Alexis rips open the letter from her grandmother. She is 22 today, and she can hardly wait to read it. Since she turned 16 and received a string of heirloom pearls and the first letter, she’s become obsessed with these letters that her grandmother wrote about their ancestors before she died. Last year, she learned about Eimi and the Ama. Who will it be this year?
It’s time for you to meet Hanako, the potter – or Hana, as she was known. She was Eimi’s great-granddaughter and she had spent her childhood years training under Hiroaki, the famous potter in the marketplace where her family had a stall.
As she grew older, she started trying new techniques and appearances. While Hiroaki preferred gray and red, Hana worked in different glazes: green, yellowish-brown and white. By the time she was a teenager, she had developed a style all of her own and her pots were admired far and wide.
Hiroaki should have been proud, but far from it: he was jealous. Until then, Hiroaki had been the master potter. Never did he dream one of his students would overtake him. And Hana was not one to stand back. She made more and more pots, fuelled by admiring glances and the handsome prices people were willing to pay.
Hiroaki’s jealousy turned to anger and then to viciousness. First, he started telling stories about Hana to prospective clients and people were less willing to buy from her. But when that wasn’t enough, Hana came to her stall one morning and found every single pot had been smashed to pieces.
She was devastated. For days, she sat at home. She knew she couldn’t go back to the marketplace. Not only did she have nothing to sell, but she had become fearful of what Hiroaki would do.
It’s then that her great-grandmother Eimi shuffled into the room and handed her a small, worn bag of cloth. Inside: a gleaming string of pearls.
“It’s time for you to have this,” said great-grandmother Eimi. “It’s been passed on for generations. Remember, a pearl can only form under the most difficult circumstances.”
Hana knew what her great-grandmother meant: she couldn’t give up now. The next morning, she set off for the Buddhist temple that was being built near their village. Little did she know what she was about to discover. At the temple, they were making pots in a whole new manner: on a turning wheel. The monks taught her all there was to know about their techniques, and Hana became even better at her craft. She was sad that she couldn’t go back to the market, and she missed making her own work, but she was grateful for the income.
Then one morning, Hiroaki showed up. She was terrified. What would he tell the monks? Was he going to destroy the new life she created for herself too?
But Hiroaki was there to find work himself. His stall had gone out of business when people heard what he had done to Hana. And when she looked into his eyes, she could see he had suffered. She didn’t like it, but she knew what to do. The next day, as Hiroaki took a seat next to her at the turning wheel, she put her hand on his.
“Let me show you,” she offered, in a kind voice. Hiroaki froze. Hana froze. Would he accept?
Then he smiled. “Thank you,” he simply said.
Hiroaki and Hana mended their friendship. As the roles were reversed and Hana had to teach him the new techniques, newfound respect grew between them. When the temple was finished they returned to the marketplace, but this time they set up a stall together. Hana became a famous potter, lifting her family out of poverty. And when people asked her how she found it in her heart to forgive Hiroaki, she always said that it was the pearls who gave her the wisdom.
Credit: This site offered some background on the type of pottery that was made in Japan in about 500AD.
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