View out of Zoe's hotel room looking at the Tokyo skyline

Japan - Part One

As I write this, I am sitting on a bullet train travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto. I’m not sure that’s something I could ever have imagined I would be able to say! Keep reading to find out how this came about

The John Smedley Craft Prize 2022

How did a stone carver from Hampshire end up in Japan, exhibiting work in Kyoto?! It’s a question I have asked myself quite a few times on this trip already and we’ve only been here for a day and a half! 

Firstly let me tell you about the John Smedley Craft Award. This prize was set up to help promote British Craftsmanship and support makers establishing their practice. The prize included an exhibition at the John Smedley Jermyn Street store in London, along with a commissioned product, business mentoring and finally an escorted trip to Japan with a second exhibition at their newly opened store in Kyoto. I applied for the prize and my stone carving was shortlisted by the judges. The 2022 prize winner was decided by public vote and to my amazement I won!

Zoe, Phil and Chloe having a toast at Heathrow

Having a little toast wiht Chloe and Phil at Heathrow

Arriving in Japan

The Whole prize has been amazing and now its time for the trip to Japan and exhibtion of my work in the Kyoto store. My husband Phil is accompanying me on my trip, and we have two John Smedley representatives, Chloe and Bill, who are looking after us.

We met Chloe at Heathrow and after a 14-hour flight we arrived in Tokyo! It wasn’t until we actually got off the plane that I believed that was actually happening to me!

The first thing which struck me on leaving the plane was how friendly and welcoming everyone was. There were also so many people on hand to kindly point you in the right direction in the airport and lots of systems in place to ensure everything ran smoothly.

I was very grateful that Chloe had visited before as she quickly sorted out the train tickets to get us to our hotel. It was dark by the time we left the airport, so I only managed to sneak a few glimpses of the city, but even that was exciting! Once we arrived we met up with Bill for a drink and some dinner, the hotel was fantastic!

Zoë's previous workshop or summer house in her garden at home

Phil and Chloe working out the transport!

Exploring Tokyo

On the first day Phil and I were free to explore the city. It was a hot day but also quite humid which reminded us of our time living in Southeast Asia. We were travelling on business visas and had arrived in Japan the day before the borders opened allowing more tourists to enter. This meant that Tokyo was incredibly quiet.

With such a big city to explore and so little time it was a bit overwhelming trying to decide what to do! We decided to head for the central station as it was a building we both wanted to see.

Next we walked to the Imperial Palace. The walls surrounding the Palace were huge, I stood and marvelled at the volume of stone involved! It’s amazing to think how they transported it all and fixed it into position, let alone how they got it out of the ground!

The central station in Tokyo with sky scrapers in the background

Central station in Tokyo, Japan

The thick walls at the Imperial Palace

The amazing walls at the Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace

We walked around the deserted Palace grounds, which lead us to a rest house and gosh did we need a rest! It was a simple building with benches and air conditioning, perfect! After cooling off we visited the Defence House.

We found an interesting display about the construction of the building. One of the exhibts showed the underside of a window sill timber, you could clearly see the tool marks made by a carpenter, which are believed to date back to the mid 19th century or earlier! I love seeing a maker’s presence in their work so found this particularly interesting.

We walked back to the main road and hailed a taxi to take us across town. An air-conditioned taxi was another very welcome relief! It was so interesting to see the architecture of the buildings, but it’s such a huge city! After some very tasty Ramen for lunch and a pleasant wander around we headed back to our hotel to get ready for dinner.

Tools mark in a piece of wood

Tool marks in an old window cill

An Evening in Japan To Remember

We were being taken out for dinner by Mr Takeuchi who is the director of John Smedley Japan. We were joined by Toshi and Mr Sato who both work for Mr Takeuchi and we all headed to a Teppanyaki restaurant which was apparently his favourite. To say we were excited about this meal was an understatement!!

We were shown to a private room and the party of 8 gathered round a hot plate. Words are not going to do this dinner justice! It was no doubt an experience which will stay with us for ever as it was the best meal I have ever had and the most wonderful experience. Great company with lots of laugher and jokes, with unbelievable wine, not to mention scallops the size of chicken breasts, incredible Kobe beef which melted in the mouth like butter and a delightful selection of unknown things, all of which were delicious! The whole evening was incredibly special!

When we arrived back at our hotel, Bill, who was already turning out to be a great person to travel with, whisked us up to the bar on the top floor to have a G&T before last orders. It really was the perfect way to top off a truly remarkable day!


The Japanese Teppanyaki Chef

Our Teppenayki Chef hard at work! 

The Bullet Train

We were all up and out of the hotel early this morning, thankfully no one has been very affected by jetlag, to get to the Shinagawa station and then hop on the bullet train. I’m really excited about the train, but also to see some of the countryside around Tokyo and of course Mount Fuji.

So now as Japan is speeding past my window with Mount Fuji in the background we head towards Kyoto. We have a fully planned schedule of sights to see and experiences to immerse ourselves in. This evening I will visit the John Smedley store to help set up my work ahead of the private view tomorrow evening. Another ‘pinch me’ moment and another wonderful day to look forward to.

Mount Fuji appearing out of the clouds taken from the bullet train

Mt Fuji from the bullet train window

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