心の旅:Day 4

First rest day! Always a treat to be able to sleep in under the most snuggly blankets ever. It’s always a tussle between wanting to relax and take a break versus not wanting to waste precious time that could be used for practising.

Breakfast – rice with my favorite Tarako (salty cod roe) from the supermarket, miso soup, yoghurt and some slices of banana. I think me trying to eat healthy rice + miso soup based breakfasts lasted only a few days into the course because after that it got too tiring preparing miso soup in the morning. 😉 The best part was drip coffee from the cafe in Hagi. Wish I had bought more packets from them.

Ended up practising in the morning by myself in the studio, working on more straight cups. There always came a point when as I was lifting the clay up to the rim, I always ended up reaching a bit when the clay was rough and sticky and my fingers didn’t manage to move up all the way to the rim, resulting in thicker clay at the top. The breakthrough came when I decided to add more water because then almost like magic, the clay transformed into this incredibly plasticky malleable thing that was SO much easier to work with. It felt so good after that, running my fingers up and down the walls, feeling the smoothness of the clay and realising that it was possible for the clay to reach a state of plasticity so much easier to handle.

But just as I was getting the sides thin enough, I realised the base was still pretty thick. Hard to pay attention to so many things at one time. But such is the process of learning.

Favorite moment – the 12 noon clock chime. As I sat on my stool, feeling pretty happy with the straight cup i’d created still on the hump waiting to be cut off, I remember looking at the spinning clay and being in awe of its symmetry… almost getting into a hypnotic state. Then the clock chime came on. It’s the most special clock ever. Every hour it a gentle chime emerges – first the generic clock chime, then a short Beetle’s spiel. (It took me about a month to realize that there were probably only 2 main Beetle’s songs that alternated. Hey Jude and ….something else ;p) One of those moments when I looked around feeling absolutely comfortable and satisfied with where I was right that moment.

Went out to town to get groceries from the supermarket. Living in the countryside really takes some getting used to. I went down to the bus stop down the hill all ready to catch the bus until I looked at the bus schedule and saw that the next bus would only be arriving in… half an hour. Between waiting in the heat versus trekking down to town, I decided on the latter.

A couple of things I learnt while out in town on my grocery run. Not a good idea to buy too many things at once especially if you don’t have a car. The first time since I was riding in Sensei’s car I ended up buying a ton of groceries and carting them back wasn’t an issue. This time, I realized I might have gone a little overboard when I lifted the groceries bags up and felt like I was carrying a bunch of rocks in them.

Next lesson: Japanese bus schedules are accurate to the minute, as should be expected. If the bus leaves 4 minutes earlier than expected… you ain’t on the right bus. Hard hard lesson for me at the time! It ended up becoming a hilarious story when I told it to others subsequently but at the time… such pain. There were two buses scheduled to leave from the same platform at the bus terminal. One at 4:18pm and one at 4:22pm. Only thing was they were headed for totally different destinations. I remember reaching the bus stop at around 4:10 thinking, yess I have improved! Arrived a good 10 minutes before the departure time. Saw a long line of people and decided to join the line. That was because I wasn’t aware of the existence of the 4:18 bus headed to Shinano. My destination was meant to be Akazu.

It’s always a strange feeling of dread when you realize that something might just be a little off. Why does nothing look particularly familiar after 4 or 5 stops? I looked up at the stops indicated on the electric signboard in the bus and compared them to the photo I had taken of the bus route at the station. We were going to Shinano instead. At that time I was in a bit of a shocked state. I didn’t immediately get off because outside it seemed like we were going through a really quiet residential area. How was I going to get onto the bus back? Was there any bus that might also be headed to Akazu from one of these small bus stops? It took me awhile to realize that there was probably no bus along the same route anymore that would also bring me to Akazu and my only bet was to find a bus back to the main station…or get a cab back.

I alighted, hands full of brick-like groceries, sweating under the heat of the sun. I looked around for the bus stop in the opposite direction but couldn’t find it. At that point I just wanted to take a cab back. Any cab! In the countryside though, cabs don’t just pop up magically when you need them like in the city. I went to a nearby petrol station thinking I could ask them to call a cab for me. When I got to the counter, the elderly Japanese lady looked so surprised that I wanted to get a cab. There’s a bus stop just across the street over there, she said, eyes gentle and wide. I know… but… my bags are so heavy! I tried to explain sheepishly in halting Japanese. She relented and appeared to be searching in the phone book for the cab company number when another staff, elderly man (husband maybe?) came over and said but the bus stop is right there! And the next bus will probably be arriving in about 5minutes! Why they were so keen for me to take a bus instead of a cab I’ll never find out. But in the end I gave in and resigned myself to the fact that I would end up taking the bus back to the station it seemed. It took another 15 minutes or so for the bus to arrive and during that time, I fumed at myself for making such a silly mistake and wasting a good 2 hours of my time having to take these infrequent buses back…all with heavy groceries in tow. That was not a good point for me.

Then I pulled out a book I had gotten from the convenience store at Kawaguchiko on the first week i had arrived, Kagirinaku Shimpuru ni, Yutakani Kurasu (限りなくシンプルに、豊かに暮らす) by Shunmyo Masuno (枡野俊明). It translates roughly to Living simply and fully without limits. He is actually a Zen Buddhist monk and this book is his advice for living fully. I happened to get to a section entitled, 出かける時の持ち物は必要最低限にする. When going out, try to keep the items you bring along with you to a bare minimum. Instead of bringing many many things in preparation for worst case scenarios, not having anything by your side allows you to enjoy the unpredictability of situations. If you don’t have an umbrella and it starts raining, you can always find shelter somewhere, perhaps at in a building you’ve never been in before. And from there you can enjoy a new street view, a new experience while watching the rain.

For me, it felt like the perfect message. Though of course slightly different contextually since I had gone out with the purpose of stocking up groceries for myself, it was more of the idea of enjoying unexpected circumstances that befall you. If I had had the presence of mind enough to realize that it was indeed a special ‘novel’ experience I was going through, waiting for the bus in a random street somewhere near Shinano, I could perhaps have relaxed into the moment, observed people or the surroundings, still enjoying this new view.

To be able to enjoy moments like that, definitely better to not burden yourself physically with carrying things. Such a good lesson, made all the more memorable by the lame turn of events…all because I boarded a bus 4 minutes too early. 😉



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