February in Tajimi

DISCOVERY OF TAJIMI

Tajimi is an industrial city located in the prefecture of Gifu in central Japan also called Chubu region. Located at the beginning of the mountains of central Japan, Tajimi spreads its outer quarters through the hills while the city center is in a small valley where the Toki River flows. Climbing on the heights we can see the volcanoes Haku and Ontake, two active stratovolcanoes. The prefecture of Gifu and especially Tajimi are renowned for their clay and their activities related to artisanal and industrial ceramics. Many factories, ceramics shops or pottery studios are present in different areas of Tajimi.

Areas of Tajimi - Tajimi - © Claire BlumenfeldTajimi under a stormy sky - Tajimi - © Claire Blumenfeld

The architecture of Tajimi is a mix of concrete buildings, functional houses all looking the same and traditional dwellings. Some places look like European residential neighborhoods. The city center is a series of bars at the foot of which we sometimes find an old traditional style house sandwiched. Some neighborhoods still have old houses but the majority of the city is built of concrete. The town is not very pretty. But the big streets, the feeling of space, the peaceful atmosphere, the hilly environment, the fresh air and the presence of some pretty buildings, all bathed in a sort of odds and ends, give to Tajimi a certain charm.

Architecture of Tajimi - Tajimi - © Claire Blumenfeld

In Tajimi there are not many activities. If you are looking for entertainment in the evening or the weekend you are clearly not in the right place. But it is good to walk there, wandering along the banks of the Toki River or going to explore the most remote areas on the hillside.

Sounds of Tajimi – Radio in the commercial street:

 

"Omikuji": small pieces of paper predicting the future - Shrine in central Tajimi - Tajimi - © Claire Blumenfeld

KOKEIZAN EIHOJI TEMPLE

In the northern part of Tajimi is the most beautiful place in the city: a small hollow in the hills where the Toki River winds and are located the houses of Kokeizan Eihoji temple.

Founded in 1313 by the Nanzen-ji branch of the Zen Rinçai Buddhist School, the temple has several buildings with a mix of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles. During the 14th and 15th centuries the temple had about thirty buildings. Unfortunately, most of them were destroyed by fire during the Sengoku  period (period of conflict in Japan from the mid-15th century to the end of the 16th century). Some surviving buildings such as Kannon-do (housing a statue of Kannon (Goddess of Mercy)) and Kaizen-do (home to calligraphy of the founding priests) are considered national treasures.

The place is absolutely beautiful. And still we are in winter. What should it be in autumn with maples all red or spring with cherry blossoms! The different buildings are beautiful and the view of the lake with the traditional Musaibashi bridge fills me with joy. I take the time to cross the bridge, enjoying every step and imagining myself centuries back surrounded by samurai, priests, geishas or peasants who came to pray to the goddess of mercy.

It is also said that the crossing of the bridge leading to Kannon-do symbolizes the fact of reaching the place of illumination. Once you have crossed the bridge, do not cross it again.

Kokeizan Eihoji Temple - Tajimi – © Claire Blumenfeld

TAJIMI AND CERAMICS

Tajimi is the largest producer of Minoware, hand-painted ceramics, well known in Japan since it is found in almost every home. Ceramic culture has flourished for about 1300 years in Gifu Prefecture. Around the 7th century, craftsmen fleeing the wars preceding the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568 to 1614) settled in the region sheltered from the mountains.

At the end of the 16th century, the interest in the utensils of the tea ceremony led to the birth of new techniques and styles of printing. Four main styles emerged and continue to be produced today. They are recognizable by their colors: Oribe, green, Shino, mix of red and white, Seto-guro, all black and Ki-seto in yellow hues. I invite you to have a look at this article to see pictures of different styles.

Three districts in Tajimi are dedicated to ceramics: the Honmachi Oribe district, in the center, is mainly dedicated to artistic ceramics and kitchen utensils (bowls, dishes, accessories for the tea ceremony). The Ichinokura Oribe district in southern Tajimi has many galleries and workshops. And the neighborhood Takata Onada Oribe north of Tajimi behind a hill, has old factories some of which still active producing sake bottles, teapots, bowls …

Small handicraft factory - Takata Onada area - Tajimi - © Claire Blumenfeld

MY BEGINNINGS AT TYK

As you know, I have been working since the beginning of February at the TYK factory in Tajimi. For those who do not know or do not remember, I invite you to re-read the end of this article  where I detail the why of how I am came to work for two months at TYK.

I work at the Research and Development Center. I change teams every week to cover the different trades and products made by the center. A little away from the factory, the center is located on a small hill 10 minutes walk from the dormitory where I stay. The atmosphere is quiet. Regarding the work, well it’s factory work so it’s repetitive and not very fun. Until now I have spent most of my time making casts, drilling holes or measuring products in detail. Often the same task and the same gestures loop all day. The first week I also spent five days doing the same casts on the same machine by performing the same gestures, standing without really moving from 8am to 5pm. Sometimes I feel like turning into a robot. The brain in pause mode, only the muscles work. The hard part is that when I’m bored, which usually happens after an hour doing the same things, I tend to fall asleep. So when it’s 10am and you have to hold all day …

Other than that, the factory looks like any French factory. Warehouses, machines that make noise constantly, people with protective helmets, analysis laboratories … The specificity comes from the fact that the plant is still very little automated. (That’s why a lot of workers, including me, do repetitive tasks all day, but it helps to generate jobs). And that we are still in Japan since every morning we start with 10 minutes of warm-ups and physical exercises outside followed by 10 minutes of speech where employees rehearse the principles of the plant and where are mentioned the tasks of the day.

Apart from the work which is not grandiose (but I suspected it a little), I am a little disappointed by the lack of exchanges between me and the workers of the center. People are nice but very few finally come or are interested (or give the impression) to come and talk with me. And as usual very few can speak English. For the month of February, I have been in 4 different teams and only one team was really interesting. With the other three I did not really interact with the team members and they made me do the same tasks every day without really showing me or explaining to me what they were doing. Same during the meal break or in the dormitory (where I also take my meals morning and evening) where everyone eats very fast without talking.

The interesting team was the second week of February. I followed Mr. Hayashi and Miss Kaku in their various works, participating in each stage while chatting. This week was by far the best. Mr. Hayashi is an ultra kind guy, always smiling, energetic, funny, interesting, super interested in the idea of interacting with me, in short a great guy. And Miss Kaku, who is also very kind and interesting, speaks good English. So the week was filled with exchanges, laughter and passed very quickly. I would have stayed longer with them. I continue to see them from time to time during my breaks to say hello.

The work experience at TYK is interesting but the monotony of the tasks and the lack of communication tarnish the picture a little.

That’s for the first feedback on TYK. Today, at the time of writing, it is early March. Things have changed a little bit about exchanges. As it’s been a month since I’m here people are slowly starting to know me and I’m also trying hard to get to others and speak Japanese. But I’m still disappointed by this aspect a little “cold” in relationships.

You will know more by the end of March about my work at TYK, since I am organizing myself with the leaders to be able to make small reports inside the factory (show you what I do, the different teams, the morning warm-up …). See you soon for new articles!