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by Robert Yellin
 for The Japan Times, Oct. 28, 2000

Work by Takashi Nakazato

in clamshell design
by Takashi Nakazato
Karatsu Nanban Ware
c. 1980

October 2000. In Tokyo, at the Craft Gallery of the National Museum of Modern Art, is an intriguing exhibition titled "Utsuwa - Thoughts on Contemporary Vessels." Utsuwa is a general term used in the pottery world pertaining mostly to items used at the table; it usually excludes chadogu (tea utensils). In this paper last weekend, Linda Inoki wrote a very thoughtful article about this exhibition and I'd like to add a few comments about the ceramic side.

Yo no bi ("beauty through use") is a term that is often heard in the Japanese utsuwa world. A platter comes alive when food is placed within its boundaries. The beauty of a white Shino yunomi is most clearly seen when filled with emerald-green tea.

Many of the pieces in this exhibition fit the spirit of yo no bi. Although they stand alone as wonderful examples of ceramic art, they won't answer the yo no bi call until touched by a user's hand and spirit.

Take, for instance, Kyoto-based porcelain specialist Tozan Miyanaga's set of five ink-spray decoration and underglaze blue plates. They have a lovely color and simple form, but lie flat, begging to be used. Imagine some sashimi artfully arranged on them:  yo no bi. 

The same holds true for Karatsu veteran Nakazato Takashi's work. A set of solemn, unglazed Karatsu Nanban dishes look lonely and need some culinary treat to liven them up. 

Some of the pieces are more on the outer edge of the yo no bi definition and do stand out. Takiguchi Kazuo's colorful tortoiseshell-patterned tiered boxes are a good example, but even though they are dancing with color, imagine the delight of lifting a lid and discovering some tasty tidbit waiting inside.

The same can be said for Nakamura Takuo's work; he refers to it as kirei sabi (elegant, colorful loneliness, or elegant simplicity). Nakamura works with dark-brown clay and inlays it with Rinpa-inspired enamel designs that reflect the cultural surroundings of his hometown in Kanazawa.

Some other potters' work can get a bit garish though. Gen Kozuru (see below photo) was born into an ancient potting family in Kyushu that produced Agano wares. Early in his career he produced some fine Agano pieces and was a master of glazes. 

Then he moved to the United States, and I'm sorry to say the influence hasn't been positive. Moving more into a pop-funk art realm, his work, especially the boxes on display, look more like roadside markers than utilitarian pieces. His sake cups, with their exaggerated drinking lips, might make a good dribble glass to act as a practical joke at your next party.

Piece by Kozuru Gen
Above piece by Kozuru Gen

Kozuru is the exception here, and I'm sure that after viewing the relaxed table settings of Keiji Ito or the sleek perfection of Tobe potter Shoji Kudo's white porcelain utsuwa, you'll go home to find just how much pleasure a simple utsuwa can bring to the table.

Interesting to note that out of the 38 artists in the exhibition, which also includes such media as metal, glass and lacquer, 20 are ceramic artists. 

The Japan Times: Oct. 28, 2000
(C) All  rights reserved


Copyright - Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery

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