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The Kasamashiko Pottery brotherhood story vol.2

Column
The Kasamashiko Pottery brotherhood story vol.2
I got some experience with making pottery under the kind guidance of Mrs. Ito at the Kuno-Tōen, the birthplace of Kasama Pottery. I thought about Keizaburo Otsuka, the originator of Mashiko Pottery, imagining that he must also have received similar training in pottery making.
So, I headed for the Negoya Pottery Studio in Mashiko, which was opened by Keizaburo Otsuka.

Negoya Pottery Studio, Mashiko Pottery’s showcase studio


Just off a busy street lined on both sides with fashionable pottery galleries and handicraft shops stands the Negoya Pottery Studio, in a place reminiscent of a quiet village.
Hisao Otsuka welcomed me with a smile. He is the 6th head of the Negoya Pottery Studio after Keizaburo Otsuka, the founder of the Studio.
He says that the Studio building has remained almost the same for the last 200 years, except that the roofing was changed from straw to galvanized sheet iron. It is made sturdily of stone, giving it an air of a kind of modernity.
What does the inside look like? I entered the building. A total of nine potter's wheels are arranged by the windows, which admit soft sunlight. This studio was once Mashiko Pottery’s model studio.



Keizaburo Otsuka opened a pottery studio at this place in 1852. However, he first started making pottery here alone.
After a while, he hired some potters and strove to gain a foothold as a pottery studio. During his efforts to establish the ceramic industry in Mashiko, he thought perhaps he should try to develop young potters among the town’s youths.
The Kuno-Tōen in Kasama was originally started with the help of Chōemon, an "itinerant potter” who traveled from one pottery-making district to another. Even when Keizaburo Otsuka started operating his pottery studio, a skilled potter changed his workplace without hesitation if he was offered a better opportunity. This made production unstable. In order to produce quality ceramic-ware more stably, it was necessary to bring along young potters from the ground up.
In 1903, the Mashiko Pottery Guild was established. The Mashiko Pottery Training Center was also opened in the same year, in the place where the current Negoya Pottery Studio now stands, to serve as a center for training pottery craftsmen. Chuji Otsuka, the second head of the Negoya Pottery Studio, took the position of Head of the Guild. Pottery techniques were taught to craftsmen at the Training Center under the guidance of Chuji Otsuka, who was also the Head of the Training Center. This education continued to be provided at this place until 1913, when the Training Center moved.
The building is said to have remained unchanged in appearance for about 200 years. Two features are conspicuous: the projecting overhanging roof and the large doors. I wondered why such big doors were up there on the outside of the second floor.



"We created those big doors to make it possible for us to go easily out onto the roof, because we used it as a place to put ceramic articles to dry. The roof sticks out several times as far as was usual," Mr. Otsuka said.
What a smart idea! I can just imagine the pottery craftsmen working efficiently and smoothly.
This way, young potters learned their skills and what they needed to know to become craftsmen.



Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art, a treasure house for the history of Mashiko Pottery


Next, I visited the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art, the right place to learn the history of Mashiko Pottery and see ceramic-ware articles made by Shoji Hamada and Tatsuzo Shimaoka. They are now designated as Living National Treasures by the Japanese government.
This time, however, I wanted to see, in particular, the kisha dobin teapots. Sure, I understand that large dishes decorated with flowing glaze by Shoji Hamada and jars created by Tatsuzo Shimaoka using the jomon-zogan technique are must-see items. But, I believe that kisha dobin teapots are also indispensable for learning about the history of Mashiko Pottery.



In the early years of the Pottery, kisha dobin earthen teapots were produced in great quantities. Kisha (literally train) dobin teapots are a typical Mashiko-ware article of a type which was widely used in Japan. They were usually sold at train stations, together with ekiben: meals packed for travelers to be eaten on the train during a long journey. Each kisha dobin teapot carries both the name of the station where the tea was put into the pot and the distributor's name. They seem to have been used in a way similar to what is now called PET bottles. Mr. Furukawa, a curator of the Museum, says that most stations had a bin box dedicated exclusively for receiving kisha dobin teapots. It seems that as ekiben became popular among travelers in Japan, kisha dobin teapots were distributed across the entire Kanto region. In its heyday, they were sold at as many as 33 stations across the nation, including all those in Eastern Japan.
In the past, when I was reading a novel written by Hyakken Uchida, a famous Japanese novelist, I came across a description of a character who purchased a dobin pot of tea at the station. I did not have any knowledge of dobin teapots at that time. With a real kisha dobin before my eyes, I felt glad. I recognized that kisha dobin teapots were so popular at that time that they were depicted in a novel as an indispensable item associated with railway journeys. Kisha dobin teapots were a big hit as Mashiko ware, from some time in the Meiji (1868 - 1912) to the Taisho period (1912 - 1925).
“In the Showa period (1926 - 1989), another Mashiko-ware article came into great demand. It was a ceramic rice pot called a "kamakko", in which kamameshi ekiben meals were packed. Kamakko rice pots were wholesaled to Oginoya, a famous ekiben meal distributor," Mr. Furukawa relates. What! I must have also seen this kammako rice pot somewhere already without knowing it!
According to Mr. Furukawa, the clay produced in Mashiko is less viscous than some other clays, so it is difficult to make things with thin walls, etc. from it. To make use of the characteristics of Mashiko clay, large and thick pieces such as water jars and mortars were made in Mashiko. The same holds true of Kasama Pottery.
This helps explain why for a long time Mashiko made ceramic ware that was indispensable for ordinary daily life. However, a turning point arrived.
As modernization proceeded in Japan, the lifestyle of the Japanese people changed substantially. Water service became available almost everywhere in the country, so the demand for large water jars vanished. Large mortars, which were widely used to make miso seasoning, fell into disuse. Mashiko Pottery was on the verge of a crisis.
It was at this crossroads that Shoji Hamada, a potter designated as a Living Natural Treasure at later date, came dashing in to save Mashiko from disaster.



