Konnichiwa! Yep, that’s a word from one of my first memories in life. I began learning Japanese at the age of six in Tokyo, where my mum was posted for a year. I enjoyed sitting on the back of my father’s bicycle on the way to kindergarten at the American School in Japan, and apparently my directions could be heard all over the neighbourhood! A love of Japanese rice crackers and ‘mochi’ has never left me, and the experience triggered a life-long interest in Japan.
At 17, I joined a one-year exchange program to a high school in Nagoya. I met one of the most important people in my life, my Japanese host mother Mrs. Samizo. She and I quickly bonded over a love of kimono, antique markets and Japanese crafts. Never afraid to teach me the finer points of Japanese etiquette, her careful ‘upbringing’ of this Aussie girl was something I’ve grown to appreciate even more as I get older. Last year, I was pleased to finally introduce my children to her recently, and Mrs. Samizo was happy to dress my daughter in a hand-made kimono. Pity my little one didn’t enjoy it as much!
My parents literally ran away from me in late high school, when they moved from Canberra to Hiroshima for work. Once a year, I would join the term-end exodus of international students returning to their hometowns. I often felt a little strange, as one of the few ‘gaijin’ on the flight from Singapore to Hiroshima. One time, my brother and I forgot it was winter on the other side, and were greeted by a snowfall as we shivered in our Aussie summer clothing. I got a part-time job at an Italian restaurant, and managed to survive by memorising the menu layout and the first Japanese character for each dish. Looking back, it’s amazing they kept me on!
At the Australian National University, I continued my study of Japanese alongside Printmaking. I won a scholarship to study in Kyoto for a year, and it was at Kyoto Seika University that I developed a deep respect for Japanese woodblock printing. My professor, Akira Kurosaki, led us in a year-long program in this traditional technique that included paper-making. I was also fortunate to be a summer intern at the Kira Karacho paper printing atelier. I also spent hours exploring narrow back streets lined with traditional houses and temples. I do believe the saying that you need to spend three years in Kyoto to really know it!
As a new graduate, I was accepted into the Japan Exchange Teaching Program to work as an English instructor and translator in Okinawa. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the eclectic mix of Chinese, Japanese, American and indigenous cultures. One of my past-times was spotting pairs of ‘shisa’ Chinese guardian lions on the tiled roofs of old timber houses. The beautiful glassware, brightly coloured textiles and cheerful pottery are some of the highlights alongside the beautiful character of many locals.
I later moved ‘up’ to Tokyo, where I worked as a translator for the Australian Embassy, the US Embassy and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for over six years. On the side, I helped start a fashion label that specialised in ladies wear with an Asian twist. I enjoyed the non-stop energy and cosmopolitan nature of the capital city with its never-ending array of art exhibitions and activities. Last year, I spent five weeks studying Japanese woodblock near Mt. Fuji as part of the Mi-LAB Artist in Residency Program. It was a magical experience to come full swing back to my original training as an artist. My residency was made possible thanks to my followers, and I was glad to be able to show my work in a solo show last year.
In early 2019, I heeded to an urgent calling to launch the Singapore Heritage Tile Project. Based on my personal journey, I’ve set out to research and record over 200 heritage tiles throughout Singapore. Somehow it doesn’t seem a coincidence that many tiles in Singapore are of Japanese origin. Being able to conduct research in Japanese has also given me a greater insight into the history of export tiles. The project has been able to bring together people of all nationalities, and I’m thrilled to see people bonding together over these ceramic gems of the past.
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