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


Artisan soul to pop out of the box


Why Tokoname-yaki has been maintaining its life from Heian period to now? I believe that it attributes to their spirit of enterprise. A healthy nation shares seats between the conservatives and reformists by respecting the brief of the other end, which brings continuation and development in a society. Such ideal environment can’t be created only by the conservative’s power or reformist’s assertion. When a nation inclines to one side, in other words, when it loses the balance between the conservatives and the reformists, such state could turn to be deadlock and become dangerous. It is important to keep the balance and not to stay with the same skill for long or otherwise the things need to be kept and protected can fall into decline.


Yohei Konishi, a potter, is kneading clay by Makineri (Rolling style).


Preservation and innovation.
Tradition and advancement.
Static and dynamic.


A potter, Yohei Konishi, 76 years old, has been working on traditional Tokonameyaki teapots for many years. In 2010, he suddenly declared, “Teapots are over. I will stop making them”, and since then he has started creating his original pottery with a free mind, such as pagoda, masks, objects, a twisted pot, a huge vase that cannot keep flowers, and a time capsule. He has come back to create teapots in 2013, however, the works he has produced were formed with a full of his playful mind, having been engraved abstract or concrete pattern or letters. He produces only one teapot in a day now, and they are colorful with various shapes.


The Japanese teapots made by Konishi have a wide variety.


Soon after I visited Yohei Konishi, he began to knead the clay in the way called “Maki neri” (Rolling style) or “Kiku neri” (Chrysanthemum style), which is the foundation process of the pottery applied to all earth ware. He kneaded the clay and pushed it into the table until the clod would appear to be the pattern of chrysanthemum. That is why this kneading way is called Makineri or Kiku neri. When he turned to spin the wheel, a teapot began to show its shape in the blink of an eye.


Konishi’s wheel throwing is very quick.


Yohei Konishi is a cheerful guy and never stops chatting. “My fingers are the inherited fortune. I don’t need any instrument but these ten fingers having been gifted from my parents. It’s like I’ve been already equipped with the best tool.” He seemed to be making the body part of a Japanese tea pot, and again it was a quick work I could nearly miss. He was drawing a pattern with his tip of pinky finger. “This little finger is the fortune. I can draw anything with this gift from my parents.” When the process moved onto the lid part of the teapot, he has demonstrated the fabulous techniques using his tip of pinky finger again. The pattern of threads has been growing on the pot as we watched.


Left: Making a lid using the tip of little finger
Right: Drawing the pattern on torso of the teapot using the tip of little finger


But he torn off and crushed the Japanese teapot he has just finished in a moment. “It’s like paper, very thin, really. The soil of tokoname is characterized by its viscosity.” Yohei spoke with a strong Owari dialect, the manner spoken in western half of Aichi prefecture in Japan. He opened the pieces of a pot just torn off to show us, saying proudly, “The soil is so viscous that can develop to thin form. The potter who can be proud of his/her skill always tries to make the ware as thin as possible. Look.” It was the same artisan skill as that I have seen at the workshop of Hokujo Shimizu.


A fine pattern is drawn on the thin spout by the tip of pinky finger


There are various types of Japanese teapots displayed in the studio, including the shape of hexagon, the long and thin, or the short and flat. Some pots have gold glazing or silver glazing applied, and others have seal-engraving on their surfaces. Yohei Konishi said in calm attitude, “People ask me why I make such twisted stuff, but they are not. You can serve Japanese green tea, Chinese black tea, and English tea, with those teapots properly.”


Here again the wheel has started spinning, followed by the clay drawn up. I wondered how long the neck would be extended, or if it would become the product of a vase? I kept asking the questions while the potter looked like just enjoying himself by pulling the neck of a vase. He used his hand again to decorate the torso part of the vase-like with stripe pattern. I was correct, he was going to produce a vase…In the next moment just after I had been convinced, Yohei bent the neck of the vase boneless. He twisted it….Oh had he made the vase impossible to put flower in? I was dropping my jaw, and then Yohei made a hole with his finger in the body of the vase. He had completed a strange object with the hole through which flowers can be put in.


The work looks like a vase, which has been twisted its neck and transformed to be an object.


“Some people say, ‘Yes, this is the art’. But it’s not true. The real art is never created by mischiefs, so they are telling lies. You must concrete the base in the beginning, piling up the practices and practices, eventually when the time comes you can’t satisfy you’re your work anymore, then your ‘art’ will be lying ahead on you.” He spoke well and didn’t seem to stop talking. “But, you can’t begin spreading selfish ideas on your head even though you can’t satisfy with your work. You must cultivate your sensitivity all the time.”


Has he spent those three years on creating his objects to cultivate such sensitivity? Yohei Konishi didn’t seem to give me a proper answer to my question.


Inquiry:General Incorporated Foundation of Employment Advance Research Center
contact form or +81 (0)3 6550 9516