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Pass the Button


It was when we went to the abandoned kiln site in the mountains to look for ceramic shards.
“If the buttons we made together are one day found in Arita and Setagaya separately, people in the hundreds years of future will wonder what this means and they will speculate in confusion". Yamamoto-san laughed.

When I first thought about making buttons from ceramics, I thought it would be too arrogant of me to even ask for their help. I only allowed myself to daydream about the plan. One day, at Komononari Kiln, Ryohei Yamamoto - or I call, Yamamoto-san's studio in Arita, his partner Yuki-san handed me a small ceramic button. 'I saw a drawing of a button in Mame-san's notebook displayed at the Nagano Prefectural Museum. I thought maybe this is what you wanted to do, so I made one." That small clod in my hand moved me so much I was shaking. The button was covered with their signature thin, glassy, transparent glaze with pretty little flowers in a fading cobalt blue.

From there, our days of making and mending for prototypes began. I started to make white porcelain buttons at Yamamoto-san's studio in Arita and Yokoku buttons at Hamano-san's studio in Karatsu. These were my two favourite techniques.

I started from kneading the shapes myself, knowing it wouldn't come down how hard it would be until I do it, before asking the support of the two of my favourite artists to do it for me. Unnoticed, I was completely absorbed in the process. Repeated trial and error while learning from them. I tried moulding for mass production, but something didn't feel right. I felt attached to the rather awkward shapes of buttons that reflected the roundness of my bare hands. The roundness of my body inverted and the clay takes the shape of it. Holding my breath, I watched Yuki-san's brushstrokes, to steal how she creates the delicate shading with cobalt ink which I use for the first time. I learned how to use a carving knife, which I hadn't used since primary school. I gazed at Hamano-san's mould over and over again, trying to understand the right angle to lay down the blade.

I knew my presence in their studios was interrupting their works, but every time I went, everyone welcomed me with open arms. So many beautiful moments passed during the work. The singing of insects at the end of summer, afternoon sun created the shadows of flowers and grass swaying on the shoji paper screens, the smell of the stove on cold mornings. Steam from the tea floating in the air during a break. A question suddenly arose and we talked in the tense atmosphere of working on the potter's wheel ''What is beauty?”. While I was working beside them, I looked at their profile many times. What I saw was only a glimpse of their time. I felt grateful to be able to use their works daily, understanding they are the result of such a long journey. Creation is indeed an endless journey.

At the last kiln firing, I could do nothing but only give my prayer. Each kiln had its own small altar and its own guardian spirit. Yamamoto-san offered a cup of cold barley tea to his guardian spirit. It was a hot summer day and I remembered the taste of the tea that Yuki-san made for me many times in her studio. When the small buttons were removed from the kiln, I couldn’t help but think how hard it was to make just one button with a hole and a fixed size. At the same time, I knew it was not the pain of creating, but the joy of being able to create.

I made buttons myself, one by one, even for mass production. When one of my assistants came to help me, saw me drawing a small chrysanthemum on a small button, she uttered, "I thought this was a dot pattern, I didn't notice you’d drawn even petals!" We all laughed. "That's right, when it is fired, the glaze melts and everything flows away, so you can't tell what is painted on it.”

There is an invisible time involved in creation. Even if you can't see it all, you can still feel it. There is a landscape that can be seen from the products. These small pottery buttons taught me so.