yesterday was my first class at the itami craft center, part of the museum of arts and crafts in itami, hyogo prefecture, japan. it's a really cool combination of museum, teaching facility, gallery spaces, and even a little shop. all in a compound of buildings that include traditional japanese shophouses-some of which are open just to walk through and see, and some are used as the shop space, where teachers and students at the craft school have work for sale.
i dont know very much about the city of itami itself, (it's not included in my japan lonely planet) but wikipedia tells us that it was the only city in japan built within a castle (which was since torn down). from my architectural preservation friends, i know that itami also is an example of townscape preservation, which means that historic areas were preserved instead of just isolated buildings. and from my firsthand experience, there are good maps/signage including clear pedestrian access through the city.
the craft center offers a stunning array of craft classes: jewelry-making, spinning and dyeing, feltmaking, etc. i would love to take a spinning class, and one of their seminars about using natural dyes... this is one of the reasons i am excited to take a class there, as it seems like an excellent place to find out about all sorts of crafts and crafty things happening throughout the region. but first, i was excited to get back into ceramics, something i did back in high school, and then also when i was in japan last time (three years ago in yokohama).
the ceramics class was fun, very mellow and laid back, with a distinctive community class feel. there were about 10 students total, a couple other younger people, but mostly middle aged/retirees. the woman across from me was there with her elderly mother, i think they have been enjoying classes there for a while, and they also know the woman next to me, who was hilarious. she was probably in her 50s, and very chatty, with a thick kansai accent. constantly talking about how whatever she was doing wasn't good, and that she didn't want the teacher to see it, but in a totally light-hearted and funny way. there were a couple of older gentlemen, with their aprons (as this is japan, most people had smocks or aprons-one grandpa had a christmas teddybear apron on, which was quite cute) who were quietly making pots. everyone was mostly coil-building on small handwheels. a couple of the older men also were obviously not novices, as one used all his 2 kilos of clay to make a huge vessel, and another threw a piece on the electric wheel. the teacher did a demo of the wheel, and encouraged people to use it for trimming/finishing their coil work. i've done wheel work before, and i'd like to get back into that, but i want to wait a few weeks and not be demanding!
the teacher was really nice, very positive and interesting, and has been to walla walla, washington, as part of some kind of sister city program. there was a moment when i was explaining my situation (i.e., what is the white girl doing in this class, and where is she from?) when everyone was listening, and some discussion of seattle included me having to look up a japanese word that i didn't know, which turned out to be 'slug.' which was funny, because in the guessing game of what it might be, i had guessed 'is it food?' based on the explanation that 'you put salt on it'. but anyway, apparently there's a rumor that there are slugs in seattle that are the size of tiny dogs (!)