An assortment of our favourite moments from our time in the land of the rising sun.
One morning last year in Sydney I was telling Maya about a small Japanese pottery hamlet, located in the mountains just north of Oita prefecture, named Onta. From what I was told, the entire village worked as a co-operative creating functional ware from locally harvested materials and who were still firing their work in noborigama (traditional climbing kilns fuelled by timber). Any piece made was to be stamped with the Onta mark, bearing no individual makers mark save for the fingerprints of the members of the nine families who live and work there. To further add to its romance, each pottery utilised the river that flowed through the village to power their hydro-hammers which pulverised the raw clay before they begin the slow process of making the clay workable.
We love making films and had dreamed for a while about shooting some short documentaries, so Onta felt like the perfect first story to tell. A few days later we had an email translated and addressed to the town's museum director requesting permission to shoot a short film, with our intentions to allow the potters and the families of Onta to tell their unique story for themselves. Over the course of a few months we had received permission, saved up enough money for flights and put aside an entire month to fly over at the beginning of the next Japanese Spring.
The morning after we landed in Japan, we rented a car and drove the winding forested roads to Onta to get a feel for the village and find out how long we would need to shoot our film. Within minutes of arriving we realised our project would not be possible due to an assortment of innocent misunderstandings on both the towns and our behalves. Jet lagged and disappointed, we spent the day exploring the potteries, our spirits slightly lifted by a rustic lunch in the village's only soba noodle house before being deflated again with the news that the village accomodation we had been told was available was still closed for the season.
It was a day of continuing defeat as we soon realised that we had made no plans nor booked any accomodation for the entire month - but we did have the foresight to purchase two JR passes prior to our trip. Suddenly our month in Japan became full of endless possibilities - as long as they lay close to any railway lines. So, we did what we thought best and bought a couple of bento boxes, boarded the next Shinkansen and set out to adventure across the lovely islands of Japan.
Reminiscing over the neon cityscape of Tokyo and the grungy streets of Osaka it was was the romantic slower pace of Kyoto that lingers in our memories. On the hunt for delicious mochi and the visual feast of spring cherry blossoms we spent our days wandering across the city to its outskirts along ancient paths, canals and temples, tiptoeing between the rugs of Hanami picnickers as they celebrated the sakura’s bloom.
Travelling up into the northern regions of Honshu we spent a few days suspended in the odd in-between season that snow country enters as it welcomes the warming spring. There was not enough snow to enjoy any snowboarding and too much snow to hike any of the mountain trails so we embarked on our own independant driving tour of Akita. Navigating down lonesome muddied roads we gazed through the blue waters of Dakigaeri Gorge before following the frozen rice-patty fields up into the lustre-capped Akita mountain ranges.
Making the pilgrimage to the hometown of ceramics master Shoji Hamada we arrived in little more than a bus which ran on railway tracks. This cute mode of transport delivering us right into the trills of ‘Welcome to Mashiko!’ as our host greeted us on the station’s platform. What followed was a curious afternoon of being tied and bound in kimonos and being served a casual matcha tea ceremony. Politely declining our hostess’s encouragement to parade around town (after we found out Mark’s kimono to be worth more than what we own) we escaped to explore the town that has become Japan’s pottery mecca.