Earth and Fire: Riki’s Tours Japan.

Day 9: Monday 14th November: Riki-san and his Aussie troupe continue their Earth and Fire tour on another lovely autumn day. This morning, the group is headed to the gallery of Miwa Masakazu in downtown Hagi, Yamaguchi to learn more about the story behind Hagi-yaki, particularly the famous chawan (tea bowls).

(Image at left from Ceramics of the Past and of the Future, and right, online image)

The features of the original Hagi-yaki that make it so famous is its look and feel. The gentle form, its soft texture and the subtle glaze colour create a lovely contrast with the tea served in it – as above image reflects. Often the final colour of the tea ware is referred to as Hagi no nanabake (the ware that changes colour seven times), cha-nare (tea maturing) or nanabake (the seven disguises).

Original Hagi tea bowls were made from three different clays, (daidou, mishima and mistake) that were often mixed together with a local clay from each of the various kiln’s locations, glazed with a clear glaze and fired. This resulted in a glaze that shrank more than the clay body it was covering, resulting in a fine network of crazing over time and use. Because the clay body is absorbent, the ware becomes stained with use, hence the different names referring to its colour changes.

The history of Hagi ware began in 1592, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1600) and the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592–1598) instigated by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (who governed Japan at this time). The culture of the tea ceremony had gained importance during this time, greatly influenced by the Korean dynasty of Goryeo (918–1392) that had produced highly prized tea ceremony bowls. Toyotomi poached Korean potters to extract their knowledge for the Japanese potters, and from the early 17thc, Korean potters started working in Hagi where the roots of this ware are believed to have started. The Korean Goryeo dynasty (935-1392) tea bowls influence over Japanese tea ware remained unchanged, until the Meiji period (1868-1912).

During the 1930s, a new style of tea ware emerged, instigated by Miwa Kyūwa (Kyusetsu X – 1895-1981) who started producing a more softly, sensuous version of Hagi tea ware, identifiable by its rich, fat crawling white glaze over a dark body, such as the water container below.

(Rectangular fresh water container, Hagi ware 1972, by Miwa Kyūwa (Miwa Kyūsetsu X -1895-1981) from Kyushu Ceramics Museum’s exhibition, Ceramics of the Past and of the Future, 2022)

By adjusting the original glaze with the addition of straw ash, he created the crawling white glaze that identifies the modern day Hagi-yaki of today. Later, his younger brother Miwa Jusetsu (Kyusetsu XI – 1910-2012) developed the glaze further during the 1980s and added extra sand to the clay body to create greater contrasts in look and feel. The chawans he produced at this time he called Oni-Hagi or Devil-Hagi……

(Photos of Miwa Jusetsu (Kyusetsu XI) from magazines and catalogue showed to us by Miwa-san at his gallery in Hagi.)

……and they often featured his signatory ‘floral crown’ foot or inochi no kaka (bloom of life). The foot of this tea bowl resembles a flower with four heart-shaped petals, a unique design developed by Miwa Jusetsu (Kyūsetsu XI, 1910–2012) that expands upon the revival of Momoyama-style cut bases that helps create a continuum of a 400 year Hagi ware tradition. Another of his feature tea bowl foot rings is the warikōdai (split-cross foot ring) which allowed for bowls to be tied and carried.

However, there is an interesting alternative story about the split cross foot ring of older chawans, that Miwa-san tells us about with the help of a number of illustrations from his vast library. He shows us a number of pieces that feature crosses that have been carved into bases or painted on the side of tea bowls that reflects a period of religious persecution in Japan during the 17th century

Christian missionaries, namely Portuguese Catholics, arrived in Japan in the late 1540s, and managed to convert many people to the Christian faith in some areas of the country. By the mid 1600s, however, Catholicism was regarded as a threat by the ruling Japanese shogunate and thus Catholic Christians and their ministers were persecuted and killed off in their thousands. This led to those who adhered to the faith going underground in their worship, often using the tea ceremony as a means to practice in secret. For example, tea bowls bore symbols of the Christian cross (as illustrated above) and during the tea ceremony, ‘the tea bowls in the Japanese tea ceremony were turned three times prior to drinking (to symbolize the Holy Trinity), or napkins folded in a certain pattern to instruct insiders when to silently recite a Christian prayer‘. (From Robert Yellin’s article Maria Kannon: Christianity in Japan)

We were to learn all this from an articulate (Riki-san had a job keeping up with translation) and enthusiastic, Miwa Masakazu……

……..whose gallery, Miwaseigado, (the longest established specialist Hagi-ware pottery gallery in Hagi), we were visiting.

