Shoji (1894 - 1998) was born in Kawasaki and studied pottery at the Tokyo institute of
technology. At the age of 22 he was developing 1000's of glazes at the Kyoto Ceramic Reseach institute,
and learning all the technical side of making, glazing and firing pots.
Then in 1918 he was much impressed by a Leach exhibition in Ryuitsuso, Tokyo. He wrote to
Leach who was working in Japan with Yanagi, and became friends with
Leach. When Leach returned to the UK in 1920, he also came to the UK and worked
with Leach in St Ives for 3 years. It seems that Leach brought Hamada to the UK to help him with the technical side of building a pottery.
Hamada returned to Japan after the great Kanto earthquake in 1924, and travelled to Okinawa to make pots.
In 1930 he built his house in Mashiko, and set up a pottery there.
A small vase by Hamada... The "bamboo" design became his signature go to decoration on a pot. He could do 1000's of these in a day. 5 quick brush strokes
There are now about 380 potteries with over 600 potters in Mashiko.
Mashiko 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 Mashiko museum.
After the earthquake in 2014 the kiln was destroyed. It has been rebuilt
and now is back up and running. When running full tilt it is quite a
beast.. check out this video of it's first firing
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 Mashiko 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.
Phil Rogers has done a nice tour of Hamada's reference museum, house, pottery etc Phil Rogers tour of Hamada's kiln pottery
"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."
"The potter is no longer a peasant or journeyman as in the past, nor
can he be any longer described as an industrial worker: he is by force
of circumstances an artist -craftsman" Bernard Leach in "A Potter's Book
"This is the day of the artist craftsman, not of the journeyman
potter. That means that any young person taking up a craft today as a
vocation only justifies himself (or herself) by finding something to
voice or say. That is his life or true character, extended into his
pots. Formerly this was not the case but today it is. We want from a
potter the same sort of quality which we would expect from a good
author, poet, painter or composer. The journeyman potter's place has
been taken by the factory" Bernard Leach in a letter to his grandson
John, dated 26 June 1960
"Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or
believe to be beautiful" William Morris
"I will make things to be used without question of who has made them" Hamada
"You know nearly all the best old pots were done in huge kilns" Hamada
" Q: What are crafts? A: Things made to be useful by people in daily life, such as clothes and furniture.
Sonemthing different from fine arts, such as pictures made to look at... use that fulfils the mind alone is meaningless,
like a wax replica of food. By use, then, I intend the indivisibility of mind and matter" Soetsu Yanagi 1952
"These men (Ido bowl lovers) did not rely on certificates of authenticity. The did not rely on inscibed names.
They did not ask whose work this was. They did not follow the judgement of others.
They did not love a piece because it was old. They just looked at it directly" Soetsu Yanagi in the Unknown Craftsman
"the fact that the finest examples of functional art existing in the world are mostly those that
have had no oportunity to be marked by the maker's signature is worthy of very careful consideration"
Soetsu Yanagi in the Unknown Craftsman