Contemporary Shigaraki Pottery

by Shiho Kanzaki

From the beginning of the Meiji era (1868), the primary ceramic products in Shigaraki began moving toward "hibachi", (charcoal braziers), flowerpots and building materials. At present, the main products are building materials and industrial ceramics, which account for close to 65% of the entire ceramic production in Shigaraki.

Two other main products comprise a significant amount of Shigaraki's contemporary pottery production: If you visit Shigaraki, you will be sure tosee the raccoon dog statues, called "tanuki". The statues may be found everywhere in front of the shops. Many people tend to associate Shigaraki with tanuki. And rightly so, for the production of tanuki statues accounts for nearly 5% of Shigaraki's total ceramic output. And finally, the production from Anagamas make up an additional 5% of the total pottery output. The total number of kilns in Shigaraki equals 400. 53 of these are Anagamas.

Given the pottery history of Shigaraki, there are two ceramic artists, whom we should not forget, who appeared in Shigaraki after World War II. They are the fourth Naokata Ueda and the third Rakusai Takahashi. In addition, Rakusui Okuda, Rakuzan Uda and Ryuzan Yamamoto were also skillful artisans.

It was a difficult quest for these potters to pursue the beauty of traditional pottery during what was then the golden age of industrial pottery. But in spite of that difficulty, they have left us a legacy of raditional firing in Shigaraki. What is more, they not only followed the steps of our ancestors, but they brought their own sense of beauty to their works.

The fourth Naokata Ueda and the third Rakusai Takahashi both won the title of "prefectural treasure" for the first time in Shigaraki. The current title holders are the fifth Naokata Ueda and Shunsai Takahashi who is the third Rakusai's second son. Both of them belong to Nihon-kougei-kai (a group of traditional craftsman).

There are three main groups of craftsmen in Japan: Nihon-kougei-kai, Gendai-kougei, and Mingei-ha. The Nihon-kougei-kai group strives to maintain the traditional techniques and the traditional sense of Japanese beauty, while making works which are both useful (functional) and beautiful. Thesense of purpose which is expressed by the Gendai-kougei group (including Nitten and Soudeisya) is the pursuit of beauty without the necessity of functional utility. Mingei-ha, founded by Souetsu Yanagi, aims at making objects for use, and assumes that fine objects of utility possess an inevitable beauty.

Each of these groups has its own sense of purpose, theory, and philosophy. Personally, I cannot understand the necessity of these separate groups. Many of the potters of Shigaraki belong to one or the other of these groups. However, I have chosen not to belong to a particular group. Instead I work to produce my own exhibitions at the galleries of many department stores.

In 1990, the Shigaraki Tougei-no-Mori (ceramic center) opened. There are many institutions which are part of the ceramic center: Tougei-kan,Shigaraki Sangyou-tenji-kan, Tougei-kensyuu-kan, etc.

Exhibitions for the ceramic works which come from all over the world are held at the Tougei-kan. At the Sangyou-tenji-kan, one can see many contemporary industrial products made in Shigaraki.
The other institution is Tougei-kensyuu-kan where many artists and students, who come from all over the world, take their training, and have their workshops. An Anagama, a cross-draft kiln and a oil burner kiln have been built there. And many famous ceramic artists from all over the world are invited here to present lectures and workshops.

Tougei-no-Mori (the ceramic center) sponsors these sorts of meetings and many other projects: Four years ago, Ms. Toshiko Takaezu presented a workshop. And in April 1995, Mr. Peter Voulkos, Peter Callas and Jyun Kanekowere invited there to present workshops. Mr. Peter Callas came back again in September 1995 to have a firing for Voulkos's and Callas's works.

As a result of this interaction, Shigaraki is becoming more internationalized. This interaction comes as a breath of fresh air, helping to enable each potter to strive for their own goals through their activitiesas a ceramic artist.

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