In search of ceramic ware with healthful qualities and natural beauty


I visited the Mashiko Sankokan Museum's Annex and Saikuba workshop.
An impressive nagaya-mon gate, a Japanese traditional style of gate which is sometimes seen in the north Kanto region, welcomed me warmly.
The Mashiko Sankokan Museum's Annex was originally used by Shoji Hamada, a famous ceramic artist in Japan, as his home as well as a lodging house for his guests. At present, the Annex displays collections of folk art articles he gathered from various parts of the world and ceramic ware created by his friends.
When I stepped onto the site, I was immediately struck by its refreshing atmosphere of calm purpose. I find that careful consideration has been given to every corner of the site, but not the slightest bit of obtrusiveness resulted. Mild and quiet in every respect!
I wonder with what kind of thoughts occupied Shoji Hamada’s mind as made pottery in his workshop.
I interviewed Tomoo Hamada, Shoji Hamada's grandson and the head of the Sankokan Museum.



What I wanted to know first is why Shoji Hamada selected Mashiko? He was originally from Kanagawa Prefecture. He lived in Tokyo and Kyoto while engaging in pottery making. That is, he was basically a city person.
Tomoo Hamada says: "He spent his early years mostly in cities. But, he met Bernard Leach when he was 25 years, went to the UK with him, and stayed there for about four years. His first experience with the daily life of rural areas was in the UK. During his stay there, Shoji Hamada was drawn to the picturesque village of Ditchling in East Sussex. The way the community of artists living there spent their days was in perfect harmony of the ceramic ware they designed and the nature in the village. Shoji Hamada was fascinated by the community spirit there, and later related his impression that this village had "a sense of healthfulness".
Bernard Howell Leach (1887 - 1979) was a British potter and supported the Mingei (folk-art) Movement, which was initiated by Soetsu Yanagi, Shoji Hamada and Kawai Kanjiro in 1926. Through his friendship with Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada came to the conclusion that leading a healthful daily life makes it possible to produce ceramic ware with healthful qualities and natural beauty.
Consequently, he selected Mashiko as the place to set up his workshop. He believed that he could make his dream ceramic ware in Mashiko, which is not very far from Tokyo yet retains the atmosphere of a simple and honest rural area.
As modernization proceeded in Japan, Shoji Hamada became aware of the virtue of rural areas and tried to protect them from losing it. He bought the Museum's Annex building, originally a farmhouse built in the late Edo period (1603 - 1868). He relocated the building so he could use it conveniently as his home as well as a guest house. It is said that the relocation took a huge amount of money, because the building had to be dismantled and transported piece by piece, by horse and wagon. Shoji Hamada actually lived the lifestyle he believed in, that is a healthful life, by maintaining a vegetable garden while engaging in pottery making.

By the way, I ask, how did potters in Mashiko see Shoji Hamada at that time?
"I seems that he was often spoken ill of as a poor craftsman and many of the local potters maintained their distance from him." Mr. Hamada says, smiling, adding "Shoji Hamada did not worry about what they said. He used to say that it is desirable that craftsmen have that kind of bigotry."What a placid person he was! I am impressed that it seems to me I can perceive his broad-mindedness in his ceramic articles.

Mr. Hamada showed me around the Saikuba workshop.
It was full of soft natural sunlight slanting through the windows and felt comfortable. In the past, many craftsmen worked with clay in this shop, with the sound in their ears of potter's wheels turning.
Shoji Hamada understood Mashiko ware and the spirit of Mashiko-yaki potters and held them in high respect. His accepting and tolerant attitude must have won the hearts of the local potters.
Mashiko Pottery achieved its current business model of creating artistic ceramic ware designed by ceramic artists and also producing ordinary household items at the same time, by following this path. This was the breath of fresh air that was brought into Mashiko Pottery.



Resurrection of Kasamashiko


The Mashiko Sankokan Museum has two climbing kilns. One is a salt-firing kiln used exclusively for firing ceramic ware with salt glaze applied. It was Japan's first salt-firing kiln and was built at the back of the Saikuba workshop. Up to 10,000 items could be fired during one session.
The other was terribly damaged during the Great East Japan earthquake that occurred in 2011. Mr. Hamada almost gave up the attempt to reconstruct it.
But, young potters in Kasama and Mashiko rose to resuscitate the broken climbing kiln and launched a kiln-firing event they called the "Project for Resurrecting Shoji Hamada's Climbing Kiln."
The event developed into a really big occasion, which so far has been held in 2015 and 2018, in cooperation with about 100 young potters from both the Kasama and Mashiko areas.
Mr. Hamada says: "They are individual potters who work independently with pride. 100 potters working together to bake pottery in a kiln? It is impossible! At one time, back before 2011, Kasama and Mashiko were in rivalry with each other in terms of pottery. I think that this Project changed the relationship between Kasama and Mashiko and probably strengthened the ties of the potters in the two areas."




This is the bond of pottery district brothers!
Kasama Pottery was born from the techniques taught by an itinerant potter who came from the Ohmi district. Mashiko Pottery developed by learning pottery from Kasama Pottery. During a long course of time, the two pottery-producing areas experienced some ups and downs, but managed to get through the various difficulties successfully.
And now, the people in both Kasama and Mashiko, including the young potters, are going to move forward into the future together as Kasamashiko, united by the concept of a pottery district brotherhood.
Sure, society changes incessantly and Kasamashiko may come up against problems again. I believe, however, that Kasamashiko, the pottery district brothers, will take advantage of the strong ties created through the pottery kiln resurrection project and overcome those problems, continuing to move forward.
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