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2003 Newsletter Archive



                   Written by Robert Yellin

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July 2003


New Living National Treasure is Named

1. New "Living National Treasures" Named
2. New Magazines and Books
3. Other Items of Interest

1. NEW NINGEN KOKUHO (Living National Treasure)
Ito Sekisui V (1941 -) has been surprisingly designated as a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government. Not that I don't think he deserves it, he certainly does. When I wrote about the Japan Ceramics exhibition last month I called his neriage marbled tsubo a "masterpiece of a jar." You can learn more about Ito and view various pieces by him at:

I've always admired Ito's work and even a small sake cup was in my YAKIMONO SANKA book (published 1995 by Kogei Shuppan, Japanese language only). His mumyoi-yaki, with its brilliant red and black contrasts, is one of the hidden treasures of Japanese yakimono. And on top of that he arguably makes the best neriage marbled wares in the world that I've seen, certainly his is THE BEST in Japan. I was expecting a Bizen or Setoguro LNT this year thus the Ito designation was actually a breath of fresh air for the yakimono world. The reason being it's the first for mumyoi and will certainly boost the image of the style for Ito and the other mumyoi-yaki potters. Mumyoi-yaki is not that well known even here in Japan. Also, Ito is not 'related' to any major teachers nor was his father a LNT; he earned it on his own just like the first wave of LNT potter's did.

Here is a brief English excerpt from the pamphlet handed out at the Sekisui kiln: "The fine ceramic wares created in the Sekisui family kiln are made form a special red potter's clay known as mumyoi. The clay is extracted from gold and silver mines located on Sado Island. The craftsmanship that goes into every piece of mumyoi pottery has been passed from father to son for over 150 years. The Sekisui kiln is located in the town of Aikawa on Sado Island. The kiln's history began when Tomisaburo Ito founded the pottery during the Tempo Era of the Edo Period, more precisely Tempo 2 (1831). Tomisaburo is known as the 'father of the Sekisui kiln' and the first mumyoi potter."

Ito Sekisui V was born Yoichi, "yo" being the kanji for kiln. He was the first in his family to get a formal education graduating from the Kyoto Technical University with a degree in ceramics in 1966. In 1972 his work was accepted into the elite Japan Traditional Arts and Crafts exhibition and the following year he won the grand prix in the 2nd Japan Ceramic Art exhibition. He took the name Sekisui V in 1977. Around that time he started experimenting with firing an anagama in a reduction mode to bring about the black and red contrasts that he is now so well known for. It has been compared to Yayoi period wares, which often display the same effects. He started creating his neriage around 1980.

The Ito family is not the only mumyoi potters on Sado. In fact, that is where another Living National Treasure hails from, Miura Koheji, a LNT for celadon. His family dates back to Meiji 6 (1873). The first Miura was also named Koheiji and later took the name Jozan. There are twelve active kilns in Aikawa today and between 20-30 on all of Sado.

Below is a brief article from The Japan Time (June 21, 2003) about the recent awarding of LNT status:

Kabuki actor Onoe Kikugoro and nine others were selected Friday by a cultural panel to be named living national treasures, according to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. The Council for Cultural Affairs, headed by art critic Shuji Takashina, reported its recommendations to culture minister Atsuko Toyama. The honorees will have the title formally bestowed on them around July 10.

◆  Kikugoro's late father, Onoe Baiko VII, was recognized as an intangible cultural treasure in 1968 for specializing in female roles on the kabuki stage. Kikugoro, a 60-year-old Tokyo resident whose real name is Hideyuki Terajima, and the others will bring the number of living national treasures to 115. The cumulative total, including people who have died and lost the status, will be 301. Kikugoro, who plays male characters, will be the 15th performer to be granted the status in the wake of a parent, and the fourth kabuki actor to do so, according to the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

◆  Among the other honorees is Mitsufumi Shimabukuro, 82, a drum master in traditional Okinawa "kumiodori" musicals, which are recognized as an intangible cultural heritage. He lives in Naha.

◆  Also named was potter Ito Sekisui V, 61, whose real name is Yoichi Ito. He produces "mumyoiyaki" ware, made with red ocher clay known as "mumyoi" from Sado Island. He lives in Aikawa on the Niigata Prefecture island.

◆  Kiyomoto Seijudayu, a "joruri" puppeteer whose real name is Yoshitada Sagawa, and Kiyomoto Eizo, a shamisen player born Yasukazu Koyanagi, both 67 and living in Tokyo, will also be honored.

