Japan: Earthquake, Tsunami, Pottery & Disaster Relief

Ceramics shop owner checks his wares. It is heartbreaking to see such beautiful pieces reduced to shards.

Natural catastrophes can strike at any time. People faced with such calamity were going about their daily business moments before. What has happened and is happening is almost unimaginable. Japan’s earthquake has been upgraded to 9-points on the Richter scale and there have been more than 300 aftershocks. Given the earthquake, the tsunami, and the dire food situation, the death toll is expected to exceed 10,000 in just one region and untold thousands are missing. Hundreds of thousands are homeless and over one million are without transportation in the downtown core, as Tokyo’s transit system was halted. As of yesterday afternoon, PST, the temperature in Tokyo was 4 C/39 F and throughout Japan millions are without electricity. In addition, more than 200,000 have been evacuated from the area near the damaged nuclear reactors. We live within the Pacific Ring of Fire and we aren’t nearly as advanced as the Japanese in earthquake preparedness. Save for the technological advancements the Japanese have made and the sea walls that were built, tens of thousands of people would have been killed. Yesterday, I posted about two new books by Japanese ceramists. In many ways, there are few things that are as mundane as ceramics. We drink from ceramic mugs, cups, bowls; eat from ceramic bowls or plates, and use porcelain spoons. It is no coincidence that many new reports about the earthquake and tsunami also touch upon ceramics. Japan and ceramics, two words that are very nearly synonymous. I started thinking of all of those anagama kilns, those vats of celadon glaze, finished and unfinished pieces. I decided to look at experiences with the quake. I was not trying to experience things vicariously or making light of a nation’s misery. Things can often be best understood when put in perspective and hearing about people’s movements, listening to them talk, makes us feel more compassion and empathy. “First the earthquake, then the disaster.” Nothing could be more true. Therefore, please consider donating to the disaster relief organizations listed after the following quotations.

“‘I have no idea how I’ll get home,’ said an 18-year-old woman waiting outside Ginza subway station. She described how ceramics shattered around her in a department store when the huge quake hit mid-afternoon.” — ABC

“Earthquakes of a large magnitude do not necessarily cause the most intense surface effects. The effect in a given region relates to the geological conditions. For example, an area of sand or clay would suffer a greater impact than an area of granite.”   — Global News

“Not yet accounted for is local ceramic artist Kelly Cox, who is backpacking on an island off the coast of Japan.” — MPR

“Tiffany Chong, a British Columbia native living in Kunitachi, Japan, said she was in a pottery class when the ground began to shake. ‘We all ran outside to get to an open space and crouched down,’ she said in an email. ‘The ground was rolling as if we were on a boat in choppy water. I kept looking up at the telephone poles with all the electrical wiring and hoping they weren’t going to fall on me.'” — National Post

“The earthquake smashed one of my wife’s nicest pieces of pottery, but that’s the worst it did to us.” — CBC

Furimono occurs when kiln materials fuse to pieces. At high temperatures when the ash deposit is molten, pieces of ceiling brick may fall onto the pieces and fuse. This may occur during an earthquake or when a kiln is old and worn.” — Japanese Wood-Fired Ceramics

“The students are all art students at CSU. The group was studying ceramics in the foreign country. CSU spokesman, John Lester said the students have even been able to do a little social networking during the chaos.” — WRBL

“Inside her apartment, pottery, glasses and other items were thrown from the shelves and damaged.” — Georgia Strait

“As the earthquake and tsunami ripped through Japan, my thoughts turned immediately to my friend, Buddhist priest Shiho Kanzaki, who makes exquisite wood-fired pottery in Shigaraki. He is fine, thank goodness, but devastated by what’s happened to his country.” — Huffington Post

“A ‘beautiful fish’ his teenaged daughter, Julia, made in pottery class snapped in two.”  — Sault Star

‘I’m so sad. I hope,’ said Atsuko Nakanishi. She has tried calling her 86-year-old mother, Hide Kumaga, who lives in a senior center in Japan, but there is no phone service. ‘I didn’t talk to anybody,’ said Nakanishi, a sales clerk at Utsuwa-No-Yakata (‘House of Pottery’), in Edgewater, New Jersey, who admits she is ‘very worried about it.’ A moment later she shares a note of optimism: ‘I try to call tonight. I hope she will be safe.'” — CNN

Should you feel motivated, here are some international aid organizations that are helping with the crisis in Japan:

  • On your cell phone, text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation help earthquake and tsunami victims. Canadian, US
  • SAVE THE CHILDREN — text JAPAN to 20222 to donate $10. Canadian, US
  • GLOBAL GIVING — text JAPAN to 50555 to give $10 or donate online.
  • SALVATION ARMY: text ‘JAPAN’ or ‘QUAKE’ to 80888 to make a $10 donation. USA, Canada
  • Convoy of Hope : Donate either online or via text message by texting TSUNAMI to 50555.
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About Jan

I have a background in ceramics, graphic design and journalism.
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3 Responses to Japan: Earthquake, Tsunami, Pottery & Disaster Relief

  1. I was about to post on this horrific disaster in Japan on my blog suggesting that ceramic artists donate to the relief effort. I will do that, but also direct them to this post. Thank you for your caring and work.

    • Jan says:

      We feel helpless in the face of such tragedy, wondering what we can do from such a great distance. My teacher, Mr. Takehara, was born in Korea and of Japanese parentage. That is, in part, why I feel all of this so keenly. Thank you for your kind words. I would also like to link to your post. — Jan

  2. Tokyo Jinja says:

    I am a blogger from Japan and I just stumbled across your post. I’d love to know more about the shop in the photo as I have been writing about artists and merchants in the decorative arts affected by the earthquake. Thanks! Jacqueline

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