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2002 Newsletter Archive



                   Written by Robert Yellin

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July 2002


Books, Boxes, How-To Magazines

- Pottery Books
- How-To Magazine
- False Boxes
- Mihara Ken's Exhibition Online
- Artists in Residence Program
- Sake-Pottery Night in Tokyo

In the fashionable Aoyama district of Tokyo one can find all the big name fashion designer's shops, as well as the quaint pottery book salon Avis Felix. I've written a brief essay about the importance of books in furthering one's Japanese pottery appreciation. Please see to learn more about Avis Felix, or for some recommended books. Now I know it's probably a bit hard for some folks to get to Avis Felix, but no worries anymore. They have recently started an online store with monthly updates and assistance for those wanting books not yet listed. Each month about six titles are added as well as ways to subscribe to periodicals such as Honoho Geijutsu or Tojiro. The homepage can be found at

For the amateur or professional potter learning about different techniques often leads to a broadening of one's world. Books have been written about certain Japanese techniques in English (Sanders's and Wilson's books immediately come to mind). But for those interested in step-by step photo lessons of how things are done by some of Japan's finest ceramic artists, Tsukuru Tojiro is a definite must. A recent issue devoted to "the wheel" had numerous shots of Nakazato Takashi, Wako Toshisada, and Suzuki Goro showing their elder ways. Tsukuru means "to make." More about this publication can be found at:

As many of you know, a box is an important part of the Japanese "ceramic package." It authenticates a work, gives it a place of history, stores it, and is in and of itself a fine work of craftsmanship. Usually the potter will sign the box, or for those who have passed on, sons, wives, and other relatives take on that duty. For instance, a Hamada Shoji work is now authenticated by his son Shinsaku, and these days that signing duty is being done more and more by Shinsaku's son Tomoo. For Kawai Kanjiro, it was his wife in the past and now his daughter who sign the boxes. She is the current director of the Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum in Kyoto. These services are not free and can cost up to $600. It's usually worth it though for to have a work validated only goes to increase the overall value. Now, what may you ask is a "false box?"

The answer is quite simple in one case, and quite deceptive in another. The former is just a plain forgery. They abound for Hamada, Rosanjin, Kaneshige, Kato Tokuro, Arakawa and others. There are even forgeries for Grand Tea Masters, and scholars. In the latter's case we often see Bizen works with a hakogaki (the writing on the box) by Katsura Matasaburo. He has written many books on Bizen and these are now collector's items. Yet, fake Katsura hakogaki abound and often Bizen pieces lose value these days if they have a Katsura signed box! Nobody wants a Katsura box it seems.

Now the fake box has taken an even deeper devious spin. It seems a famous Karatsu potter has had a falling out with his family and left. The wife always plucked the best pieces from the kiln openings and only let privileged clients walk away with them. Actually, the potter's wife usually is the business manager here. In this case it's gotten a bit shady though. After he left and left a stack of unsigned boxes, the wife figured out a way to stencil on his signature on the boxes! Looks damn real and the only way to tell is to feel the box for the stenciling leaves a bit of roughness that a signature does not. All over Japan now this potter's work is suddenly showing up with very cleverly masked boxes.

One of the most original and innovative potters in years has got to be Mihara Ken (1958 - ). His work is all about form softened by the smooth smoky yakishime (high-fired unglazed stoneware) blueness. His work is getting much attention here these days and last year he won the prestigious Tanabe Museum's Grand Prix in the "'Modern Tea Forms Exhibition." Past winners include the late Hagi potter Miwa Eizo, as well as Hagi's Saka Koraizaemon and Tahara Tobee, Tamba's Nishibata Tadashi, and Bizen reformer Kakurezaki Ryuichi. Kakurezaki won the award twice and that was just before his career zoomed skyward in popularity.

In such juried situations it's always nice to know who the judges are, for as Rosanjin felt, "Why should I accept an award from a bunch of numskulls!" In the Tanabe case it's not a dimwit bunch but some of Japan's most prolific ceramic scholars including Hayashiya Seizo, Inui Yoshiaki and Hasebe Mitsuhiko. They chose well with Mihara.

His work is very moving and shows his deep inner spirituality as well as his knowledge and appreciation of ancient wares. As I wrote about him for an article in London's Asian Art Newspaper, "His work is sharp with tense lines like that of 7th century Sueki wares. The large flower vessel shown here is bluish gray in color, and again it is the beauty of the form that attracts the senses. Without being overly showy, the work is full of a subdued personality that aptly matches a quiet Tea Room or a relaxing living room. Mihara is a potter who is also exploring form based on older traditions." The whole article can be read at:

I'm very honored that a gallery in Tokyo has chosen to exhibit almost seventy of Mihara's recent works at our e-y office here in Mishima. We have the space and have set up his works in our "loft" and the works look absolutely stunning! The exhibition starts on July 17 and goes until September 18; quite long to give as many folks as possible a chance to see Mihara's creations. For those of you who cannot attend, I'm going to upload the works to so you'll have a chance to enjoy them and purchase any if the fancy strikes. I honestly believe Mihara is going places and I wholeheartedly agree with one visitor to his Tokyo exhibition when he said, "I was stunned by the simplicity and purity of his work, and can understand his stature. You see his work and realize that he's in another sphere from so many artists." I couldn't have said it better.

I've already posted a few of Mihara's pieces, which can be found here:
** Below links may no longer work, as our server is updated each year and older files archived.

For those of you who would like a chance to study in a traditional potting center, the Seto Artist-in-Residence program is now accepting applications for next year. You can find out more about that at

Another program is in Tokoname and they also have an online information center at

On the night of July 27, Japan Times sake columnist John Gauntner ( and I will be hosting another seminar on certain aspects of our respective worlds. John will be talking about master brewers and their guilds, or toji and toji ryuha, while I'll be talking about shuki (sake utensils) for different seasons. I know it's quite far for most but any interested parties, or friends, please send me an email at To email Robert, click the "Email Us" button at top of page. for further details.

Until the next time -- have a great rest of the summer, or winter!

Robert Yellin


Copyright 2001

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