Ken Chin-Purcell

May 31, 2023

Japan day 16: Sensei

For Michele (and Ryoko) this was the big day, a four hour afternoon lesson with Suzuki Sensei. Michele and Ryoko were both nervous, talking about how they hadn’t had the time or space to practice properly, did they have their payment envelopes ready, and so on.

We travelled out from the center of Tokyo for about a half hour to Kichijoji. It was still a dense neighborhood - this city goes on and on. We met up with Ryoko for a snack before the lesson.


Note how they aren’t shy about sending a bus up a narrow pedestrian street here.

An aside on city life in Tokyo - the politeness routine is very different inside than out. Inside an establishment, whether a hotel, restaurant or shop, it’s all very gracious politeness, acknowledgement of each other when you first walk in, thank you’s when you leave. Outside it’s pretty brusque, shoulders bump, umbrellas snag, bicycles barge through pedestrians on the sidewalk (even when there’s a bike lane!), and nobody says a word or makes eye contact. People ignore each other outside, on the train, in an elevator.

To show the rule, at the current hotel Michele and I were waiting for the elevator in the lobby, in Tokyo “ignore other people” mode. Three non-posh Brit’s were waiting there first, and they got in the elevator, and we were thinking of just letting them go when they called out “Hey, you comin’ along?” in a friendly way. Sure! And we chatted on the way up.  It was something we would have done in the States, but seems too forward for most Japanese.

Anyway, I dropped Michele off at Sensei’s practice space. Here are Michele and Ryoko after four hours of Sensei working them.


Sensei himself was impressively spry, he has a dancer’s quickness and energy. They had a good lesson, Michele will be processing all the things Sensei had to say for a while.

Meanwhile I went off and looked at craft shops. First stop was Takumi on the edge of the Ginza district. My walk from the subway to the shop went by many luxury brands. Louis Vuitton’s building was particularly interesting, it was clad in wavy mirror like metal (glass?) that reflected different hues.


Takumi itself had a great selection of pots and other craft, at a good range of price points.


Upstairs there were some Hamada Shōji, who was a very influential post war potter. Through Hamada’s friendship with Warren Mackenzie he had a big influence on Minnesota pottery.


No, I didn’t spend 600,000¥ on a Hamada, more like 3000¥ on an interesting no name pot.

Next I walked a few blocks back into Ginza to a proper gallery. On the way I stopped for a quick bowl of soba. I pointed my translate app at the ticket board, here are my choices (for some reason the app added 1000¥ to the prices)


Hmmm, “Raccoon Dog”? “I’m Sorry”? So many options.  I felt like Japanese curry.

The gallery was up on the second floor, and I don’t have photos because I didn’t know if that was cool or not. Often potters here are very sensitive about photos.

The gallery was a good example of what I don’t understand about Japanese pottery. The pots out on shelves and tables were all by one potter who was having a show, and the potter was there. At this point I think I have a reasonably good eye for pots, and his were good, but his price point was about triple similar pots at other shops. Okay, we’re in Ginza, the pots are wood fired, maybe he’s well known or has pedigree, kind of understandable.

Then there were the pots in the glass cases. These were in a league I didn’t understand. They were small, and as a rule it’s a lot easier to make a good looking small cup than a big pot. They were simple. And the prices were incredible for pottery.

There was one sake cup, it would fit in a 3-4 cm cube. Off white glaze, asymmetrical, rough. It had a decoration in iron of a single leaf. 1,440,000¥ ($11k). It had to be made by a big deal potter, but still… it’s interesting to me what I’m missing, what Japanese collectors value that I don’t understand.

My last shop was Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square, which along with Takumi I can recommend. A great selection of craft, this time in a more contemporary store. A good humored Mashiko potter was there demoing, and I had a fun time chatting with him in a limited language way.

I met up with Ryoko and Michele after their lesson. They were bushed, and we headed to Yona Yona brewery to relax. Good beer and food! See you back in San Diego Ryoko!