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Ceramic Greats Spotlighted

 for The Japan Times, Jan. 8, 2000

New Year's Greetings to all Ceramic Scene readers! In Japan there are  innumerable artistic groups that allow their members to exchange ideas or research, sponsor lectures or workshops and to acknowledge outstanding work in their respective fields. The Japan Ceramic Society (Nihon Toji Kyokai) is one such group, of which I am privileged to be a member. It has many branches throughout Japan that host monthly meetings where members, whether potters or collectors, share their passion and knowledge with one another.

The JCS has been awarding its prestigious prize (Nihon Toji Kyokai Sho) to outstanding potters since 1954, when the first ceremony put the spotlight on the works of avant-garde ceramist Junkichi Kumakura; Uichi Shimizu, a Living National Treasure for iron glazes; and Mineo Okabe, the controversial Seto potter who is the only person ever to refuse the award.

A total of 66 distinguished ceramic artists have received the award and 17 have been given the ultra-prestigious Gold Prize from the JCS. The awards that the JCS presents carry much weight, and  winners invariably add the honor to their toreki (ceramic  resume). The judges include museum curators, established gallery owners and ceramic art critics.

January offers a great opportunity to view the works of 52 awardees at Ginza Wako Hall. The 41st JCS exhibit Jan.14-21 will feature the work of 11 Living National Treasures and a wide range of traditional and regional styles such as Nabeshima, Kakiemon, Mino, Tenmoku, Seto, neriage (marbled wares), celadon, Kutani, Mumyo-yaki, Kasama and Tokoname.

The works of the JCS prize winners can be classified into tea-related wares, other functional tableware and purely sculptural objets. Sadogu (tea utensils) are the forte of Ohi Chozaemon X from Kanazawa, Tsuji Seimei from Tokyo, Suzuki Osamu and Kato Kozo from Gifu, and Raku Kichizaemon XV from Kyoto, among others.

Ohi's work is best represented by his family's luscious amber-colored ame-yu glaze. The Ohi kiln is the outgrowth of the desire of Lord Maeda, daimyo of the rich domain of Kanazawa, to establish a Raku-type kiln in his province during the Kanbun Era (1666). Haji Chozaemon, a son of Raku III (Donyu) and an apprentice of Raku IV (Ichinyu), was brought from Kyoto to Kanazawa to lay the foundations for this elite kiln on the Japan Sea.

Tsuji is a Shigaraki specialist living in Tokyo and has been featured in this column many times before. If he had chosen to associate himself with the groups that have the power to choose Living National Treasures he would have been named one long ago. Instead he has distanced himself from such backslapping and works contentedly on his own in the hills of Renkoji in Tama.

Shino master Suzuki Osamu and his equally impressive Gifu-based Shino comrade Kato Kozo are indeed LNTs. Suzuki fires his Shino in a gas kiln while Kato prefers the old-fashioned way in a half-underground tunnel kiln using wood as fuel.

Raku needs no introduction. He's the torchbearer for this world-renowned style and has added his own vision of sculptural chawan (tea bowls) to the Raku tradition. If you have seen a poster around town soliciting visitors for Kyoto that shows a monk holding a chawan, then you have seen a Raku XV chawan.

Among the functional-vessel group, the works of Kyo Tsuji, Takashi Nakazato, Takiguchi Kazuo, Shimaoka Tatsuzo or Kaneshige Kosuke would grace any table.

Kyo is the wife of Seimei. She fires mostly cream-colored glazed wares in foliated petal shapes. Nakazato and Kaneshige both hail from old potting families, the former from Karatsu and the latter from Bizen, but have been freed to pursue their own paths by leaving the privilege (or burden) of running the family kiln to their elder brothers.

Shimaoka makes sturdy Mingei wares at his Mashiko studio and, as many of you know, is the resident LNT for Mashiko.

Takiguchi has the most creative brush work in all Japan and has a stalwart following that simply loves his delicate color palette and whimsical rabbits jumping over moons.

In the objet group we find many artists coming out of the Sodeisha school that defined the art form in the mid-1950s. The three founders, Yagi Kazuo, Suzuki Osamu and Yamada Hikaru are all winners of the JCS award as well as the Gold Prize. Also look for the black, fissured, powerful pieces of Akiyama Yo, the fluid celadon planes of Fukami Sueharu or the jagged-edged Bizen forms of Kakurezaki Ryuichi.

The most recent award winner is Kyoto-based Akira Yagi, the eldest son of Kazuo Yagi. The delicate black-glazed 19-piece set of covered boxes that fit into one another is the featured work from this artist and is pictured on the cover of this month's Tosetsu, the journal of the JCS.

Mark the dates on your calendar. It's a wonderful chance to see many of Japan's best mid-late-20th century and early 21st-century potters in one shot. In addition, vessels for daily use by many of the potters will be available for sale.

The Japan Times: Jan. 8, 2000
(C) All  rights reserved

For much more, please visit the
PHOTO TOURS page. It includes links to other wonderful photo tours, including prior Japan Ceramic Society events, Living National Treasures, Contemporary Artists, How the Japanese Rank Their Potters, plus other visual resources.

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