As April comes to an end in San Diego, the parks and beaches have begun to gradually reopen. This marks the beginning of what will be a very long and uncertain journey to ending our physical distancing that began what seems a lifetime ago in mid-March. But the start of Phase One is an opportune reason to celebrate, and I’m delighted to be able to do this with new ceramic work by Mike Martino from Karatsu, Japan.
In this latest batch, I requested mostly pieces with brushwork that include lovely shrimps, which over the years have become Mike’s signature symbol. I find his lovely rhythmical brush strokes very comforting and meditative to follow with my eyes and I hope you do too.
I would like in particular to introduce one of Mike’s pieces that seem to capture our current state of being quite nicely. It is a ekaratsu (painted karatsu) bowl that has the calligraphy letters “kochu nichi getsu nagashi (壺中日月長)” written on it. The literal translation of this Zen word is “the sun and the moon shine eternally inside a jar.”
This phrase was derived from an old Chinese anecdote of an elderly medicine vendor who always disappeared into a jar hanging in the front of his shop after the day’s work. Curious about where the old man was going every night, a local official befriended him and was able to get invited into the pot with him. Inside, the official found a vast palace with a large garden where the old man entertained the official with food and drink. After what seemed to be a whole day, the official returned to the real world to find out that decades had passed. The old medicine vender was an immortal ascetic.
In Buddhist-speak, this may be interpreted as “the realm of enlightenment transcends time.” But I simply interpret this as “time is what you make of it” and unfortunately I fell out of making anything of it for a while during the seemingly unending lockdown. This was a sharp reminder that I was spending way too much time endlessly reading the dark news concerning the pandemic on my phone screen and feeling anxious. But I’m now finally crawling back into the jar.
Lastly, I’d like to add that a lot of time was squandered while I stared at Mike’s bowl trying to figure out which part of the calligraphy referred to the jar (壺), inside (中), sun (日), moon(月), and long (長), only to find that Mike wrote the whole Zen phrase in romanized Japanese. So now you can pronounce a sophisticated Zen saying in Japanese, and isn’t this a highly productive way of using your time?
Mike Martino is currently having an online sale of his work on his website in Japan 4/29-5/6/2020
(click here to visit his website).