 instructor, Brenda Minisci, showed the Edith and Robert Sperry film, "Village Potters of Onda" in her class back in the late 60's.

That film (and that wonderful teacher) changed my life.

best,

.................john



#6 rosebrands

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 04:18 AM



As soon as I saw this question, I thought if there was any question custom made for John Baymore to answer, it is this one!
Very interesting read, even for someone not going to Japan.


Thanks Herb, for both the kind words as well as finding it interesting. I could say a lot more.... but that kind of gets to the main "starting point" pretty well.

Japanese culture and Japanese ceramics, are fascinating subjects.... been pretty much focused on them since my Ceramics 1 instructor, Brenda Minisci, showed the Edith and Robert Sperry film, "Village Potters of Onda" in her class back in the late 60's.

That film (and that wonderful teacher) changed my life.

best,

.................john



#7 rosebrands

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 04:30 AM

Dear John,

Thank you for your fascinating post.

I started making ceramics at the age of sixteen, and became more and more interested in traditional Japanese pottery, raku firing, tea ceremonies and the Japanese culture itself.
I am now considering a degree in ceramics, but most courses seem very business-orientated to me. Can you recommend any programs in the UK or US that focus on the traditional (Asian) art?

Thank you very much.




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