Japan | the wabisabi workshop

{This is the second last Japan post. I've divided the story about the workshop in two: the first part is on the workshop and the traditional bathhouse, the second part will be about our village excursion to a neighboring village that specializes in onta-yaki, a traditional pottery method.}

I loved traveling Japan, but the highlight of my trip was definitely the last 5 days in Kurokawa. While spending these couple of days in the countryside of Japan, it made me realize I would actually prefer living in the countryside more than living in a city. I loved being away from the urban jungle; breathing clean and fresh air and wandering around the small villages, surrounded by elegant, tall trees. But later when I was eating a cake in a local bakery I realized: if I ever move to the countryside, it should be in biking distance of a city filled with friends and pie shops (…).  

The reason why I traveled to Kurokawa in the first place, was because of the wabisabi workshop lead by Beth Kirby and Haruka Sakaguchi. Beth had always been one of my biggest inspirations, even far before I considered going for a photography career. I had always admired her photography and styling work and her talent for writing. I discovered Haruka via Beth and I loved her portrait photography and her travel stories through the US and Japan. So, after following them both and finding out one day that Beth and Haruka where organizing a workshop in Japan, I signed up immediately, if not, sooner.

Arriving at the village and meeting Beth for the first time was surreal (i'm such a groupie), it made me act really awkward and I believe this didn't stop until I got on the bus back to the airport. Especially when we all hung out that first night, in the public onsen. Naked. But you can definitely say that broke the ice a little (Sorry! It's just too funny for me not to mention).

We stayed in a traditional bath house in the foothills of Mount Aso, surrounded by seven naturally-occurring hot springs. The onsen has been carefully preserved by locals for centuries and is known to heal physical wounds, improve circulation and decrease blood pressure. My room had a private onsen as well, so this meant I was taking baths 2 or 3 times a day, in my private one and the public outdoor one. My skin has never felt softer.

We had so much amazing food during our workshop days. Every day, 3 times a day and most of the time prepared by our bath house (they have an amazing restaurant). I thought I had a pretty good impression of Japanese food after living in Taiwan for two years (Taipei has many great Japanese restaurants), traveling Asian countries for many years and wandering Japan for 3 weeks, but these 5 days in the Mount Aso area really amazed me with mouthwatering, fresh and delicious Japanese food. I am sorry to say I hardly took any photos of my meals, because during our dinners together I was so busy talking and listening to all the inspiring ladies (my fellow workshoppers) who where with me at the dining table. 

Beth and Haruka showed us how they would style a table scene (flat-lay) with the use of pastries, flowers and Japanese ceramics. All while practicing 'wabisabi' styling techniques. 'Wabi-sabi' is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection. Wabi-sabi is old markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. Basically wabisabi is telling me to make messes look pretty. Just kidding.  

For me watching Beth and Haruka style, was inspiring and in a way very reassuring to see that what i've been doing is not that different as how they do it and that it's not so crazy to think for 30 minutes what the perfect position for a potato, plate or tea leaf is. #stylistproblems

We also witnessed a tea ceremony, performed by true Japanese tea masters. These ladies know how to make a proper cup of tea. Seeing how serious and dedicated they where really showed me the true nature of Japanese culture. I loved the small 'respectful' acts towards another person, creatures of nature or food. This was explained when we where practicing the art of Ikebana (a ritualized practice to honor the ephemeral life of a flower, guided by the same Japanese ladies). When they cut the bottom part of a flower for example, they place the stem in water as an act of respect for the flower. And I loved how being aware of fleeting moments (also known as mono-no-aware) that could never be repeated, is important to Japanese people. The fact that this way of life still exists today, is amazing to me and I find it really touching.

I was sad when the workshop was over, but I felt energized and full of inspiration at the same time. I'm sure this experience will stay with me forever. Better yet: it has already influenced my work that i'm creating today. Therefore I want to thank Beth (sorry for being so akward!!) and Haruka for guiding and inspiring me and to make me feel i'm on the right path. And off course all the talented ladies I met (my new friends!), who made the workshop even more awesome than it already was.