Just Another Bowl?

japanese bowl bThe bowl is nothing special, to look at it–brown, with some black brushwork on the outside, and a rather plain, white-and-blue finish on the inside. To me, the inside and outside don’t even really match. I think that if I had decorated the bowl, I wouldn’t have combined the patterns and finishes it has, but after having it with me for twenty years, I’ve grown to think that it looks just the way it should.

After graduating from university, I decided to go to work in Japan for a while, rather than face the prospects of living at home, unemployed while looking for a teaching job. When I arrived in my modestly furnished apartment in Iwanami, the bowl was already on the kitchen shelf, nestled into another identical one. I saw similar bowls in the discount stores in the little town where I taught, which cofirmed my impression that it was a utilitarian piece, nothing expensive. Still, it wasn’t like any bowls I had back home. It was perfect for homemade ramen soup whenever I went home for lunch from my office–one of the perks of working in the factory office right beside the danchi (the apartment complex provided for employees). My job was pleasant, being in Japan was a constant learning experience, and I felt adventurous and capable.

My living room

A corner of my kitchen--with the bowls on the tableThese photos are not digital-age quality, being snapshots of my originals from the mid 1990s, but they provide a glimpse into my little apartment. I was happily surprised to notice that the bowls are sitting on the corner of the table at the bottom left of this picture.

Circumstances conspired to bring me home before my year was up. When it was time to pack my things, I asked whether I could bring them home–nothing else from the apartment, just those bowls. About six weeks later, I unpacked them from the crate that had crossed the ocean on a freighter. Soon enough, they found a spot in the kitchen cupboard in my new apartment. Two years later, they found themselves in another new place when my husband and I got married and moved into our first home.

One of the bowls got broken in the first few years, no doubt from simple wear and tear in our busy household with a growing family. The other was still in use until a few weeks ago, when I noticed that the chip in the side had grown into a hairline crack across the bottom. I didn’t want to risk having to face throwing it away if it got broken. The bowl now sits in the china cabinet, atop a pile of other special pieces with deceivingly ordinary appearances. I only have a few things from my time in Japan, and those eight months seem so different from the rest of my life, both before and after going there, that they are almost like a story written about someone else. I don’t need the bowl to prove that I really was there, but it’s nice to still be able to look at it and remind myself, just the same.japanese bowl


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