Archive for November, 2022

Earth and Fire: Riki’s Tours Japan.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 27, 2022 by brunyfire

Day 4: Wednesday 9th November: The group is packed and ready to board our small chartered bus that will take us to Arita, Saga Prefecture. Specifically, we’re headed for the Kyūshū Ceramic Museum, Nishimatsuura District on the outskirts of the town. Arita is internationally renowned for its porcelain, and the Museum has accumulated ceramics from around Kyūshū showing the island’s history as well as exploring the works of modern-day artisans. The museum was opened in 1980 and recently re-opened after several months of renovations.

Ceramic details abound throughout the museum, from the front door handles to the sanitary disposable unit in the ladies loo.

With so little time allocated for this visit, Brunyfire discretely slipped away from the group’s intense introduction by the local curator to the processes behind pottery production techniques. The museum holds bodies of valuable and extensive works such as the famous Kanbara Collection of old Imari pieces from Europe of the 17th to 18th centuries, as well as the Shibata Collection that covers Arita ware manufactured from 1603 to 1867.

In the downstairs gallery, Mr. and Mrs. Shibata’s Collection of over 10,000 pieces of Edo Era porcelain made for the domestic market, was calling! A spacious gallery displays approximately 1,000 pieces from the collection at any one time.

Above – detail from a print illustrating an Edo-period honzen style meal using Arita-yaki.

At the time of our visit, the museum was also showing a special exhibition of works entitled Ceramics of the Past and of the Future: The Timelessness of Traditional Japanese Craft Arts – a fabulous show of work presented by the ceramics division of the Japan Kogei (craft arts) Association.

The Japan Kōgei Association was founded in 1955 by craft artists of like mind working together and who were creating more ambitious, vigorous and contemporary works, post WWII. Prior to the Association’s creation, the Japanese government had, in 1950, conferred certain individuals at the top of their field as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, (more commonly referred to as Living National Treasures). This title not only honours the individual’s contribution to his/hers field, but is accompanied by a handsome annual stipend for the duration of the artist’s life and with the expectation their skills will be passed on.

The title, one of Japan’s highest honors, is often misunderstood to be recognition of an individual’s superior accomplishment. In fact, it is a directive from the nation to preserve something that might otherwise be lost.
(Quote from Alice Gordenker, Artscape Japan)

Ceramics of the Past and of the Future: The Timelessness of Traditional Japanese Craft Arts celebrates the creation in 1973 of the ceramics division of the Japan Kōgei Association, thus commentating its 50th anniversary with this show. The exhibition presents 139 works by 137 ceramic artists, including works by Living National Treasures and new works by up-and-coming ceramic artists through three themed sections: The Establishment of Traditional Kogei Ceramics: The Artistry and Beauty of Traditional Kogei Ceramics and The Future of Traditional Kogei Ceramics.

Top left: Hadano Zenzō, Hagi ware, (Living National Treasure), 2015. Top right: Shimizu Ushio 2020.
Bottom left: Yamamoto Izuru, 1993, Bizen ware. Bottom right: Isezaki Jun, 2005, Bizen ware.

Top left: Mochizuki Shū, 2021: Top right: Matsui Kōyō, 1998, Neriage ware. Bottom left: Itō Motohiko, 1984. Bottom right: Ishiguro Munemaro, 1959.

Top left: Tamara Kōichi, 1969. Top right: Hamada Shōji, 1970. Bottom left: Kaneshige Tōyō, 1958, Bizen ware. Bottom right: Miwa Kyūsetsu, 1972, Hagi ware.

All too soon, we’re herded back onto the bus and headed for nearby Kouraku Kiln (Kouraku Kiln Tokuei Ceramics and Porcelain, Ltd.) – the Japanese have the tradition of naming a workshop, or in this case, a factory after the kiln. So – Kouraku Kiln was established in 1865 and produces both traditional and contemporary tableware. The factory is currently under the directorship of the fifth generation head of the Kouraku companyl, who assures his audience that he’s undergoing several projects to make Kouraku Kiln famous!

The factory is dark, dusty and quite frankly, depressing! The evidence is all there of a once productive environment, but now, the stacks of plaster molds gather mildew and dust, the huge tunnel, gas fired kiln is forever cold, the army of jolley machines stand idle and the plaster room contains one lonely looking worker in a dingy studio surrounded by suspended dust motes that sparkle in in a single shaft of light.

At the time of our guided tour with Mr Takanobu, there was a skeleton staff slip casting, fettling and applying underglaze transfers.

Despite Brunyfire’s somewhat negative response to the Kouraku factory, there are some interesting and novel attempts to keep the place afloat – such as the popular treasure hunt. For the past 40 years, the factory has been storing its surplus, seconds and other unsold production works in a massive warehouse that houses some 100,000 rejects. It was a Brazilian artist-in-residence (another aspect of the factory’s survival tactics – artists can elect to pay for a period with on-site accommodation and the run of the factory to produce their own work) – Sebastião Pimenta, who came up with idea of the treasure hunt.

For a fee of 5,000 or 10,000¥, the ‘hunter’ is armed with a basket, a pair of gloves and a torch and given a limited time span within the warehouse to fill their basket as full as they are able.

Once again – we board the bus, this time headed north for the hills and towards Imari and our final destination for the day, Karatsu.

To be continued………..