Shoji (1894 - 1998) studied pottery at the Tokyo institute of
technology, and was much impressed by a Leach exhibition. He wrote to
Leach who was working in Japan with Yanagi, and became friends with
Leach. When Leach returned to the UK, he also came to the UK and worked
with Leach in St Ives for 3 years. Hamada returned to Japan to set up his pottery at Mashiko in 1924.
A small vase by Hamada...
There are about 250 potteries in Mashico.
Mashico is now one of the biggest pottery towns in Japan. Although you can buy from the individual studios attached to each pottery, you can also buy from the pottery supermarket in the centre of town. The Japanese arrive by the coach load, and buy large quantities of pottery in this fashion, loading up baskets with bowls and cups.
The prices for new work range from £1 for a "seconds" rice bowl, to £15 for an Hamada style plate (for instance, for an almost exact copy of the original
Hamada on the right. This plate was £3,000).
The Japanese have (a very sensible) small business/shop tax break. This is one reason why Tokyo is full of small shops. This benefits the potteries of Mashiko as well.
In true Mingei tradition, the pots are not signed... because, as Hamada said, it does not contribute to a pot's beauty to know who made it. It obviously helps to establish a value though. A very average Hamada pot now sells for well over £1000 in the West, though how anyone really knows it was made by Hamada is a moot point, and one which I believe Hamada would enjoy enormously.
Hamada believed there were only three important measures of a pot:
- Function - a pot is not a sculpture, whose purpose is to be looked at, but it should serve a purpose, such as holding water, or supporting chop sticks.
- Beauty - it should be beautiful to look at and to touch
- Repeatable - it should be possible and practical to make it again and again.
The rising Kiln
which had been moved from its original site and rebuilt at the Mashico museum.
Each firing has a small kiln offering (shown in centre). Located just
above the main stoking hole. The offering is said to bring good luck to
Hamada removing a pot and centering on the wheel
Hamada's hearth and me in the house. His wooden traditional house was moved and rebuilt on the site of the museum, which is in a stunning position on top of the hill, overlooking Mashiko.
Mashiko is some 70km north of Tokyo... or 3 hours and 3 trains. Mashiko (Pop 25,000) is a pottery town with about 380 potteries, mostly producing Mingei pots, often in a Hamada style.
The Japanese train museum take out C1266 on Saturdays in the
summer. This original steam train goes into Mashico station, which can
make the journey rather exciting. You will be surrounded by
train-spotters, and photographers. Check out the Mo'oka railway in this Japanese
Steam train site.
"To return to Mingei, the problem is how does the individual artist today approach folk craft. Of course the answer is that he should look after his character first. The problem of his own character must come foremost. With one's intellect, with one's mind, one can understand what tradition means. The folk art formula may be fed though the mind and through the intellect. But in work, what comes out must come out through one's own fingertips, one's own hands, otherwise it is no work at all.... Because Yanagi was a critic and dealt in words, he used the term "beauty" a great deal to express what he was trying to say. In my case, being a workman, I do not feel any lack by not using that word.... Beauty is not in the head or in the heart, but in the abdomen." - Shoji Hamada
"Take, for instance, eating and apple. The primitives took it right off the tree and ate it, skin, seeds, and all. But today we seem to think that peeling it looks better, and then we cut it up and stew it and make a jam of it and prepare it in all kinds of ways. In preparing the apple, quite often we commit many errors on the way. But in just taking it off the tree and eating the whole thing, there are no mistakes to be made." ~Shoji Hamada
Asked by Leach how he could manage to glaze several hundred pots in a day, without seeming to need any notes or planning ahead, he said, "I simply look at the pot and ask what it wants."
"The good pots are the ones I like... for me." Hamada
According to Yanagi Soetsu, Mingei work had to be:
- made by anonymous crafts people
- produced by hand in quantity
- used by the masses
- functional in daily life
- representative of the region in which it was produced.
"On reflection," Yanagi writes in The Unknown Craftsman, "one must conclude that in bringing cheap and useful goods to the average household, industrialism has been a service to mankind -- but at the cost of the heart, of warmth, friendliness and beauty. By contrast, articles well made by hand, though expensive, can be used in homes for generations, and thus considered, they are not expensive after all."