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Kanzaki Shiho
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Coal-crusted, Ash-glazed, Long-fired

 for The Japan Times, Oct. 28, 2000

From aspiring lawyer to automatic washing machine salesman to master potter, life has been an interesting but rocky road for Shigaraki ceramist Kanzaki Shiho . 

Kanzaki Shiho

Kanzaki Shiho
shapes a pot with
his hands as he turns
and controls the wheel
with his toes.

The road is smoother now than the time when he was disowned by his father for choosing the  potter's wheel over a lawyer's robe, or when he was swindled out of some pots and money at an early stage in his career.

It was his faith and passion for Azuchi-Momoyama Period Shigaraki and Iga pottery that held his heart steadfast through the bumpy times and he has succeeded in creating some stunning works that have earned him a loyal following around the world.

Kanzaki is showing his pottery in Okayama City at Tenmaya department store's fifth floor gallery until Oct. 30, 2000.

Kanzaki has a way of putting that stormy period of his life into perspective, though in a very humble way.

"The truth is," he said in an interview with American potter Dick Lehman, "that because of those encounters I am what I am now. The tree that overcomes severe weather reveals its true beauty. It is the same for people."

Kanzaki has focused on the lessons that he learned and come out of that period without bitterness or self-pity. We all are the better for it: His pots are like jewels thrown down from the heavens.

Piece by Kanzaki Shiho
Shigaraki water jar
by Shiho Kanzaki
Natural ash glaze

In the past I held a Kanzaki piece in my hand and considered it as valuable as a diamond. Both sparkle and delight the senses, and each is one of a kind.

Kanzaki fires his half-underground anagama kiln for  between 10-15 days, which is quite long for Shigaraki. All the pots are placed into the kiln unglazed and come out with a natural glaze (shizen-yu) from the flying ashes. The prolonged firing allows for a slow build-up of ash and melted surfaces into undesigned patterns known as keshiki (landscapes).

"The deep blue reminding us of the sea and green just like that of aged moss," he wrote in a book on his work. Kanzaki's shizen-yu runs the gamut of landscapes from the pleasing natural associations described above to primordial burnt surfaces associated with the birth of the earth. One large tsubo in the current exhibition has a landscape that looks like a satellite photo of Earth.

Other than large tsubo, his work consists mainly of chadogu or tea ceremony utensils. Kanzaki is careful not to place his chawan in a part of the kiln where they will collect too much ash on their bodies; that would render them useless. Nobody wants to drink tea from a crusty-lipped vessel.

Instead we find smooth chawan with shizen-yu cascading down the front. Some have the deep browns and purples of desert twilight.

Crustiness does work on the larger forms, though, particularly hanaire (vases) and large platters. A platter with a diagonal patch of shizen-yu on the upper portion has an almost grotesque-looking area of burnt coals on the lower part. The piece demands attention, yet I wonder how food would look on a platter that seems to have been fired on a battlefield.

Piece by Kanzaki Shiho

Iga flower vase
by Shiho Kanzaki
Natural ash glaze

One long, slender Iga shizen-yu hanaire has the stature of a graceful actress. In shocking contrast, the bottom has a blackened area that looks like it was just blasted out of a volcano. A bronze-colored shizen-yu side complements and balances the proportions and colors.

Kanzaki has a generous spirit. He doesn't shroud his technique or philosophy in secrecy; in fact he wants to share it with the world. He has been featured on the covers of Ceramics Art and Perception (No. 32, 1998) and Ceramics Monthly (summer 1997).

He also has a very attractive web site that features his own work, old Shigaraki and Tamba pieces and works by his teacher Suketoshi Matsuyama. Also featured is the pottery of a few international potters such as Jeff Shapiro and , Dick Lehman, the author of the magazine articles and a respected potter in his own right. Kanzaki is blazing new trails in Shigaraki and across the globe with his insights into anagama-fired Shigaraki and Iga and his savvy with the computer world.

The Japan Times: Oct. 28, 2000
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