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2002 Newsletter Archive



                   Written by Robert Yellin

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August 2002


Ranking Japanese Potters

- The Rankings
- Current Issues of Honoho Geijutsu and Tojiro
- Exhibitions

The Rankings According to The Books
The Japanese, as well as most folks around the world, love to rank things and people. Whether it be a Top Ten list, or the Year-End Favorites, most of us enjoy rankings of things and people.

In the Japanese art world there are special books that come out at year's end ranking artists in almost every art category; pottery, calligraphy, painting (Japanese and Western styles), sculpture, metalwork, textiles, and glass. The selection committee is made up of gallery owners, art critics, and museum curators. The data books are quite useful in a few ways. First, there are lineage charts for the larger teachers and schools and one can see the tree of master-apprentice relationships. For example, in the one book I have, the Bijutsu Meiten, there is a chart showing all the apprentices of Kusabe Yakichi, Kiyomizu Rokubee, Itaya Hazan, and Tomimoto Kenkichi. There are also photos of some works and also of the more higher-ranking artists, such as Kato Takuo, Kato Shunto, Uichi Shimizu and Suzuki Osamu among a group of thirty-four.

These rankings reveal various associations. Some potters are listed in the Nippon Bijutsu-in Kai (Japan Art Institute) while others are listed in the Nihon Kogei-kai (Japan Crafts Association) and for those with no association, like Tsuji Seimei, they are listed in the Dento Kogei Saka (Traditional Craft Artists) section. Typically, under the potter's name, a price is listed along with other pertinent information, including the potter's style, associations, titles, and contact information. The listed price is part of the ranking -- it represents what a major piece would sell for. For example, under Shimaoka Tatsuzo there is a price of 2.8 million yen (about $24,000), Miyashita Zenji received a 900,000-yen ranking (about $8000), while Matsuzaki Ken was priced at 420,000 yen (about $3650). Some potters, such as Tsuji Seimei, have no price listed and I'm not exactly sure why that is. Not all potters are listed in each book. For example, Kakurezaki Ryuichi and Kagami Shukai (two of my favorite potters) are not listed in the Bijutsu Meiten, but they might be listed in other books.

Past legends are listed as well, with the highest rank going to Tomimoto Kenkichi at fifty million yen (approx. $430,000)! Rosanjin had twenty-six million under his name (about $23,000), about the same for Kato Tokuro as well. Hamada Shoji was ranked at eight million (around $7000), the same as Kamoda Shoji and Miwa Kyuwa. The highest-ranking Bizen potter was, of course, Kaneshige Toyo, who was listed at twenty million yen (approx. $17,000).

The book also lists who to contact for authentication of past giants works, such as Arakawa Toyozo and Kondo Yuzo, as well lists of major art awards, exhibitions, museums, galleries, art historians, and much more -- I guess one could compare it to a Farmer's Almanac!

If you'd like to know if you're favorite potter is listed, do let me know and I'll look it up for you. Please remember that these figures are just a general guideline and at times do not reflect actual market value for more general works. Also, figures for the same artist can vary from book to book. Oh, just for general reference such ranking books retail for about $40 and have about 850 pages -- in Japanese only though.

On Amazon's Japan site I also found the Bijutsu Nenkan, Bijutsu Daikan, Bijutsu Meikan, and Gendai Bijutsu Meikan.

Current Issues of "Honoho Geijutsu" and "Tojiro"
Let's take a look inside the most recent editions of Honoho Geijutsu and Tojiro, the two most important quarterly ceramic magazines.

-- Honoho Geijutsu
The current issue features tsubo (jars or pots) as their cover story. In the opening page about tsubo, they write: "Why are modern ceramic artists so engaged in creating pots? Until the Edo period, ceramic pots had been produced for the purpose of hermetically preserving foods, such as grains, for a long period of time. These utilitarian pots, stored in earthen floor rooms or in granaries, were essential items for Japanese households. Starting from the Meiji Era, however, the practical function of ceramic pots was swiftly superseded by various modern products. As a consequence, ceramic pots, as if they were made to be vases by modern and contemporary ceramic artists, became synonymous with decorations in foyers and tokonoma (alcoves) in Japanese homes. Furthermore, modern and contemporary ceramic artists have refined the orthodox shape of ceramic pots, which is round and simple, and intentionally crafted new art works for the purpose of appreciation. Dubbed vases, these actually impractical but amazing works amply manifest the modern artists' ideas and skills."

On the next page in the magazine is a close-up view of an amazing Ko-Seto tsubo by Okabe Mineo -- one of the most influential potters of the 20th century, although not well known in the West. I will be writing an article about Okabe, Kamoda, and Tsuji in an upcoming edition of DARUMA magazine. The current edition of Honoho Geijutsu continues with photos of many tsubo by Rosanjin, Ishiguro, Hamada, Kawai, Kamoda, and other giants. It also looks at some antique tsubo as well. The magazine lists the prices of some of the works as well! Top of the list is Itaya Hazan at a cool 100 million yen!

-- Tojiro
The current issue focuses on comparing masterpieces with the work of contemporary potters. We see a Kato Tokuro Ki-Seto chawan next to one by Suzuki Goro, and some Rosanjin bowls next to those of Yoshitake Kazumi. Other photos are of works by Tsujimura Shiro, Harada Shuroku, Yagi Akira, and many more. There's also a nice article about Yamagata Mamoru, the proprietor of Bizen Togei Kurabu -- the oldest and finest pottery shop in Bizen. Another feature in this issue takes a look at suribachi -- mortars -- and unusual workshops. As always, in both magazines, the ads for galleries are always enjoyable to see.

Information on subscribing to these magazines can be found at:

1. Momoyama Pottery and Rosanjin Exhibition
July 20th to September 1st, 2002
Closed on Mondays
Time: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Himeji City Museum of Art
Himeji-shi, Hon-cho 68-25, Hyogo Prefecture
Tel: 0792-22- 2288

2. Lucie Rie Exhibition - Seijaku-no-bi he
July 7th to September 16th, 2002
Closed on September 16th
Time: 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
At MIURART VILLAGE (Miura Museum of Art)
Ehime-ken, Matsuyama-shi, Horie-cho 1165-1
Tel: 089-978-6838
Japanese only web site:

3. Ogama Machiko Exhibition
July 20th to September 8th, 2002
Entitled "Li2O NaO CaO Al2O3 SiO2 Breathing Bubble"
Time: 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
At the Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura City
Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa, Yukinoshita 2-1-53
Tel: 0467-22-5000

These include Dick Lehman's Japan Travel Dialogue (A Four Part Series), Jomon Fire Festival, Ogawa Machiko's Kamakura exhibition, and an Interview with Artist Mihara Ken. Please have a look when you have a moment or two.

Let me close this newsletter with a quote from the late art writer and yakimono collector Aoyama Jiro:

"Beauty is like something possessed by spirits. Beauty per se is nothing more than a dream wafting through the air. There are, however, beautiful 'things.' Those who spout slander, from aesthetic stands on beauty, are all crazy, they cannot see a thing!"

May we all try, or not try, to see the spirits that Aoyama speaks of in the items we choose to live with. Until next time.

Robert Yellin


Copyright 2001

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