Tokoname-yaki – a traditional Japanese ware carving out a future

 

 

Making pottery and Tea time

 

The old work shop is tranquil simply surrounded by tans wall with a paneled glass window, where only Tchaikovsky’s swan lake echoes inside the room. Genji Shimizu is a ceramic artist at the age of seventy-one, who is also called in his artist name, Hokujo Shimizu. He is the second generation of Hokujo and his grandfather had specialized in potting earth-ware jars. The Tokoname tea ware made by Hokujo is designated as the traditional craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.

 


Classical music echoes in the work shop of Hokujo Shimizu.

 

Tokoname-city is a pottery town locating at a seaside town of Chita peninsula in Aichi Prefecture. The study shows that Tokonama has been produced large or small size pots since the late Heian era in the 12th century, as the potsherds of Tokoname-yaki (ware) have been excavated at some remains of Japanese prefectures, such as the present site of Iwate, Kanagawa, Hiroshima, Fukuoka. The town’s long history leads us to speculate that the Tokoname-yaki must have been transported and used all over Japan. When you talk about Tokoname-yaki in present-day Japan, most people may come across with a teapot in vermillion color, however other wares have been produced for various use from the Edo era up until Heisei era, including those for food transportations, storage bottles for oil, soy sauce, and sake, bowls, large and small plates, dye containers to be used in indigo dyeing, and earth-ware drain pipes. The industry is still filled with the spirit of preserving the tradition but trying to create the pottery in new age.

 


The body of teapot begins to appear.

 

Hokujo Shimizu is turning the wheel. The water-contained soil is squeezed up by his both hands, and shaped into a tubular form inside his hands. The cylinder swells, soon after that, the body of the teapot begins to appear. The potter cuts off the body with a thread and keeps it beside; in the meantime the wheel is still rotating. Next process is for a handle, followed by a pour spout, and a lid. Everything is born from the soil manipulated by hands of Hokujo Shimizu.

 

The light of the early summer pours into the workshop from the glass window. Hokujo Shimizu doesn’t say anything, while he removes the moisture using the brush from the inside of the pot body, and at the same time he applies the moisture to the outside of the body. The amount of moisture will be carefully controlled in this way between interior and exterior of the body, so that drying process can be in progress without difficulty. He scrapes the internal soil off the pour spout to make it thin using a bamboo palette, which will be changed to new one in every two years, on the contrary to a mace rod for expanding interior and exterior of the body having been in use for fifty years.

 


Left: Making a lid of Japanese teapot
Right: Making a handle of Japanese teapot

 

Hokujo showed us the cut section of the tea pot body after slicing it with a thread in vertical. The thinnest part is close to the center only having 3mm thickness, which will become shrunken by 2mm after baking completed in kiln. The bottom part of the tea pot is made in structure thick enough to stop heat transmitted when it’s placed on a desk. If it had made in die cutting, the pot would never be finished like this

 


The cut section demonstrates such technique of the craftsman.

 

“Let’s have a cup of tea, shall we?” Hokujo stood up from the potter’s wheel, turning his expression from a severe face to a big smile. He served us a Japanese green tea called Gyokuro, which would have lost its flavor and aroma easily if he had not poured boiled water with a temperature cooled down to 45 degree. Hokujo made a tea for all interview team members with the teapot he had made especially for Gyokuro use. The last tea drop in a tea pot always contains the best flavor of tea, sometimes called the golden drop. Our conversation was continuing for a while, talking about several topics, such as classical music, musical instruments, art, molding, colors, soil…..To be honest I was impressed by the abundant knowledge Shimizu Hokujo has. “He is an artist who makes tea ware through experiencing the tea culture itself”. Hokujo’s smile convinced me of it and I felt empathy with him.

 


A teapot especially used for Gyokuro is made by Hokujo Shimizu.

 

In England they have a high tea culture, in which people don’t only drink tea but talk about politics, economics, art, fashion, music, literature, philosophy, astronomy, and so on. There is a variety of topics to talk for them along with wide knowledge exchanged, while holding tea cups in their hands. Also in Hong Kong, I have experienced Dim Sam culture with birds in cages, where people drink pu’er tea instead of English tea while listening to birdsongs. We can talk about the universe with tea.

 

 

Gyokuro is categorized into a type of Japanese green tea Sencha prepared by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water, which is more casually served than Matcha, a powder type green tea. As Hokujo was pouring Sencha to our bowls, I was looking at his hands and recognized that his hands were amazingly beautiful as have been applied soil pack treatment. Other potters must have been experiencing the same through their pottery life. I moved a small tea bowl to my mouth, when I felt that the rim of the bowl touches comfortably on my lips. The rim has a curve with thickness of less than 1 mm, so that my lip can hold a beverage itself easily. The bowl has been finished providing such a comfortableness for users. I took off my lips and gazed at the edge of the cup. Shimizu Hokujo smiled as he is enjoying watching my reaction. Yet, he never said “All right, so did you notice it?” He has just kept smiling gently.

 


 
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