Cultivated Days | Consider the cook
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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.

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10 Comments
  • lisa lindblad
    Posted at 12:56h, 01 June Reply

    just beautiful Prairie. xLisa

    • Prairie
      Posted at 22:05h, 01 June Reply

      Thank you Lisa! Not sure our paths will cross but looking forward to knowing you are in the country soon!

  • Mora Chartrand
    Posted at 13:11h, 01 June Reply

    Touching in so many ways. And calming so that by the end of the article I found myself relaxed, as if transitioning from a meditative state to one revived and ready for the day. Thank you and all the best from Portland OR.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 22:06h, 01 June Reply

      Mora, thank you. Writing this one felt like a little meditation as well.

  • Tanya mcallin
    Posted at 13:19h, 01 June Reply

    I agree with Mora. I am Helsinki on my way to Savonlinna in Finland and having just read your piece I feel calm and centred amongst the grim reality of an international Airport. Thank you both.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 22:07h, 01 June Reply

      Tanya, I hope you have arrived safely in Finland. I know that “grim reality” of which you speak and am glad I could offer a little respite~

  • Elizabeth Andoh
    Posted at 14:36h, 01 June Reply

    MONOHANAKO mame-zara (small bowls and plates) beg to be filled with tasty tidbits. Tonight, one of Hanako’s ruffle-edged vessels inspired me to rescue wilting sweet red peppers from the back of my veggie bin. Skillet-searing them to make spicy kimpira, my marginal kitchen scraps were transformed to center-stage status.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 22:11h, 01 June Reply

      Elizabeth, your descriptions of cooking are always mouth-watering!

  • Tomo
    Posted at 15:55h, 01 June Reply

    Dear P-ko chan. Thank you for another beautiful story and this piece touched me and remind my first trip to meet you in Vermont and your pasta dish….. Love from NYC.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 22:10h, 01 June Reply

      Love right back to you too, Tomo – next time, Karatsu!

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