February 2011

This page is written monthly
by Harumi Okochi.
Sometimes Harumi's friends join.
We'd be happy if you look at
previous issues.


pottery sign

 It is my great pleasure that I can introduce you again Miss Prairie Stuart-Wolff here on this page as a guest essay writer for Yoyokaku. She had once written here as for Hanako Nakazato, a young potter who works in both the States and Japan.

This time Prairie tell about Hanako again, but also about herself. Please enjoy meeting these two ladies.

Crossing Borders
Prairie Stuart-Wolff

[T]ruth can be reached only through the comprehension of opposites.

                                                        -Okakura Kakuzo, from The Book of Tea


              It is exciting when you meet someone who has dreamt your dream.  From a young age I knew that the small rural town I grew up in couldnft fulfill all of my desires, answer all of my questions or teach me all that I craved to know.  And so, at 14, I began my journey.  I left my home in northeastern USA and for ten years I took every opportunity available to move.  Schooling took me across my vast country to its western edge.  I also traversed boarders north and south and over seas.  Curiosity was my constant companion.  Despite being a shy, quiet girl, I was fascinated with humanity and desperate to experience the varieties of life.  I wanted to see how other people lived.  Little did I know, just as my desire to roam was igniting, Hanako, already well into her teens, was crisscrossing the eastern seaboard of the United States, exploring her way straight towards the small town region I had left.  She too had felt that her rural town in Japan couldnft fulfill her desires, answer all of her questions, or teach her all that she needed to know, and so at 16 she left.

It would take a decade before our paths would cross.  Despite vast differences in personality, cultural training and life experiences, we recognized in each other a kindred spirit.  We were two loners, two roamers, but we shared the desire to live a risky and frightfully challenging life, all for the chance at a fascinating existence.  In the near decade since we met, we have both experienced being a foreigner.  It is deeply rewarding.  Living outside of your own culture sheds light on yourself and your ways.  It expands your mind and opens your eyes to new modes of thinking and being in the world.  Hanako and I both profoundly appreciate that experience and want to embrace it as a regular part of our lives.  But it is also spiritually trying.  Without a common cultural foundation, misunderstandings and frustrations are frequent.  Because we understand those particular challenges, we also recognize each otherfs need for time immersed in our native cultures.  Therefore it has long been a dream of ours to split our time between Japan and the States.

We spoke often of this dream but it was always in the realm of gsome day.h  But in the summer of 2009 we had the opportunity to buy a house in Maine, a place we have fallen in love with over the past several years.  Though wary of the financial and logistical challenges of owning a second home in a second country at this stage in our lives, we took a leap of faith.  Sometimes, in order to challenge ourselves, grow and evolve, we must step out of our routine and extend ourselves a ways into the realm of the unknown.  It has now been almost a year and a half since and it feels as though we have fulfilled a lifelong goal prematurely.  A vague, undefined, abstract idea became a reality in a matter of moments.  Itfs like waking from a dream to find out it wasnft a dream after all.  But there are times when the universe offers you solutions to problems you havenft yet fully realized.

Hanako admits that, though unexpected, it was good timing for a shift in lifestyle.  Four years ago we settled in Japan and in that time, Hanako worked furiously to found and build her business, monohanako.  It exhausted her.  Absorbed in relentless production, she was running the risk of losing the core convictions behind her product.  Through 16 years of living in the States, Hanako had come to see her own culture more clearly in light of its differences from her adopted western culture.  In that post college drift in which young adults, freed from the constraints and routines of schooling, must manifest their own destiny for the first time, Hanako thought hard about where to turn her attentions.  She realized that she wanted to pursue something that would engage all the senses and enrich daily living, something artistic.  She wanted to embrace her cultural instincts and do something cultivated in daily life.  She had come to appreciate Japanfs food culture as the core expression of her heritage.  She embraced pottery because it would suitably convey her values.  However pottery was the articulation of a message, not the message itself.  But four years of running monohanako, racing to meet a constant stream of deadlines, had overshadowed that message.  She had become a slave to her own production skills and the motivations of working to champion Japanfs food culture and encourage people to live a rich daily life were falling dormant.  Stepping out of her routine and culture again will give her an overdue fresh perspective on her work and intentions.  And the quiet pace of life in Maine will afford her much time to refine her work and rekindle those inspirations.

For myself, living in Japan has pried my eyes, heart, and spirit open in fascinating ways.  I feel blessed that I was introduced to Japan under these circumstances.  Unlike many westerners who travel here, I had no preconceived notions of what I would encounter, no romantic concept of the exotic East, no pre-judgments.  And I came straight into a family.  I have never had to rely on a guidebook or been in danger of slipping into any tourist track.  I have been gifted a native experience and on many levels I have been inspired beyond any expectations.  I have been awed by the heartfelt kindness of unlikely friends and allies.  And without fluid language skills, I was reminded of the importance and reliability of living and learning through sight, smell, sound, taste, touch and intuition.  It has been a rich, deeply felt experience and has re-enforced my priority to live always with my senses alert.

