JUNE 7, 2002
A Trip to Okayama
Visiting Matsukawa Hiromi and Kakurezaki Ryuichi
Piece by Matsukawa Hiromi
The Shinkansen pulled into Okayama station at dusk. As I descended the platform, headed down the stairs and was scanning the far reaches of the train station for my friends Chiaki and Hiromi Matsukawa, I practically "ran them over" at the bottom of the stairs as I was looking above the crowd in the station. We had a good laugh, and headed for their car, enjoying the 30-minute drive to their home in Oodoi, outside Okayama. Although the Matsukawa's home is in the middle of "Bizen Country," Hiromi continues to work in the Shigaraki tradition, for he completed his apprenticeship in Shigaraki with Kanzaki Shiho.
(L to R) Matsukawa Chiaki and Hiromi, Dick Lehman
Matsukawa Chiaki and Hiromi,
with Matsuura Minoru, outside Hiromi's kiln
My intention in visiting Matsukawa Hiromi was to complete the "third leg" of a series of interviews that I had been conducting for an article entitled "Three Generations of Contemporary Japanese Master/Apprentice Relationships." I'd already spoken with Matsuyama Suketoshi, who is in his late 80s, and to his independent apprentice Kanzaki Shiho, who just turned 60. It was now turn for 42-year-old Hiromi-san, an independent apprentice to Master Kanzaki.
While I stayed near the Oodoi-gama with Hiromi and Chiaki, I was treated to four days of the most generous hospitality. They invited me to share in the meaningful content of their lives -- cooking, eating with friends, visiting with neighbors, celebrating a wedding anniversary, sharing the first eggplant of the season, making an anniversary-prompted visit to the cemetery, visiting the Oodoi-gama kiln site, and observing Matsukawa-san make some chawan. My stay included a day of traveling to some of the Bizen highlights in the area. We visited some galleries and I got a nice overview of the contemporary work being produced and sold in the Bizen area.
For me, a highlight of that day of travel was a warm and gracious meeting with Kakurezaki Ryuichi, a remarkable contemporary potter working within -- and extending -- the Bizen tradition. We'd met before, during the 1999 International Wood-fire Conference in Iowa City, USA. But this was my first visit to his home and studio.
The hospitality was wonderful. Tea and sweets and relaxed conversation. Among other things, Kakurezaki spoke of the progression in his thinking during the past years. He spoke of a time when he was 35 years old. It suddenly dawned upon him, he said, that his life was likely half over -- that there was only "half a life left to work." From that point on, and for many years "I worked hard and kept on running," Kakurezaki said. Although now at post-50, he admits that some of that compulsion has changed. But what hasn't changed, he said, is his sense about what is the most important thing to do. "If you make the pots that you really want to make, those pieces at the very center of your interest, those pieces which are for you a passion -- this is the most important thing! It is fine if these works are accepted by others, but if they are not, it is still important to make them. After all, if making lots of money is the most important thing to you, then you should probably do something other than work with clay. But for me, I live for this work, it is so exciting and so moving each time I open the kiln. I live for this moment, to feel this emotion! I want to continue to make these 'works-of-my-passion' for as long as I can. It is right to do your passion while you can!"
Kakurezaki Ryuichi and Dick Lehman
Bizen pieces by Kakurezaki Ryuichi
Lehman and friends outside Kakurezaki's kiln
I also enjoyed the opportunity to see Kakurezaki's studio and kilns (he was beginning to fire his anagama, or single-chamber kiln, on that day), and view some of his finished works. I will especially treasure the little ochoko (sake cup) that he gave to me as a gift, and the tokkuri (sake bottle) that I purchased. And I will always remember his important words, and his encouragement to always follow one's passion.
Copyright July 2002
All rights reserved
Note: This is the last of Dick Lehman's travelogue. We hope you've enjoyed Dick's observations, insights, and encounters during his Japan journey. To Dick, we here at e-y net thank you and wish you all the best with your new kiln and igniting that passion again for all that you create.