I recently rejoined the International Polymer Clay Association after letting my membership lapse for a few years and I’m glad I did. The IPCA is sponsoring a host of online activities, including regularly-scheduled Zoom meetings, weekly letters from dynamic President, Amy Brown, and a Design Lab series where members can have their work critiqued and evaluated. A couple of weeks ago, Amy wrote about her experiences in Japan while she served the US Navy as a segway into an introduction to the Japan Polymer Clay Association. This really took me back, so I would like to share some polymer-related Japanese memories of my own.
Kaz Yamashita was one of the artists whose work was featured in Nan Roche’s The New Clay. Kaz was living in the Washington D.C. metro area, when the book came out, and splitting her time between the D.C. area and Tokyo.
Around the same time, my husband wrote a book that they really liked in Japan. So a Japanese business group offered to fly him and some other business consultants and writers to Japan to address a gathering of their organization in Tokyo. And here’s how I know how much my husband loves me. He traded his first class ticket for two tickets in coach so I could go with him.
Needless to say, I didn’t know anyone in Tokyo and have a hard enough time with English, much less Japanese. But I had heard there was a polymer community in Japan and I did some Internet sleuthing. That’s I found out about Kaz, who by this time was called Kaz Kono. I emailed her out of the blue, and even though she didn’t know me, she answered with her contact information, and an invitation to look her up when we got to Tokyo.
We met up with Kaz and one of her students before my husband’s conference started. They gave us the grand tour of Tokyo and we ended up in the family restaurant run by the student’s sister. The kind with paper screens where you kneel at a table, drink Saki, and the waitresses wear beautiful kimonos. It was quite an experience. When we got home, I mailed the sisters Navajo pendants I’d bought in an Albuquerque pawn shop as a thank you. I wanted them to have something that was truly American.
At that time, Kaz was teaching in Japan and in the Philippines. She also started a Japanese polymer clay group.
Kaz had an exhibit in a gallery and asked me if I was interested in seeing her work. Was I ever! But she was leaving on a flight to D.C. the next day and couldn’t go with me. So she wrote out directions to the gallery from our hotel. In Japanese. My job was to take the Tokyo Metro to a certain station, head in a certain direction, stop people on the way, show them Kaz’s instructions, and have them point me in the right direction. I am not sure about now, but in those days, the Tokyo Metro system had signs with station names in English, but not much else. And not a lot of people on the street spoke English. And it didn’t really help to have an address, because of the way the streets were laid out. Buildings were numbered in the order in which they were built and not their physical location. The first building erected on a block was numbered 1 no matter where it stood. Number two might be somewhere down the block. There was no GPS. None of this really bothered me, because I have a terrible sense of direction and have grown quite comfortable with it. Odd, but true. So I had to rely on gestures, and the accuracy of Kaz’s directions. And the kindness of strangers.
My walk took me down side streets and twisty little alleys. I didn’t know where I was going, but I soldiered on, asking (gesturing really) for directions as I went.
Then I came to a dry cleaning shop, and showed Kaz’s directions to the woman behind the counter. I still remember her big smile. She even spoke some English! She asked me where I was from and how I liked Tokyo, and then led me out of the store, and walked me a half block to the gallery. As we parted, she called, “Have a nice day!” The one time when someone’s said that to me where I really believed they meant it.
I bought this pendant at the gallery.
I also got Kaz’s cane pattern book. I have never seen it for sale anywhere else, so I’m glad I snagged a copy when I could.
A few years later, Kaz visited Philadelphia with a couple of her students in tow. I asked Ellen Marshall to join us for lunch, and for a tour of the neighborhood which includes Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens just down the street. I had never met Zagar and the Magic Gardens weren’t open yet, but we just waltzed right in and he gave us a personal tour. The world’s smaller than you think.
A gift from Kaz’s students on their trip to Philadelphia
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