Hanging out at Handiworks Square

13 04 2014

Morioka is the nearest major city to us, about two hours away in the car. Now that the roads are finally clear of snow, we have been venturing out a little farther to discover what Morioka has to offer. Our adventure on Saturday is more than will fit in one blog post, so here is the first installment.

Morioka Handiworks Square is an artisan craft village west of the city. It’s purpose is to show off local crafts and traditional techniques. There is a large central building that houses a craft museum (more on this later), a restaurant, and an extensive shop. Branching off from this building are many other low (my husband had to duck at several entrances) buildings, each featuring a particular craft workshop. In most of these workshops, visitors can try their hand at the techniques.

Main building houses a restaurant, museum, and shops.

Main building houses a restaurant, museum, and shops.

Our inability to communicate well in Japanese prevented us from trying many of the crafts, but we did make some delicious senbei crackers. These traditional snacks are cooked in iron clamps over an open flame. After watching a group complete the process ahead of us, we felt confident enough to try our hand. We rolled out the dough (being asked to redo several times until it was a near perfect circle) then held the clamps over the fire, rotating every 30 seconds.

Rolling out cracker dough.

Rolling out cracker dough

Cracker presses over an open flame

Cracker presses over an open flame

We browsed workshops full of beautiful ceramics, iron tetsubin teapots, woven baskets, and wooden toys. The adults in our group were particularly interested in the unusual ceramics, many of which had unusual shapes or glazes. One restaurant in the square even offered the option to make your own noodles and then cook and eat them for lunch. This process looked pretty involved and not as kid-friendly, so we skipped it this visit.

Ceramics with metallic glaze

Ceramics with metallic glaze

 

After we were finished touring the workshops, we visited the small craft museum. Admission is 100 yen, or about $1, and well worth it. There were extensive sections on furniture making, sake brewing, and iron work, all of which were worth a visit. I appreciated the vibrant textile exhibit. Displays of weaving, spinning, and shibori dyeing were colorful and unique.

Traditional spinning wheel

Traditional spinning wheel

B was very taken with Japanese typesetting machines. She spent at least 15 minutes pressing buttons on a defunct printing machine, trying to figure out how it had worked. The tray of type was fascinating. The thousands of common kanji symbols in use make for a very different type setting process than the 26 letters of the Western alphabet.

Japanese letter-press typewriter?

Japanese letter-press typewriter?

I am looking forward to another visit to Handiworks Square. There are more workshops to explore, and I would love to try my hand at some of the more complicated crafts. There is nothing like a visit to this kind of creative hub to emphasize the richness and creativity of the world’s cultures. Seeing crafts I have never encountered before has gotten me eagerly thinking about new things to explore, new ways to combine Eastern and Western culture. I can’t wait to learn more about Japanese crafts.





Searching for Spring

11 04 2014

Spring is slow to come to Northern Japan. Our cherry blossoms won’t arrive for about 2 more weeks. In America, they say that “March goes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” Here, March is pretty miserable all month long, and April just might go out like a lamb. This week we have had a bit of sun, but also fierce winds and rain. The lamb is definitely not here yet.

Still, we have been inside for far too long. So today we ventured out around the neighborhood to search for signs of spring. We had to look pretty hard, but spring is out there. Here are a few glimpses of what we found.

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Tiny shoots of green grass are sprouting among the brown.

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The farmer is hard at work, and if you look close there are pops of green among the furrows.

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We found a flower! Can you spot it?

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Buds!

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I think these are related to cauliflower. Aren’t they cool looking?

B drew what we had discovered.

B drew what we had discovered.

The walk was cut short when it started to snow, but we will be back in a few days to check for more progress.