Young people explore Japanese culture with Azuki Foundation

The Azuki Foundation - with support from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and The Japan Society - brought something new to Global Generation earlier this summer - a project, delivered at our Skip Garden in partnership with us and with UAL: Central Saint Martins’ Ceramics department, offering a series of workshops on a special element of Japanese culture for young people from Camden and Islington.

The project invited local teenagers to learn how to make Japanese tea bowls and host their own tea ceremony gathering using the bowls they created. They were encouraged to mindfully enjoy all stages of the process, and learn about the aesthetics and ways of another culture.

As shared with us by the Azuki Foundation, the Japanese tea ceremony, which originated in the 15th century, is regarded as a highly refined traditional art, but it is less known that it is a most democratic practice. In the tea room, differences in background cease to matter, and people from diverse classes of society get together and enjoy a bowl of tea. The term ichigo ichie (translated as "for this time only, “or "one chance in a lifetime" - relating to treasuring the unrepeatable nature of a moment) lies deep in the concept of the tea ceremony which emphasises the importance of unity of the people, as well as a sense of respect for self and others - something obviously in tune with Global Generation’s ‘I, We and the Planet’ philosophy.

The tea bowls play an important role in the Japanese tea ceremony. The host of the ceremony carefully selects the colour and decoration of the tea bowls, which are most fitting for the occasion. After the ceremony, traditionally, guests are invited to view the bowls.

Renowned London based potter, Mrs Jill Fanshawe Kato, a specialist in Japanese ceramics, introduced young people to this traditional process at the first workshop through the making of individual tea bowls. These tea bowls were then bisque fired after the session at Central Saint Martins by Ewelina Bartkowska.

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Then, a week later, the young people were invited back for a second session with Mrs Fanshawe Kato to paint on the tea bowls, taking inspiration from nature all around us at the Skip Garden to sketch out initial ideas before applying these to their bowls. They then glazed their designs, ready to be fired by Ewelina the following week - using the raku method inspired by centuries-old Japanese methods.

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During the final session, the young people were excited to see their creations come out of the Skip Garden kiln - after a blazing couple of hours in 1,000 degree heat! Once the ceramic pieces had cooled down, the young people cleaned down each bowl and admired the unpredictably beautiful results of the process.

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Then Mrs Akiko Yanagisawa showed everyone how to prepare a bowl of tea in the traditional way, how to serve it to guests, and how the tea bowls are used and appreciated. She introduced them to matcha tea powder, and the whisks that are traditionally used in the preparation of the tea.

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The young people then took the lead and hosted their friends, whom they’d invited to the sunny Skip Garden. They enjoyed this with Japanese treats that Mrs Yanagisawa had kindly brought with her, and spent a lovely early evening in the garden taking turns hosting and sharing their new-found skills. Thank you, Azuki Foundation and all involved.

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