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Nakagawa Jinenbo
Karatsu, Chawan, Oku-Korai



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Power and Purity Both Old and New

  for The Japan Times, 1999 March 13

The colorful ceramic culture of Kyoto meets the darker, subdued world of Karatsu potter Nakagawa Jinenbo this week at the Tachikichi department store in Kyoto.

Oku-korai chawan by Nakagawa Jinenbo

Nakagawa Jinenbo's
oku-korai chawan

Bamboo-node footing on piece by Nakagawa Jinenbo

An example of
bamboo-node footing

Kyoto porcelain and stoneware are bright and vibrant, reflecting still the bourgeois taste of Kyoto in the Edo Period. Nothing could be further across the ceramic spectrum than Nakagawa's somber and inward oku-korai chawan (tea bowls) and other Karatsu works.

The oku-korai style, just one of Karatsu's varied offerings, first appeared in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600). The Karatsu potters then were emulating Korean Ido and Komogai chawan. They are devoid of any flamboyant motifs and sit "simply robed" in silence like meditating monks. Buff-toned, with a wide form, they are the embodiment of the wabi-cha that Sen no Rikyu perfected in the 16th century. 

Since oku-korai chawan are not embellished or fancy in style, there is no way for a potter to posture with grand techniques to make up for lack of spirit. An oku-korai chawan reflects a potter's soul, and as an Echizen potter once put it: "There are no bad kilns or bad clays, only impure potters' hearts."

Nakagawa is a pure potter and one of Karatsu's finest. His first name means "nature boy," and it is apt. Born in 1953 in Saga Prefecture, he took an apprenticeship in 1977 at the Kyozan kiln, which specializes in chadogu (tea utensils) for the Urasenke tea tradition. All his works are fired in a noborigama (chambered kiln) that he built when he established his pottery in 1982. 

Nakagawa does the gamut of Karatsu styles. These include muji-garatsu, a plain, undecorated ware with a feldspar glaze containing wood ash; madara-garatsu, covered with a thick, opaque white glaze of straw ash containing traces of iron, which melt during the firing process to emerge as flecks in the surface of the glaze; and e-garatsu, Karatsu's most well-known style, which has a thick, coarsely crackled buff glaze and is decorated with various geometric designs and themes from nature, such as reeds and grasses. There is also the darker chosen-garatsu, which is made with a transparent dark-brown glaze overlaid with the white glaze of madara-garatsu. At the exhibition you'll be able to see all these styles. 

There are a few other styles as well, reflecting the influence of Korean potters. An oido chawan is representative. Meaning "large well," an oido chawan has a very deep "pool" and a large and bold footring, or kodai.

Often some crawling of the glaze appears, creating a landscape or keshiki favored by tea folks. This keshiki is called kairagi and can be found anywhere on a pot, but is most appreciated around the kodai. The kodai is of extreme importance for a chawan; one collector told me it shows the "power" of the potter.  It also shows the beauty of the clay, as the kodai is often left unglazed. Various forms of kodai exist, but the one most often found on oku-korai chawan is a takenofushi, or bamboo-node, one. Other kodai include wari-kodai (split foot), mikazuki (crescent moon), tokin (helmet), chirimen (crinkled cloth) and kugibori (nail-carved), among others. For a pictoral review of various kodai, please click here.

When viewing kodai, remember -- hold the piece only a little way above the display counter, for safety, and always take off any jewelry first, to avoid scratching the piece. 

We live in such changeable times, always with some new product bombarding our minds, regional conflicts compromising humanity, and schedules that leave many of us racing against the clock. Yet humanity's need to find peace and contentment within one's self has not changed since Rikyu's time, nor the need to share them with others. For some, that awareness and way of living has come about through tea and its association with Zen. Finding grace within and  without is an essential part of Zen self-actualization. An oku-korai chawan is a hand-held koan that helps one locate that sacred inward zone. Maybe one made by the "nature boy" master potter himself, Jinenbo.

Jinenbo Nakagawa, till Sept. 18, 2000, at Kyoto Tachikichi's third-floor kogei salon. Closed Sept. 12.

More About Karatsu Potter Nakagawa Jinenbo
Nakagawa is having a show in Osaka at Umeda Hankyu department store's sixth floor gallery until March 16, 1999. Karatsu,
like Hagi, can trace its roots to Korean potters brought back from Hideyoshi's invasion in the late 16th century. The majority of early Karatsu wares were very similar, as can be expected, to Korean Yi Dynasty wares. 

There are basically eight fairly distinct kinds of Karatsu:

  • undecorated muji Karatsu
  • speckled madara Karatsu
  • iron-underglaze decorated e-Karatsu
  • carved hori-Karatsu
  • Korean-style (Chosen) Karatsu
  • green ao-Karatsu
  • yellow ki-Karatsu
  • black kuro-Karatsu

Nakagawa excels in Chosen Karatsu, a style made with a dark opaque glaze overlaid with a white ash glaze on an iron-rich clay body. See our Pottery Guidebook for more on Karatsu.

The Japan Times: Mar. 13, 1999
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