Friday, June 09, 2006

Kansha (Appreciation)

Chawan is the Japanese word for bowl. Chawans are a traditional pottery item, created in a range of styles and colors, from earthy to elegant. Japanese pottery is one of the oldest earthenware traditions anywhere in the world, going back 10,000 years (early Jomon period).

A chawan can used to hold rice, regular tea or Matcha (the bitter green tea of Japanese Tea Ceremony). Bowls for tea are specifically referred to as yunomi chawan. I came across an appealing yunomi chawan in the jumbly antique shop located in my soba (neighborhood).

I've gotten into the habit of spending a couple hours on every Friday afternoon in the shop, usually poking around in the piles of kimono. This past Friday, the kimono getting wasn't good, so I wandered through the other sections of the shop. I passed by the chawan a couple of times, picked it up, put it down, and picked it up again, only to place it back on the shelf once more, slightly put off by its price.

If I wanted tea bowls, they could be had cheaply at the 100 yen store right across the street. Yet, in this day and age handmade things, things with soul, have been become rare, even here, despite Japan's longstanding handicraft traditions. And in this day and age, few people take the time to really look.

My husband will attest to my maddening habit of looking at things for a long time, for going away and coming back and looking at those same things again. And again. But let me say that there is value in taking time to really see and appreciate things.

I am lucky in the fact that the antique-ya san instictively understands my need to putter about. He is quite willing to let me wander around his store, picking things up and putting things down, turning them over in my hands, looking for a minute or maybe an hour. He never interrupts, except to offer me a cup of tea or hot cocoa.

So I looked at the chawan; I looked at the chawan for a long time. It was approachable and seemed to be asking to be held. So I held it. Human beings are visual but they are also tactile creatures and so much of our world and our relationships with it are communicated via touch. Things which are handmade have been touched over and over, by the hands and heart of their maker. This is true for many things: pottery, woodworking, kimono. To touch something lets its story be told. The piece of pottery I held in my hands was more than fired clay, it was a kind of bridge-the combination of skill and heart the craftsman used in creating the chawan made it into a link between the spiritual and the everyday.

The chawan was humble yet dignified. I liked its cool surface with its curves and lumps. I liked the fact it wasn't perfectly round and that its handmade origins were plainly evident. It had an appealling protean nature--it reminded me of many things: birds' nests, charcoal lumps, rocks in the Niagara Gorge, my father's fingers, knobby and stained with hard work and motor oil, a patch of snow on the roadside. The chawan felt substatial in my hands; in my heart it felt like seeing a long-lost friend come around a corner.

Everyone needs to be appreciated, especially recently-found long-lost friends.

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