one of the larger red arches at a temple with people stonading in front wearing kimonos

Visit to Japan - Part Two

I’m sitting on a Japan Airlines flight travelling at around 500mph back to Heathrow. I left my last blog at the point where we were speeding across Japan at 200mph on a bullet train, heading from Tokyo to Kyoto on my Japan Visit with John Smedley

The Bullet Train To Visit Kyoto

The bullet train was such a fantastic experience. Comparing it with UK train travel it was so clean and comfortable, and very reasonably priced! I loved Watching the Japanese countryside whizzing past my window. The journey flew by and before I knew it we were in Kyoto. 

Our hosts had planned an afternoon of sightseeing for us. The first temple we visited was Kinkaku-ji, the whole of which was gilded. It was a spectacular sight, and we were able to stand close enough to see the individual sheets of gold leaf. I sometimes gild my carvings so have an  understanding of the delicate processes involved. This helped me appreciate the jaw dropping undertaking of gilding and maintaining a whole building!

Gold temple surrounded by trees with a lake in front

The golden temple of Kinkaku-ji

Visit to Ryōan-jigarden temple

The second temple, the Ryōan-jigarden, was one of the highlights of my visit. I’m sure you know how much I love working with stone. It wasn’t however untill the first Covid lockdown I learned more about the relationship between my craft, meditation and mindfulness.

Visiting a stone Zen garden in a Buddhist temple in Japan was another level for me! The sense of calm and peacefulness in the temple was wonderful. For me it was made even greater by removing our shoes and walk bare foot around the beautiful wooden floors. I was struck with the thought that we were walking where so many people had walked before us.

I hope I will forever remember the respectfulness of the Japanese people. They were so calm, friendly and incredibly polite. They seemed to have a sense of overall positivity, traits which I will try to bring more into my own life.

A smaller temple with steps leading up to it

Part of the Buddist temple at Ryōan-jigarden

Setting Up for The Private View

That night we had an early dinner of Okonomiyaki, which was described to us as the Japanese version of pizza. It was utterly delicious! After yet another incredible meal we all went to the John Smedley Kyoto store to oversee the setup ready for the Private View.

There was a team of very friendly people waiting to greet us. They asked lots of questions about my work and how I wanted my pieces to be viewed. They then set about making the exhibition look just perfect. It felt very special to have a dedicated team setting up my work ready for the private view the next evening.

Inside the John Smedley clothing store wiht people working and art work on the ground

Setting up the Exhibtion

Zoë's work on white plinths in the John Smedley Store

All looking wonderful in the John Smedley Kyoto Store

A Lack Of Tourists!

The next day was incredibly hot and humid. Wanting to make the most of our short time in Kyoto we visited two more shrines.

Whilst we were there Japan had not yet relaxed its Covid restrictions, allowing few tourists in. Although this meant some things were closed or restricted it did mean that the shrines were much quieter than usual. 

The first shrine was Fushimi Inari, another highlight for me. Seeing the incredible 1000 Vermillion Arches nestled in the forest was stunning. On top of that, there was virtually no one else there, it was a truly amazing and beautiful experience.

The next temple of Kiyomizu-dera was equally wonderful. However, I must admit that I was so hot and tired I needed a rest and some lunch! A bowl of delicious duck ramen with miso soup in an air-conditioned restaurant was very restorative! We had time to wander round the local shops and bought some chopsticks to take home. We then went back to the hotel to get ready for the private view.

A tunnel of red arches with a pathway leading through the centre

The wonderful red vermillion Arches at Fushimi Inari

The Private View!

Arriving at the store I was delighted to see how the team had set up the exhibition; it really did look fantastic. A ‘pinch me’ moment seeing my work so beautifully displayed in Kyoto!

I spent the evening answering interesting, thought-provoking questions about my work, the process, the material and how I named the pieces. It was an evening which I will remember for a long time! I had team members on hand to help translate the questions and answers. Sometimes we maybe lacked the ability to understand technical words but trying to get round this by using different vocabulary was quite delightful! One lady’s question was translated as ‘do you love all your children equally?’ She had understood my love for each piece of work and my relationship with them individually and saw them as my family. I found this a very charming interpretation!

At 8pm the store closed and we went for dinner with our hosts and all the staff. We had so much delicious food I can’t possibly begin to describe it! However, I’m sure you can imagine how much fun we had once the sake had started flowing! We were in a private room in the roof of the old building. You had to duck to get under the rafters and we all sat on low stools on a rush floor, it all added to a fantastic experience!

drinks layed out on the tables and people standing around talking in the John Smedley clothing store amongst Zoë's work

Talking with people at the Private View

Craft In Kyoto

On our last day in Kyoto we happily planned to do our own things. Chloe did market research in the department stores and some shopping. Bill and Phil went to the Ninja museum to learn about the history of the Samurai. They also had a thoroughly wonderful time chopping enormous pieces of bamboo with a Samurai sword!

I visited the Kyoto Museum of Craft and Design, which was fabulous! There were so many traditional Japanese crafts to learn about. Such as wood block printing, fan making, weaving and everything in between! I also bought some lovely things from the Kyoto Handicraft Centre to take home. A great way to start my Christmas shopping!

I was especially interested to learn about Furoshiki. This is a traditional way of wrapping items or gifts in material. Sometimes it is used for carrying day to day items such as your packed lunch or traditionally clothes, but often is a lovely way of thoughtfully presenting a gift. It is a concept I really noticed in Japan and loved, so much thoughtfulness involved in both the giving and receiving of a gift, or even a business card for that matter!

display in the Craft Museum showing the different stages of basket weaving

One of the really beautiful craft displays at the museum showing basket weaving

Memories that will Last a Lifetime

After saying goodbye to our hosts and Bill we travelled again by bullet train back to Tokyo. We stayed in an airport hotel ready for our morning flight back to Heathrow. Maybe I won’t mention that Chloe and I nearly missed the flight as we got carried away with more shopping!

Now, we are currently over the Arctic circle flying clockwise round the world. I have never travelled right round the world before and I find it rather an unusual feeling, especially in this monumental week. When I left the UK, Boris Johnson was Prime Minister and Queen Elizabeth II was Head of State. I return to Liz Truss as PM and King Charles III on the Throne!

This was the most amazing and memorable trip for so many different reasons. I am so grateful to John Smedley and QEST for this amazing craft prize, to our hosts for going to such great lengths to make our time in Japan so special. To our amazing new friends Bill and Chloe from John Smedley UK and the whole team at John Smedley Kyoto. I wasn’t expecting to laugh as much as we did or have quite as much fun, but we all got on so well together we felt we had found new friends which made the experience even more special

Please do follow my Instagram to see more photos of the trip and watch my stories to see how the trip influences my work. I already have ideas bubbling round I can’t wait to experiment with!

display in the Craft Museum showing the different stages of basket weaving

A slightly blurring but fun time with team drinks at the Ace Hotel in Kyoto

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