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2002 Newsletter Archive



                   Written by Robert Yellin

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April 2002


Bizen Schools; Pottery Care

1. A Few Modern Bizen Schools
2. Collector's Thoughts
3. Caring for Porous Pieces in Summer
4. New Online Pottery Bookstore

When looking at Bizen pottery one can usually see a teacher's influence in modern works. Here's a point to illustrate that. About twelve years ago I went down to Bizen on one of my biannual journeys. Back then I would just knock on doors asking to look at pots. At Urakami Zenji's house I met a gentleman named Goto-san. He was very amused that a lone gaijin (foreigner) was at this great Okayama Prefectural Cultrual Property's home unannounced. He invited me out for lunch and we went for some fine sushi. Next it was to a gallery. As we were walking around he asked me, "What do you think about this piece?" I picked it up, turned it over and said it looked like a Fujiwara Kei kodai (footring). He was amazed, "Sugoi," (amazing) he said and here's why. The piece, a guinomi, was the work of Okada Teru. Okada was the number one apprentice to the late Living National Treasure Fujiwara Yu, who in turn was an apprentice to his equally distinguished father. It was all there in the kodai to see.

I would say that there are three modern schools of Bizen with two minor ones following. The first three would be the Kaneshige, Fujiwara, and Yamamoto schools, all based on the works of the first three LNT's of Bizen; Kaneshige Toyo, Fujiwara Kei, and Yamamoto Toshu. They all had many apprentices, including their sons, and most works from any of the disciples have telltale signs as to which school it's from.

It could be the form, the way the clay is processed, the firing, or that lowly kodai. Kaneshige-school pots have more bamboo carved lines on them then the others, and the forms are not so 'tight' as Fujiwara's. Kaneshige-style clay is richer and darker than Fujiwara's, which tends to be too "clean" and processed. It thus loses much of the desired tsuchi-aji (clay flavor) so dear to Bizen. That's one of the reasons I much prefer Kaneshige Bizen to Fujiwara Bizen. Yamamoto style is a bit in between, with the forms being a bit less tense than Fujiwara's but not as natural as Kaneshige's. They also fire a different way that brings more dripping goma (sesame) on the works.

The Fujiwara kilns are also so "clean" and don't seem to have the spirit like a Kaneshige or a Mori kiln.

Two other schools would be the Isezaki Mitsuru-Jun and Mori Togaku schools. The latter prefers a much lighter clay and firing and many of his works, and those of his apprentices, have a softer look to them.
In the 1996 book "Tokoton Bizen" written by Kuroda Kusaomi there is a family tree of these schools. It lists fourteen potters in the Kaneshige school, thirteen in the Fujiwara school, eighteen under Yamamoto, thirty-six for the Isezaki brothers, and only six for Mori. There are more than these figures due to apprentices who have since become independent.

What prompted this brief story was the pair of guinomi I recently listed on by Ohira Seinosuke. They clearly come from the Fujiwara school; have a look at:

Of course, this is also true for many other potting centers, such as Mashiko or Hagi, but I think it's strongest in Bizen.

For more on Japan's Living National Treasures, please visit:

For more on Bizen, please visit:

How does one build a fine collection? Is it a hit or miss thing? Where are the best sources? These are very pertinent questions when one wants to create a collection of value, whether it be ten pieces, or hundreds. It's always quality over quantity for me. I ran across this question in my mind recently and would like a share a few thoughts.

First, beware. There are so many fake Rosanjin, Fujwara, Hamada, antiques, and many others out there. Just because it has a signed box does not make it the real McCoy. There are forged boxes as well. I have seen more fake Rosanjin and Hamada works than I care to mention. So, buy from an established dealer and ask others opinions if you're not sure. Study by reading and looking at the classic pieces found in books. Don't worry if the text is in Japanese for the pictures "speak a thousand words" and you want to develop an eye.

Also buy from someone who is going to assist you in creating the collection you want over the long term. Indeed it's a buzz to find the odd piece at a flea market, or from an Asian art board dealer active on the web -- indeed, the latter abound on the Net. Yet one piece does not make a fine collection. And your hard-earned money empowers them to go about buying with no knowledge of what it is they offer. I see that happen quite a bit and the prices are, at times, over the top to boot.

Take your time in making a collection. There is no rhyme or reason to the flow and fate of art and pieces often "find us," not the other way around. If possible, "weed" some older pieces from your collection and recycle your money.

And finally, trust your senses as to what appeals to you. Yet, please purchase as often as possible from those that know what they're doing and will be there for you, no matter of the passage of time.


Already in some parts of the world summer temperatures are appearing. With that brings humidity and the onslaught of mildew in some areas. Here in Japan that is the case, although it is a few months away.

If you have some Hagi, Shino, Shigaraki, or other porous works, you have to be careful during this time of the year. For if you use them and don't dry and store them properly you will find that nasty mildew will appear; yuck!

That's one of the reasons glass and porcelain are popular in summer. Yet, I know I, and many others, still use stonewares all year round. Here's what to do:

First, rinse the piece with water and towel dry it. Then, DO NOT put it back in the cupboard! Keep it out in a light and airy place for a few days. That should do it.

If however you find some mildew I suggest soaking the piece overnight in a light bleach solution and then overnight once more in a bucket of water. If you have any specific questions please ask Robert at To email Robert, click the "Email Us" button at top of page.

In the very near future will be launched. They are based out of Tokyo and will offer ten new selections each month. You can also subscribe to HONOHO GEIJUTSU or TOHJIRO there. Special orders will also be accepted. Do pay a visit in about ten days or so!

To be in touch
with you
while so many others walk
the earth
is a miracle.......
(as far as I'm concerned)

As always many thanks and all the best from Mishima

Robert Yellin


Copyright 2001

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