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japan times column

updated tue 15 dec 98


Robert Yellin on mon 14 dec 98

Sometimes I feel that while ya'all are awake you keep a tie on my
dreams and vice-versa- as I write this here in Japan at 8:27pm,
most of you are far away in dreamland. Poetry and pottery are the
best ways to link the human spirit and I hope that images of Vallejo,
Whitman, and Chojiro fill your dreams....
Just posting an unedited copy of my article that appeared in last Sat's
Japan Times under the title 'Your little piece of timelessness.'
As a non-potter subscribing to this list, please allow me to state what
might have said before, what most of you are giving to your communities,
and cultures is something that is sorely needed in these days of fast
mentalities- so often the appreciation of those who use what you give is
known- sort of like my third grade elementary school teacher- I never
said thank
you- a potter, a poet, and a teacher are often thankless jobs. Your
spirits fill
your work and enrich those who grasp what you and nature create- a
season ending
prayer that you may continue to create useful beauty that touches hands
and hearts
of those in the present and in the never-ending future.
From Numazu, where a snow-capped Mt.Fuji took my breath away this
Robert Yellin

I often have trouble dealing with the concept of time and I especially
ponder this issue when a new year approaches; the year of the rabbit is
just twenty-one days away. For me the beauty of pottery is that it goes
beyond time and in a sense holds the past, the present, and the future
all within its form. Not only that, but as times' change and along with
it fashions and fads, a Jomon pot(ca. 10,500-300 B.C.) or a Kamakura
pot(1185-1333) or for that matter many ancient pots, still have the
power to speak to the heart no matter what the external circumstances
may be; that, to me, is a timeless. I started to collect antiques about
fifteen years ago but found that there weren't many ones I wanted, or
that they were outrageously expense; like a two million yen sake cup. So
I figured that since I happen to be alive at this moment in time(praise
and thanks) I might as well find out about what potters today have to
offer. Luckily, I was here in Japan and found out that today's Japanese
potters have a whole bunch to offer. This month gives the pottery
enthusiast numerous chances to see fine exhibitions, I shall highlight a
Japan has many group associations that artists tend to join like the
Nitten, the Japan Crafts Society or the Japan Ceramics Society. One such
organization is the Isui-kai(One water association) that was initially
founded for painters in 1936(Showa 11) and began a ceramics division in
1959. This year the group is having its 40th anniversary exhibition in
Tokyo at Ikebukuro Seibu's 6th floor Art Forum until the 14.
Over a hundred potters will be showing pieces in styles that include
Oribe, Bizen, underglaze blue(sometsuke), Kutani, and overglaze enamel
wares(aka-e). Three current National Living Treasures, Imaemon Imaizumi
for overglaze enamel porcelain(iro-e jiki), Manji Inoue for white
porcelain(hakuji), and Yasokichi Tokuda for his bold, bright Kutani
wares are also featured.
The large dish that Tokuda is exhibiting starts out with a deep blue
glaze in the center that gradually changes to lighter blues as it
stretches toward the perimeter. A brilliant yellow glaze which radiates
like the rays of the sun encircle the border of the plate; although it
is glaringly bright, it is indeed an artistic triumph. The plate is
entitled 'yosai batchi rinka'- yosai meaning 'glaring colors', batchi is
usually pronounced hatchi and means a large bowl, and rinka or foliated.
Other standouts include Akiko Kawai from Bizen, Haruhiko Tsukamoto from
Gifu and this years Isu-kai's grand prize winner Shigemasa Minami from