              But I have also missed and hence more deeply understood and valued many key aspects of my culture in that time away.  I grew up in a culture full of tight personal bonds.  The line between friends and family was often blurred.  In our community, we show our minds and hearts to each other and risk disagreements for the potential of deep connections.  We speak our thoughts honestly and openly.  We easily identify similarities and differences in each other.  We take comfort in the former and respect the latter.  With heartfelt intentions we open our homes without reserve and casually invite each other in to share meals on a regular bases. 


Experiencing two cultures naturally invites comparisons.  In recognizing the strengths that we admire in each culture, Hanako and I have also identified shortcomings.  Americans possess the nature to open their doors and host each other with casual ease.  But though they have a gmake yourself at homeh way of welcoming others, beyond a basic tidying up, Americans frequently fall short in exerting extra effort that leads to true hospitality.  It is a special kindness to create a welcoming environment by putting out fresh flowers, burning incense and attending to your guest.  Also, a little more attention would do wonders for the American dinner table.  In small pockets around the country, there is a blossoming interest in healthy, locally produced foods.  But most Americansf sense of taste is still underdeveloped and they are too easily satisfied.  They believe that simply cooking with quality ingredients will lead to the best flavor.  Much potential is lost due to a lack of basic preparation and presentation skills.  Seasonal ingredients, proper treatment and beautiful pairing with tableware are the foundations of Japanfs food culture.  Eating well and beautifully is the foundation of a gratifying lifestyle.

At the same time modern Japanese are losing sight of this exquisite aspects of their heritage.  It is a crucial time to champion the Japanese obsession with food and preserve the subtle complexities found in traditional Japanese cooking.  And what better way to do so than to actually cook and share meals with family or friends?  In this way, the American notion of opening the doors of our homes and sharing our lives is essential.  Japanese show a strong interest in the customs of hospitality but few make it a regular practice.  Sadly, we are living at a time when the notion of true hospitality and personal lifestyle reside more in books and magazine articles than in homes and hearts.  These days everything is a commodity to be bought, or at least desired.  And to my eyes, lifestyle appears to be the leading commodity in Japan.  People are forgetting that hospitality is an attitude, not a commodity.  It is a display of spirit, not possessions.

An excessive interest in and reliance on the media is breeding a climate in which people forget to feel for themselves.  Books, magazines and television can be an excellent source of education and inspiration.  They introduce ideas and things that we might never otherwise know about.  But rather than finding inspiration there for our own lives, the public appears to be living vicariously through the media.  Media can only go as far as to introduce something.  If we are interested, it is our job to investigate it further and make personal choices.  But too often the public tries to replicate what is seen in the media.  The result is that we are losing our own aesthetics and our own sensing abilities.  The media can stimulate our personal lifestyle choices but it must never be mistaken as a manual for living.  The foundation of true hospitality is a desire to show someone your care in the form of a lovingly prepared meal and a welcoming atmosphere.  It must come from the heart in order to be authentic.  It must be an original expression, not a copy.  It is critical that we think for ourselves and make our own choices.


The developments over the last year and a half have inspired a lot of self-reflective conversation between us.  Hanako and I feel compelled to draw up our courage and embrace this unique situation of living in two cultures.  We are thinking hard about our priorities and motivations. Though we must migrate like snow birds every six months, we have been inspired to invent a way of life that can translate across boarders.  Though our time is divided, we want to maintain a single focus in life.  It feels imperative to do so such that we can maintain some continuity despite a regular, radical shift in environment.

Through our individual and shared experiences, Hanako and I have arrived at the same truth: the most rewarding task in life is to cultivate a meaningful, sensing daily life.  We see the particular strengths and weaknesses of American and Japanese cultures in this area and there is much that one can learn from the other.  We have a rare opportunity to link them and build a bridge between here and there.  Like a ripple in a lake, we hope that by sharing these observations and understandings with our friends and colleagues in both countries, we can encourage others to create a deeply personal, rich sensing life.

The success of this adventure is un-assured and un-assumed.  We have embarked suddenly, but not blindly.  The results may still dwell in our hopes and dreams, but we are dreaming the same dream.  And for sure we have left the realm of routine.  Because of it, we are daily expanding our understanding of ourselves, of each other and of this beautifully imperfect and unexpected world we live in.


                                                          -Prairie Stuart-Wolff




Prairie Stuart-Wolff;
American born, currently divides her time between Japan and the States. She moved to Karatsu with her partner,Hanako Nakazato, in 2006.
This is her second essay for Yoyokakufs greetings page.
She enjoys these opportunities to reflect upon living in a foreign culture.
You can find out more information about her other projects through the following links:

Prairie Stuart-Wolff: Link
Recollect: Link
Hanako Nakazato monohanako: Link

Prairie's first essay for Yoyokaku



Thank you very much, Prairie. You know how much I envy you two!
Someday, I will go and see your life in Maine.

Thank you readers, if you live near their place, please pay them a visit.
See you next month.

Thank you very much for visiting this page.
I hope you will return next month.
Yours, Harumi Okochi

Proprietress of

  Mail to Harumi Okochi