(Above left, Miwa Masakazu’s gallery: right, Riki-san with Miwa-san and his Mother outside the gallery)

Miwa-san allowed us the privilege of handling these pieces……

(Left: Brunyfire holding a Hagi-yaki chawan and said chawan)

……..all the while keeping up a constant stream of information that we were struggling to keep pace with.

These pieces trace the time-honoured legacy, of earth, fire and traditions that have been passed down to the most recent generations of the Miwa family – the three sons of Miwa Kyūsetsu XI are Kyūsetsu XII (Ryōsaku) (b. 1940), Eizo (1946-1999), and Kyūsetsu XIII (Kazuhiko) (b.1951) and each has discovered thought-provoking and experimental new approaches to their patrimony. In particular, Miwa-san introduces us to the work of Miwa Kyūsetsu XIII (Kazuhiko) (b. 1951) an artist that has taken foundational aspects of his family’s style and made his individual imprint on a centuries-old tradition, thereby pushing its boundaries both outward and forward and influencing ongoing generations.

We are hugely privileged to handle a tea bowl entitled El Capitan by Miwa Kazukiko (Kyūsetsu XIII) – a piece that illustrates just how the hereditary position of an already well established potter coming from a family whose pottery making goes back centuries, can change practically overnight.

(El Capitan by Miwa Kyūsetsu XIII, 2021 from catalogue of Ceramics of the Past and of the Future)

As recently as 2019, Miwa Kazuhiko, third son of Miwa Kyūsetsu XI (1910-2012 and a Living National Treasure) assumed the family title of Miwa Kyūsetsu XIII when his eldest brother, Ryōsaku Kyūsetsu XII (born 1940) ceded his hereditary position, becoming known nowadays as Ryōsaku. This transfer marked the continuation of the Miwa family’s ceramic lineage, celebrated for its tea ware in the Hagi tradition but was to have had a profound effect on Kazuhiko who, with the allotted freedom of the third son of a hereditary workshop, had lived and studied in San Fransisco from 1975-1981. On his return to Japan, Kazuhiko started producing sculptural work (check out an interesting review of an exhibition of his work by Robert Yelliln here) until 2019 when it became time to take over the workshop, the care of his parents and the production of tea bowls.

The El Capitan tea bowl is a fabulous example of how the traditional Hagi tea bowl has been transformed into a contemporary broodingly dark bodied, fat, feldspathic crawling glazed form that has literally been hammered out from a block of clay and its interior carved out by a rusty Japanese sword. A form that has been influenced by Kazuhiko’s time in America and the picture that Miwa Masakazu shows us of Yosemite National Park in the US that illustrates this – plus the eye watering price tag (approx $12,000) on the piece we’re about to handle.

As if this wasn’t thrilling enough, we’re back on board our bus to visit the studio of an artist that has taken the Hagi tradition another step further with his more sculptural work. We’re at the workshop and home of Kaneta Masanao (born 1953), an 8th-generation Hagi artist; in the beautiful Hagi countryside.  

Kaneta-san kept a scrupulously clean workshop, and was generous with his time in showing Brunyfire his nobori-gama kiln…..

……..before serving the group with a cup of green tea and sweets in his own ware

In 1988, Kaneta-san developed a carving technique he called kiri-nuki (carving out) from solid blocks of clay. Curator Todate Kazuko from the Ibaraki Ceramic Museum’s 2003 exhibition wrote in the catalogue that:

When he (Kaneta) changed his primary forming technique from throwing to carving in 1988, he made a clear choice to place the pursuit of form at the centre of his pottery making. He felt the need to run away from the wheel which tended to ‘shape the clay according to its own will’ and to ‘turn the potter into its slave’.

(Sourced from Robert Yellin’s article.

(Left: Brunyfire holding recently purchased piece from Robert Yellin’s Kyoto Gallery, centre: sculptural piece in Kaneta-san’s gallery window, Hagi and right: Riki-san with Kaneta-san outside his gallery.)

While his forms are rugged and monumental, despite their size from tea bowl to sculpture, Kaneta-san still applies traditional firing techniques and Hagi glazes such as haikaburi (ash deposits) and the pink yôhen and kairagi (plum blossom skin).

The pace of Riki-san’s Earth and Fire tour is relentless! We’re all back on the bus and this time headed for the coast to the Motonosumi Shrine, a hidden gem that is hard to get to unless you know where it is. Constructed over a 10 year period from 1987, a tunnel of 123 torii gates wind down the bluff face towards the Sea of Japan to spectacular views of the sea and dedicated to fertility and prosperity.

(Left: Riki-san’s image and right: Riki-san himself!)

Finally, we’re back in Hagi town – a last spin around the town before dinner and falling into bed……..


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