The g7 summit
With the 2021 G7 Summit arriving at Carbis Bay from 11th to 13th June, we explore the history between Cornwall and the nations it will be welcoming. From the Emperor in the clay pit to the artist at the clay wheel, here are five Cornish connections with our friends in Japan.
Nowhere in the world are you more likely to find an abundance of china clay, but visits from an Emperor of Japan are considerably more unlikely in the realm of North Cornwall. A prince at the time, Emperor Naruhito visited St Austell during his studies at Oxford University in what was a hush-hush event on a quiet Good Friday in 1984.
As well as exploring Blackpool clay pit (not to be confused with the more well-known Blackpool, with less theme park rides and a tad more unbaked porcelain), the Emperor that would accede in 2019 would also head beneath the surface at Geevor Mine and spend three nights at Trewithen, where he would enjoy swims and conversation with local Cornish girls.
In light of his failing health, a Buddhist monk grew fearful that his garden of rare camellias would have no one to look after them once he passed away; believed to have as many as 100 to 300 species, the Japanese flowers are commonly known for their spirals of dainty pink petals, not dissimilar to delicate pinecones that flutter in the breeze.
Much to the comfort of the ageing monk, a suitable location was found that was willing to take cuttings of the ancient shrubs and preserve his life’s work – just under 10,000 kilometres away in Truro’s Tregothnan Gardens, priding themselves upon their protection of rare species no matter the distance.
Cornwall’s climate has nurtured a rich history of gardens, and Japanese flora has coloured a host of meditative spaces with an exotic flare. The Japanese Garden of St Mawgan relaxes beneath a canopy of Japanese maples, the orange glow of pagoda lanterns reflect over the koi pond at Pinetum Gardens while toad lilies and a Japanese swale are just two of the country’s impressions upon the unique biome landscape of the Eden Project.
One of Cornwall and Britain’s greatest inventors, Richard Trevithick created the steam locomotive that would lurch forward both mining capabilities and the transport industry. Seeking to further their grandfather’s legacy, Richard Francis Trevithick and Francis Henry Trevithick would be key figures in kickstarting a modern, industrial Japan.
Working as the locomotive superintendent for Japan’s Imperial Government Railways, the younger Richard would build the first locomotive ever to be manufactured in Japan. This was the start of Japanese engines that would lead the way for the nation’s colossal presence in the car industry, with both Trevithicks making a huge contribution to training some of the earliest Japanese engineers and developing a manufacturing system that was still in use long after the brothers had retired to Cornwall.
GWR (Great Western Railway)
Francis Henry Trevithick produced a hugely influential resource for learning about railway mechanics in Japan. He would marry Yoshi Okuno in Japan and father a number of children, including Tamejiro Okuno Trevithick and Hana Okuno Trevithick – terrific fusions of Japanese with a proudly Cornish name.
From the site of an old cowshed, two potters would produce art in beautiful contrast to their humble surroundings. Born in Kawasaki and trained in ceramics at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, a young Shōji Hamada would stumble upon a Toyo exhibition that would encourage him enough to write a letter to the artist; that chance encounter would carve out a friendship that would eventually see Hamada move to the other side of the world with the letter’s recipient, Bernard Leach.
Leach himself had spent a good portion of his childhood in Kyoto, and when studying in London he would read Japanese legends that would inspire him to return to the country. This was a move that would shape his career, first engaging with ceramics through raku ware – a traditional cupped bowl for tea ceremonies.
Hamada and Leach would form their pottery in St Ives, invited by a member of its blossoming art community. Their work would fuse Eastern and Western influences; moulded by their experiences in Japan and Leach’s London art education, the very first noborigama kiln constructed in the West would complete their own take on Japanese and English slipware whilst set against a Cornish backdrop.
With earthenware clay from St Erth, bricks from Hayle and timber from Carbis Bay, the Leach Pottery would become internationally renowned and is still operated today alongside its museum and gallery. While Hamada would later return to Japan, Leach would remain in St Ives throughout his life; ever fusing cultures together, Leach would serve tea for a shilling in his raku pots with a side of Cornish saffron buns.
The Tate St Ives
a matcha made
From one golden bun to another, it appears that Japanese bakeries have fallen for the buttery goodness of scones. First appearing on Tokyo menus in 1992, cream teas have spread widely to become common fare in all manner of restaurants and hotels, with a Japanese television programme taking joy in explaining the jammy taboo (the jam must be added to the scone before the cream, or… no, sorry, I can’t think of any other logical way).
Rodda’s clotted cream has reached the shelves in a number of Japanese stores, while the former head baker of Padstow’s Chough Bakery has opened a number of Cornish bakeries in Japan; the Japanese staff of his Demerara Bakery have been fully trained in the arts of scones, pasties and other assorted delicacies.
roddas clotted cream
a matcha made
The horizontal crack or jagged ledge that forms in the middle of the scone, from where the dough has risen, has been given a name in Japanese media: ‘the wolf’s mouth’. In line with the scone craze, a number of Japanese variations of the scone have popped up online, including matcha scones and scones glazed with yuzu juice. The translation of scone is ‘sukōn’, rhyming with ‘shone’ – just to finish with a little extra helping of controversy…