◆  The council selected kabuki hairdresser Toshikazu Kamoji, 65, three other people and an Okinawa traditional arts group as the first technical experts in identifying and preserving cultural assets.

The Japan Times: June 21, 2003
(C) All rights reserved
Banzai and kampai for Ito-sensei!!!!!

2. New Magazines and Books
Each year a new batch of pottery-related magazine series hit the bookshelves. This year is no different as publishing leader Shogakan showers us each week with a new yakimono title in its Yakimono o Tanoshimu (Enjoy Yakimono) 30-issue series. The magazines are thin, only about 32 pages and come in the same format each week. The first issue focused on Arita and Imari ware and now we're into the 10th week; previous issues include Kutani, Kyo-yaki, Bizen (Abe Anjin on cover), Mashiko, Shigaraki, Mino, Karatsu, Aeto and Hagi (Kaneta Masanao on cover). The series will continue with other kilns, then regions, and the final issue will be about the history of Japanese yakimono.

We find in each issue the same style; an introduction of the city, shops, and a few potter profiles, a brief history, a focus on former Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro's pots (he's actually quite good and has exhibited at Kochukyo!), and then a chef's corner featuring a few delectable dishes artfully arranged on one contemporary potter's vessels by chef Mori Kenji.

It is an easy-to-follow series and compares to a Yakimono 101 course, of course all in Japanese though -- lots of color photos. Each week we are led by Nakajima Seinosuke and his daughter Yumi. Nakajima is the ceramic expert on the hit TV program "Nandemo Kantei" (Family Appraisal program) who has now become quite a celebrity. He has done car and ham commercials, ugh! The former Tokyo porcelain antique dealer is now a household name. Yumi has authored a few books on Imari and Arita wares and now works in the Japan Ceramic Society office researching and writing for their journal. Yakimono o Tanoshimu can be ordered by contacting Ms. Takahashi at She handles inquiries and online orders for I believe each issue costs less than $10.

Another new publication, this one a quarterly, is TAIKI (meaning "'Big Vessels"). The cover states that it's "the art of pottery & craft magazine for TAIKI club members." Not sure what that means, though. Well, they aim to focus on glass, woodwork and of course yakimono. The cover is quite psychedelic and shows a piece entitled "Los Angeles Oribe Chair" by artist Suzuki Goro -- fittingly enough, for it is the "nyumon" edition (nyumon means "introduction to") for potter Suzuki Goro. The magazine also introduces white porcelain works by Naito Miyako, two pages for glass master Dick Chihuly, then into objet d'art by Yagi Kazuo, cobalt blue rice bowls by Kamiisumi Hideto, looking for the roots of Tomimoto Kenkichi, private collector page, and finishes with profiles of Takita Koichi and Fujihira Yasushi. The ads are different from the other two leading ceramic magazines in that TAIKI looks like a fashion magazine. There are some for galleries as well. The photography is done by renowned ceramic expert Tanaka Gakuji and the editorial stewardship is commanded by the former chief editor of Honoho Geijutsu. TAIKI is not sold in bookstores, one has to order single copies at 1,920 yen per issue or by subscription 7,200 yen for a year. Again, please contact Takahashi-san at if interested in obtaining an issue. More on Suzuki Goro can be found at the below links: (25 photos) (12 photos)

In the English language, one can find two fine books related to Mingei (or folk crafts). The first is titled "MINGEI Legacy; Continuity and Innovation through Three Generation of Modern Potters" and was published by NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) in connection with a Mingei exhibition held at the Mingei Museum in San Diego earlier this year. Not by chance, NCECA's annual conference was simultaneously held in that fine border town. The book focuses on the legacy of "mingei" greats Hamada Shoji, Kawai Kanjiro and Bernard Leach and their successors. Five insightful essays into the background and beginnings of mingei, remembrances of Hamda, Leach and Kawai, along with works of current "mingei" potters, and profiles and thoughts make the book a fine read, especially if one is doing so while relaxing with a nice Mark Hewiit mug or Harvey Young coffee cup. The book also has a master/apprentice list that gives a brief profile of 34 ceramic artists, many of them non-Japanese.

I placed mingei inside apostrophes, as I think it's a bit of a worn out and misleading term. How can anyone call Kawai a "mingei potter?" He was the first to know labels mean nothing anyway. Were his pots, or Hamada's (let's add Shimaoka), being used in the homes of an average Taro, like mingei pots of the past? No, of course not. They were being sold in fine art galleries (yes, a few mingei stores in Tokyo as well) to top collectors (think of the Ohara Museum in Kurashiki -- a must visit) and devotees of Tea. Now the ideal behind mingei, and Zen Buddhism, certainly influenced how they created their very distinctive pots but it did not make Kawai Kawai. It was a thought springboard for him and others. Well, maybe this calls for another discussion at a later time.

