10 May Consider the cook
If you have ever been to a shrine in Japan you have likely seen komainu, two lion-like figures carved in stone. One, with its mouth open utters a, the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, while the other, with mouth closed, utters the final letter um. Their voices come together in the word aum (om) a sacred syllable that resonates with a universal energy that feeds us all.
So too the craftsman and the cook harmonize, animating tableware both masterfully made and masterfully used. When each works with care and consideration, and when neither overworks their dish, vessels come alive. When the craftsman says a and the cook says um, we at the table are blessed.
The second time I ever met Hanako, we ran into each other at a lawn concert in my tiny hometown in Vermont. It was my 24th birthday. Soon thereafter she invited me to a dinner party and gifted me a delicate almond shaped bowl glazed in gray with a silver stripe running down the center. I was struck first by its delicate beauty, its rim tracing a perfect teardrop. Its simplicity spoke to me, soft and noble. I had never seen a handmade bowl with walls so thin and I asked how she made the stripe down the center. “It’s an ancient Japanese secret,” she said. I was inclined to believe her though a mischievous smile implied otherwise.
When I moved to Japan I finally understood the origin of that bowl, its form, its balance, its structure, and why she alone could make such a thing. Hanako grew up eating from exquisite food made and presented with particular care by her mother Kuniko, in dishes made by her father, Takashi. She witnessed a special harmony at the table daily. It’s an upbringing that gave her a deep and visceral sense for the craft itself but perhaps more importantly, respect for its role at the table.
Long before she ever decided to pursue pottery, Hanako fled Japan for a more autonomous life in the States. She would return years later to train with her father in a rigorous and technical tradition that goes back centuries. She is at heart both a traditionalist and a rebel and it’s only natural that her work presents this intriguing duality. And naturally two aesthetic veins, one Japanese and the other Western, run through her forms. It is the key trait that makes her work appealing to audiences both in Japan and the States. Whether looking from the West or the East, one finds in her work both the familiar and the foreign. And from any perspective, one sees in it a maker who always considers the cook.