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Hagi Ware - 400 Years
Korean Influence on Japanese Pottery (Hagi)



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Exhibition Review
Hagi Ware: 400 Years of Tradition and Innovation

by Robert Yellin
for The Japan Times, Jan. 13, 2001

Hagi Ware: 400 Years of Tradition and Innovation

Raku first, Hagi second, Karatsu third. This is an old tea adage here in Japan and still holds true to an extent even today. A very rare and fine chance to see the whole four hundred year history of Hagi-yaki is now on at the Suntory Museum in Tokyo until Feb. 12, 2001. It will then travel to other locations in Japan. I went on the second day and was very impressed. To read more about this exhibition, please see my Japan Times column below.

Hagi Ware, Early Edo Period

PHOTO: Hagi Ware Tea Bowl
Early Edo Period, Mouri Museum

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Hagi Ware, Early Edo Period

Hagi Ware Tea bowl in Brush-washer Shape
with Notched Foot, with Inlaid Design
Early Edo Period
The Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art

Hagi Ware

Hagi Ware Tea Bowl with a Crane Design
Early-Mid Edo Period
   Private Collection 

Pottery with a Korean Foundation
Exhibit gives viewers look back on 400 years of Hagi-yaki history

for The Japan Times, Jan. 13, 2001

A simple fact to begin the Ceramic Scene 21st century -- many great Japanese ceramic traditions of western Japan began with Korean potters.

As so often seen in Japanese history, outside influences were brought in and shaped to the needs of society. In ceramic circles of the Momoyama and early Edo periods those needs meant chadogu (tea utensils). Karatsu, Agano,  Takatori and the like first saw their wheels set in motion when, willingly or not, Korean potters were brought back to Japan in the "pottery wars" of 1592 and  1597-98.

The tradition of Hagi pottery is said to spring from two Korean brothers, Ri Shakko and Ri Kei, who first fired Hagi-yaki sometime around Keicho 9 (1604) in Matsumoto-Nakanokura, near Hagi in what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture. From these beginnings sprang a grand ceramic style that has been a focus of the tea world ever since. The whole of Hagi history is now on display at the Suntory Museum in  Tokyo in an exhibition entitled "Tradition and Innovation: 400 Years of Hagi-yaki."

Many Edo-Period kilns were funded by daimyo. Lord Mori Terumoto of Hagi  employed the Ri brothers, thus ensuring chadogu for his personal use and as  gifts. Shakko's son had the Japanese name of Yamamura Shinbei Mitsumasa, while Kei was given the name Saka Koraizaemon. They established the Fukagawa Hagi kiln. The Matsumoto Hagi kiln was established by Miwa Kyusetsu in 1663. The Saka and Miwa families continue to this day.

The early chawan were copies of Yi Dynasty (1392-1910) Korean bowls, although the tea master Furuta Oribe had some influence, as in the kutsu-gata (shoe-shape) bowls. The first Hagi chawan don't have the strength of their Korean models; neither do they have the warped asymmetry of the Momoyama Mino wares that Oribe patronized. Still, they have a simple charm.

The understated and subtly profound Hagi chawan fit in perfectly with Rikyu's wabi tea. To make copies of Korai chawan, special Obata and Mishima clays  were used to shape Mishima-de (inlaid), kohiki-de (white slip), and hakeme-de (brushed white slip) chawan. Another prized clay, daido, was used for Ido-te (large "well" forms), tawara-de (rice bale forms) and the chawan with kiri-kodai (cut foot ring) and wari-kodai (split foot ring).

The first room of the exhibition is full of wabi chawan, mostly from the early Edo Period. The uninitiated foreigner, and many Japanese too, may perceive these bowls as plain. They are largely void of decoration. But imagine yourself in a small, candle-lit tea room. These chawan blend in naturally with the setting and the mood, and highlight the color of tea. A Hagi chawan is the perfect vessel for tea -- and for the chajin's spirit.

In this section there are 30 chawan. My favorites were number seven "Shiiba" (great design), 15 "Murasuzume" (fine crackles), 17 "Fukurasuzume" (marvelous form), the unnamed 19 (inviting pool) and 32 "Fuku no Kami," a famous work. A surprise was Hagi Red Raku, including a chawan made by the first Miwa Kyusetsu in 1703.

Another delightful discovery was the many fine Hagi okimono (decorative items). I had seen one or two in books but I didn't know that the Hagi potters put them out in these numbers.

Two were quite disturbing. One, the emaciated sennin (Taoist hermit) Tekkai, dates to the early-mid Edo Period. He seems lost in thought or distant from reality as he stares up with his protruding eyeballs. The other, a sennin called Gama, made by Kyusetsu Vll, is seated with a toad (gama) crawling over his shoulder; his mischievous grin seems to border on madness.

In direct contrast is the Daikoku-sama, who despite his rather shabby color  delights the viewer with his sincere smile.

Miwa Kiraku Vl was the most prolific okimono potter. Many of his works are distinguished by a soft greenish celadon glaze; his motifs include the mythical shishi lion and the cunning tanuki, Kyusetsu Vll also worked with the celadon glaze and his sennin Kinko, riding a carp, is a masterpiece.

The exhibition next moves into "Modern Masters." We see a loss in vitality as  the Meiji Restoration brought about the loss of Mori patronage. The influx of  mass-produced porcelain from Arita and Seto into the marketplace made Hagi lose its appeal for the moment. The last two pieces in this case are by Miwa Kyuwa (Kyusetsu X), whose motto was "return to Momoyama." He led the way back to the charm of earlier Hagi.

The exhibition finishes with "Contemporary Potters." The current Kyusetsu Xl's bold, powerful Oni-Hagi wari-kodai chawan is a modern masterpiece. Next to it is the subtler loquat-colored chawan by Koraizaemon Saka Xl and we see other bowls by Deika Sakata and Tobei Tahara Xll.

Mizusashi (fresh water jars) by Sakata and Tahara also appear, as well as some very modern chawan by Ryosaku Miwa and Masanao Kaneta. A pinkish covered vessel by Kazuhiko Miwa called "Shiroi Yume" (white dream) is the final piece for the tea section.

Around the next corner come large tsubo (jars) and objects, such as an intriguing black Hagi figure that looks like a broken and decomposing ancient  wooden statue; it's also by Ryosaku.

The exhibition closes with a large broken ring by Kazuhiko Miwa. It in a way symbolizes the history of Hagi -- from the displaced Korean peasant potters  finding their wares prized in Japanese warlord tea rooms to the dark Meiji days, and finally bright Showa rebirth. Miwa's ring captures the breaks in periods that Hagi has seen. It also reminds one that these wares also symbolize the human spirit's quest for beauty amid the mundane.

Some found it in a Hagi chawan.

"Tradition and Innovation: 400 Years of Hagi-Yaki," until Feb. 12, 2001, at the Suntory Museum, on the 11th floor of the Tokyo Suntory Building, outside Akasaka Mitsuke subway station. Admission 1,000 yen. There is a handout in English at the counter if you ask.

In Kyoto Feb. 22-Feb. 27 at the Daimaru Museum; in Fukuoka June 6-June 11 at Tenjin Iwataya; in Yamaguchi Prefecture June 16-July 22 at the Hagi Museum-Uragami Kinenkan.

The Japan Times: Jan. 13, 2001
(C) All rights reserved

Hagi Ware: 400 Years of Tradition and Innovation


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