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2002 Newsletter Archive



                   Written by Robert Yellin

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January 2002


Packed Lecture by Antique Dealer

- New Potter Spotlight
- Living National Treasure Discussion
- Packed Lecture by Antique Dealer Celebrity!

Greetings from Mishima to all yakimono fans ! The new year stated off very windy here, so much in fact that our community public announcement service was blaring messages for folks to come and fetch their flying futons. Folks air them out here. New years salutations are still being said, and it seems that o-shogatsu goes on and on.

Last week I uploaded many new pots to by our feature artist Matsuzaki Ken. He's based in Mashiko and studied with Shimaoka Tatsuzo. All in all about twenty fine items; please do enjoy viewing them when you have a chance. A brief story about Matsuzaki is also posted at

I'll be going to Tokyo this week to photograph the Japan Ceramic Society's Award Winners exhibition; do keep an eye out for that as well. An article appeared in the Japan Times if you're interested:

It looks mostly at last year's winner, and the fourth woman to win the award, Ogawa Machiko.

The recent issue of the popular ceramic magazine TOHJIRO has as the cover story Bizen tokkuri (sake flasks) and Karatsu guinomi (sake cups); always the perennial favorite combination for sake drinkers. It looks at ancient works as well as pieces by contemporary ceramic artists like Nishioka Koju and Tanaka Sajiro for Karatsu and Isezaki Mitsuru and Abe Anjin for Bizen.

Another interesting feature is a discussion on the Juyo-Mukei-Bunkazai, popularly known as Ningen Kokuho or Living National Treasure. The panel consisted of one gallery owner (Shibuya Kuroda Toen's Kuroda Kusaomi), a ceramic artist-teacher (Nakamura Kinpei), a museum curator (Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Art Museum's Kurasawa Masahiro), and the editor of TOHJIRO (Irisawa Yoshitoki).

They talked about the history of the designation, the politics' involved in selection, and their ideas about which direction it should take from now. One person would like to see a more modern, fresh approach in the selection while another would like to see it remain as is in its conservation selections. Another thought that more regional selections should occur (no Shigaraki artist, for example, has won the award), and that techniques should be given more value as well.

Another interesting topic of the article was on which potters they would have liked to have seen designated. The complete list: Kamoda Shoji, Kato Tokuro, Kato (Okabe) Mineo, Kaneshige Sozan, Kawai Kanjiro, Yagi Kazuo, Ezaki Issei, Kiyomizu RokubeeVl, Kumakura Junkichi, Suzuki Osamu (Kyoto), Kawakita Handeshi, Kitaoji Rosanjin, Itaya Hazan, and Kawamoto Goro.

Another angle on this topic was from the readers. They sent in their ideas as to whom they'd like to see designated now. Topping the list......drum roll please.....with twelve votes was.........well, number two was the innovative Kyoto celadon artist Fukami Sueharu with nine votes. Number three was non-other than Kakurezaki Ryuichi with eight votes, followed by Suzuki Goro with six votes, Wada Morihiro with five tallies, and Bizen's Mori Togaku with four backers. A real long list followed and among those names were Kato Kozo, Kagami Shukai, Kaneko Jun, Kondo Takahiro, Sawa Kiyotsugu, Tsuji Seimei, Tsujimura Shiro, Nakazato Takashi, Nagae Shigekazu, Harada Shuroku, and Yoshida Yoshihiko out of 104 names. Many of these potters are covered in detail at Just go to the Who's Who A to Z index to find them.

And the winner......Koie Ryoji. I doubt it will come to be but how grand if it did. I don't think Koie would accept it anyway and on top of that I don't know if he has the "right" political connections. No matter, in the hearts of many collectors here, and around the world, he already is a national treasure.

I was also quite pleased to see one reader send in the name of the late Furutani Michio. I have no doubt he would have been designated and better yet, I'd like to see the rules changed to posthumously designate him. I cannot think of a more deserving Shigaraki potter than Furutani. Yet, I won't keep my fingers crossed.

If you'd like to know if any of your favorite potters were on the reader's list just e-mail me the name and I'll let you know. Also, if anyone is interested in getting a copy of TOHJIRO please let me know. They also publish TSUKURU TOHJIRO, which is basically about how to make pottery.

Last Saturday at the Mishima Civic Center a lecture was held that drew hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, folks. Believe it or not it was a talk on antiques and art by the now very famous antique dealer-writer Nakajima Seinosuke. Ever hear of him? Probably not, yet most Japanese know his name and many would also recognize him on the street. Why you may ask? All because of a popular Tuesday night program called "Kaiun-Nandemo Kante"' or "Better Fortune -- We Appraise Anything!" television program. It's a huge success with experts on hanging scrolls, toys, folk crafts, sports memorabilia, and just about anything else.

Nakajima-sensei is probably the most famous of the group for various reasons. He always dresses in very traditional Japanese clothing, which gives him a very distinguished look. He has a charming personality and more than that he coined a phrase that is associated with the program. If he sees a work with the finest craftsmanship he'll say, 'Kore wa ii shigoto desu ne,' or 'This is really fine work.' The audience loves it when he says that line and so did a ham and car manufacturer; he's appeared in many commercials.

Nakajima has a shop in Tokyo that specializes in Imari wares. He's written many books and has become so famous that the shop is by appointment only, if you're lucky to get one. I tried to interview him once for the Japan Times and I had to first call his manager. He instructed me that I would have to arrange for a private room in a fancy Tokyo hotel and pay an honorarium for the privilege. Needless to say the Japan Times didn't go for it. 

The lecture was quite interesting though, with Nakajima telling tales about the show's hosts and why he appraised a Rikyu chashaku ( bamboo tea scoop - a very basic tea utensil to scoop out the powdered tea from a chaire-tea caddy; in the past they were used once and tossed out.) for 25 million yen or about 192,000 US dollars. He received some calls after the program from some colleagues complaining that the price was too high. He countered by saying it wasn't only the piece but the interesting story behind it (it appeared from a little old tea teacher's dusty cupboard) that made it worth that sum. I agree in a way. The story behind a work, or the artist, always makes something more precious. Any 'ol dealer can offer an item, but few can tell a story about it other than what's seen at face value.

Nakajima also told of how most hanging scrolls are fakes. He said about 99% are so. Yet, he also said that if the fake is so well made, then, in a way, it has a value in that regard. This type of copying tradition goes way back in Japanese arts.

Yet, I'd rather own an original than a copy (who wouldn't?) and I implore all you collectors out there to watch what you purchase off of auction sites and such. I've seen much misinformation about Japanese pots on the web that it's quite horrifying. Just go to ebay and you'll see what I mean.

Even though the gentleman next to me feel asleep and snored (luckily we were in the back) most folks were all ears listening to him telling about how the gold and ivory on tea caddies were used to detect poison, and other little tidbits about his success.

I wonder if such lectures take place in other places in the world. Do "Antique Roadshow" panelists receive such notoriety? I know not.

Until the next time, all the best and many thanks for your interest and support of and

Robert Yellin


Copyright 2001

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