Nagoya Writes

May 19, 2008

The 100 Yen Cup

Filed under: Issue: 2008,Poetry,Sussler — usbengoshi @ 11:43 am

I was sitting at my stand at the Tokoname ceramic festival
minding my business, when this young mother type approached me.
Her eyes swept over my show of cups and plates. Finally they settled on
one of my cups. She lifted it up and said > ‘100.’

I asked her, 100 what?
>I want this cup for 100 yen.
I asked, why?
She looked into my eyes and said> ‘that is how much a cup costs
at a 100 yen shop.’

You want to buy my ceramic handmade cup for 100 yen?
>Yes, that is what I will pay.  she answered.

I smiled at her. But inside my stomach was churning…
What goes into that cup, is not just your coffee or tea.
Do you really think the value of a cup is 100 yen?

This cup is made from my sweat.
Sweat from twenty plus years of working with clay.
Clay that I drove from Seto to my studio, that took half the day.
Days, weeks years of study under many teachers each with there 
own specialty. Some taught me how to find the clay. Some taught me
how to throw the clay on the wheel. Some taught me what makes a good cup.
Some taught me how to prepare glazes.
Some taught me how to fire my clay.
I  watched and listened and  just as important I practiced for years. 
Little by little adding to that knowledge with my own experiences and taste
to create my own way.

You say… 100 yen.

To make that cup I need to buy clay since I can’t just go into the mountains and
collect it at night.  All right, I have done that, but only because the clay was call me.  
I must kneed that mud of potential ,  throw it on the wheel and form that vessel. It 
takes years to get just the right feel to persuade that mud to stand. You should try it 
some day. 
That cup needs a foot trim after a day of a little drying. Then I dry it the rest of the 
way. Need to do that slowly, don’t want to rush. Cups will crack under pressure.
I fire it low. I  glaze it. I fire it high. That cup cools and is ready for your hand .
You see it here but you don’t see the many who didn’t pull through. 
Some crack as they shrink or blister under the heat. This morning three crashed at 
my feet.

If my cup holds together through the shocks of my studio,  I  can bring it to market, or
try, as many shops don’t want to deal with my cups these day. Some are kind and
even helpful. Others treat my work as unwanted trash. For that is what it is to them if
it doesn’t sell.

You may wonder how do I get enough to eat.
And wonder what is left for the roof over my head.
But I guess you don’t.

What you want is a cup from a sweat shop in China..
A place where they pay their workers 30 yen an hour.
A place where once hired they toil until, they become too feeble to work,
A place where injuries are left on the floor to crawl away.
A place where they do not care if the lead from their glaze
flows in to the drinking water

If this is what you want, then go and buy your 100 yen cup at your 100
yen shop. Then when you drink from that vessel,
Try to forget, that cup that holds your tea,
is made from a mix of starvation wages, toxic waste and corporate greed.

Once cups were made by independent local craftsmen like me.
Your 100 yen cup is killing them,
one by one.


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