For tea enthusiasts Sadamitsu Sugimoto is showing his refined Iga,
Shigaraki, red and black Raku, and Ido wares in Shinjuku. Many potters
in Japan make utensils for the tea ceremony but very few have studied
their wares as intensely as Sugimoto, particularly the styles of
Chojiro(?-1589), the originator of Raku, and Koetsu(1558-1637), a grand
all-around artist known for his calligraphy and raku teabowls. The
influence is immediately seen in Sugimoto's taut black and rounded red
Raku teabowls that are usually part of famed Kyoto temple Taitoku-ji's
tea ceremonies. Sugimoto has studied tea for over twenty years with
Taitoku-ji's revered monk Taiki Tachibana. Tea from Sugimoto's wares
will be served each day of the exhibition from 11am to 4pm.
From Dec. 18 until Dec.24 at Shinjuku Keio department store's 6th floor
Other worthy tea related shows are 'The Beauty of Tea' at
Manyodo(03-3571-5337) located at 7-3-13 Ginza in the New Ginza Bldg and
Kazu Yamada's exhibit in Toyohashi.
Around fifty ceramists, many of them giants in the ceramic world, will
be shown at Manyodo including tea bowls by Kanjiro Kawai, Muan Nakazato,
Shoji Hamada, and Kyusetsu Miwa. The exhibition is on now until the 22,
closed Sunday.
In Toyohashi is one of my favorite potters in all the land, the young
but experienced Kazu Yamada. Working out of Fukui prefecture, he fires
some fabulous Shino, Ki-Seto, Iga, and Oribe wares. His tea bowls were
once admired by Tokuro Kato, the grand old master of Mino wares, who
commented that "this young lad is good." On now until the 15 at Maruei's
7th floor gallery.

Gerd Knapper was the first foreign potter ever to build a workshop in
Mashiko(1968) and he shocked the Japanese ceramic world in 1971 when he
was awarded first prize in the Japan Ceramic Art competition. Knapper is
having a one-man show at Wako in Ginza from the 16-21.
Knapper, a native of Germany, is one of only a handful of foreign
potters who have made a successful career in the clubby world of
Japanese ceramics. He now lives in a royal manor, 'Tarosaka' in Ibaraki
prefecture and fires mostly ash-glazed pieces which mainly have light
brown hues. His pieces are often curvilinear and that has now become his
trademark; his pieces are instantly recognizable. In an essay he wrote
he states, "My work is inspired by primitive and modern art of various
cultures. I don't consider myself a Japanese artist nor a German artist.
Based on my unique position, my work inheres an independent structure
with elements of the East and of the West." Many pieces in the current
show are part of his torso series and will part of sixty works to be
For celadon lovers, I cannot say enough praise about Shinobu Kawase,
besides Koheiji Miura and Sueharu Fukami, he is a premier celadon
artist- his show ends today at Kochukyo, which is across the street from
Nihonbashi Takashimaya- highly recommended, do make an effort to get
The end of the year for the ceramic scene always finds numerous sake
utensil shows being staged. Another problem I have, besides time, is the
fact that so many people enjoy sake but never learn about the art of
tokkuri(sake flasks) and guinomi(sake cups). Sake lovers, take the time
to check out at least one of the following:
At Bizen Gallery Aoyama until the 19. Located on 'antique road' not far
from Aoyama University- call Yoko Kimura for directions in English-
Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi will host a bonanza of an exhibit from the 22-28;
people line up for this one.
In Shinjuku at Odakyu department store from the 16-22.
Masuda Studio has its third Raku(fun) sake show from the 15-24. The
gallery is located between Okubo and Shin-Okubo stations. Call
03-3367-0948 for more info.
Ikebukuro Tobu's 500 plus exhibit starts on the 31 and runs till Jan.6;
this one is not to miss.
In Kamakura at Shiratori, all Bizen. For more info in English call
Shiratori-san at 0467-25-0184
Osaka has two shows one at Gallery Dojima(06-345-9365) located near
Osaka city hall until the 19 and the other at Central
Gallery(06-252-0956) near Daimaru department store until the 27. Both of
these shows feature excellent ceramists also showing tablewares.
And now its time to close the year on Ceramic Scene. My aim in this
column is to inform you all of the many ceramic exhibitions that are
happening each week in Japan- when I started collecting in 1984 there
was no such service; I educated myself and that is a very important
go see it all for yourself. And that treasured piece that you take home
will most likely bring you years of honest use and simple beauty that
will outlive the turning of calendar pages and speak to some kindred
spirit a few hundred years down the road- and we all know that spirit is
what this seasons all about; something that transcends time, borders,
and cultures.
Happy holidays and peace and joy to you all.

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