Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Soma-yaki, Fukushima

Soma-yaki Tea Bowl. This Matcha Chawan (Tea Bowl) is one of a pair in my mother's house, and has an extra special significance to me this time of year. It's a souvenir bowl with the writing "Byakui Daikannon Sanpai Kinen" (Great White Kannon Pilgrimage Commemoration) written on the outside and an image of the Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) on the inside. It was probably made in the early 1950's. It's not the type of bowl that I would typically use for tea myself, as it is quite busy and decorative. It does, however, have great sentimental value in my family as a collectible of my grandmother's in Sendai, and most likely as something that my late uncle Yukio got in Soma County, Fukushima, where he worked. We don't know the whole story, but imagine that my uncle went on such a pilgrimage to the Great White Kannon statue (there's one in Sendai now, but back then the closest would probably have been in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture.) The group, maybe fellow coworkers in Fukushima, had these commemorative bowls made as a momento of the trip. This is a common practice even today for groups to commission a ready-made craft item to be engraved or painted with details of a trip or meeting (the equivalent of T-shirts here in the U.S.) My grandmother was a devotee of Kannon-sama and she was likely gifted with these bowls by my uncle. When my mother came to the States, she was given these by my grandmother. One of the pair was broken and has been poorly repaired by my father. No one remembers for sure, but Mom think it may have been my carelessness as a baby that broke it (the first of many!) Due to the nuclear radiation, the potteries of Soma are no more, the village of Namie, where Soma-yaki was primarily made, badly damaged by the earthquake and evacuated by the radiation. When I hold this bowl in my hands; I feel great respect for a folk pottery tradition over 300 years old, deep sadness for the continued plight of those effected by the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, but also warm compassion from the image of Kannon-sama that gives us hope for the future.                                       

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