I became aware of the book from Dr. Richard L. Wilson who contributed to the book with his "Modern Japanese Ceramics into Mingei: Industry, Art and Idea" essay. Dr. Wilson has written a few books on Japanese ceramics as well and all are highly suggested reading. I'm sure you can find them online. Inquiries about the NCECA mingei book can be directed to Let me close this section of the newsletter with the opening from Dr. Wilson's essay, which speaks of the mingei past but might also tell us something for our future:

"Modernity has created myriad forms of discontent, not the least of which is an unhappiness with its daily utensils. Critics and producers of craft began exploring alternatives from at least a century and a half ago. For many, it was not enough to return to a simpler way of work. Overcoming industrialism called for an untainted holistic view of the past; it required new strategies for life and production."

The other excellent mingei-related book is also from an exhibition that is touring the US now and is titled "Quiet Beauty; Fifty Centuries of Japanese Folk Ceramics from the Montgomery Collection." The large book starts with maps of Japan showing the major kiln sites and prefecture locations pre-1871 and after. An essay by Robert Moes follows, describing the importance of ceramics in Japanese culture and the endearing characteristics of the variety of styles related to historical movements. We are then taken through a virtual tour of the history of Japanese ceramics starting with a Jomon pot from ca. 3000B.C and ending with a Kinjo Jiro stoneware dish. Kinjo is the first LNT from Okinawa. One more dish does follow but is a Ming export-ware plate destined for the Japanese market. An essay by Victoria and Albert museum's Rubert Faulkner follows, and gives us insight into "cultural identity and Japanese studio ceramics," and then a neat color photo list of works ends the book. If you are a mingei pottery fan, than this book is a must. There are many excellent examples of not-too-often seen works such as Shodai, Fujina, Narushima, Tatenoshita, and Enaga wares. Of course, all the big names are represented such as Shigaraki, Bizen, and Karatsu.

The exhibition schedule and information about purchasing the catalog can be found on the Art Services International web site at or by contacting Sara Rycroft at The exhibition is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia. The national tour has been sponsored by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson Fund, the Mitsubishi International Corporation and the Toshiba International Foundation.

An article about the exhibition was in the New York Times (June 6):

A press release can be read here:

3. Other Items of Interest
Esprit Ceramic Tour, site renewal, Tanabe Museum, other e-y updates, and the nearing of the end of Koie.

◆ I will be participating in a fall ceramic tour organized by Esprit Travel ( We will be visiting some of the major ceramic centers and there are also many side activities as well. I've been on a few tours with Esprit and they have Japan down like the back of their hands. So, I leave all the details to them -- other than yakimono related. Please do have a look at their web site and you'll find a bit about the tour by looking at the tours button at the top of their homepage.

◆ New York Japanese art dealer Joan Mirviss has recently given her web site a face lift and you can view the changes at For any collector wanting to see the best  of contemporary Japanese ceramics while in New York City, contact Mirviss-san.

◆ On there have been quite a few interesting updates, including a look at the first Tokyo showing of the Modern Tea Forms exhibition sponsored by the Tanabe Museum in Shimane prefecture. The exhibition is juried by top ceramic critics, such as Hayashiya Seizo, and is now in it's 20th year. Artists are generally from western Japan and include many Hagi, Tamba and Bizen artists. Other updates include a recent Suzuki Goro exhibit and a brief look at five recent exhibitions in Tokyo. These links are provided below: (23 photos) (25 photos) (24 photos)

On, we're nearing the end of the Koie Ryoji exhibition. I'd like to thank all of those who visited and the many who have or will be acquiring this major artist's works. The exhibition was a grand success and there are some fine pieces still waiting for that special person. On or around July 31st I will be taking the exhibition off the website. Do have a look if time allows at:

Type "Koie Ryoji" in the search box, hit enter, and browse through his pieces.
Other recent additions include shuki by Hori Ichiro (great Ki-Seto), a major large Ota-yaki tokkuri, Shigaraki vases by Showa's Koetsu Egawa Setsusai, and more fine works by Kouchi Hidetoshi. Use the search box to find what you're looking for.

Until the next time,

Robert Yellin


Copyright 2001

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