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


Is he a genius or just the eccentric? — The moment when the Art is born


Yohei Konishi insists that only wheel throwing doesn’t represent the entire pottery. “The works visually recognizable tend to be valued. People acclaim it as the eye-popper professional skill, but our work actually begins with preparations before wheel throwing. Preparation is everything for the work of artisans.” Does it mean digging, collecting, and leaving the soil? No, I don’t think that it’s not such simple, what he implies has deeper meaning. “Another task is waiting for me even after I have finished forming the shape with soil. I want people to understand that the real artisan’s work lies behind the unseen process, I mean there are so many tasks hidden in the places nobody can recognize.”


Yohei Konishi hit the Udu he made.


You might have heard an anecdote about Pablo Picasso. He was once requested by his fan to draw one-stroke sketch for her. He drew it and told her an expensive price to be paid for the sketch. A woman replied, “Oh, you have drawn this sketch in just several seconds, but do you charge me such a high price? It’s awful.” And then Picasso stroke back at her, “No, madam, I took fifty-years and several seconds to draw this picture.” He has meant that the price included the time of fifty-years he has spent on developing his unique drawing technique.


So has a woman paid Picasso such an expensive fee? I don’t know, but what Konishi has implied in his words must be as much as deep the anecdote between Picasso and his fan, where I can find the true intent of Konishi.


Left: A Japanese teapot applied seal-engraving (Tenkoku characters)
Right: Tea pots with gold or silver glazing


Udu is an instrument like a drum which is shaped in a water jag having a hole in the center. The players produce the sound by hitting the small or large holes on a jag with their hands, or some just hit the body of the jag. Now Yohei Konishi is keep hitting the udu he made by himself in a similar way he speaks, fluent, voluble and never seem to stop. Yohei’s udu ehoes, flows, and beating out rythms that scales vary as the pitches are changed from the slow one to the fast. He looks pretty happy laughing like a child while he is making sounds, “The play helps development of pottery. I don’t mean to play just as you like, but play seriously enough to acquire real happiness, or otherwise you can’t enjoy yourself.”


What he suggests is that you shouldn’t pursue the pleasure just being apolaustic and only for the moment, or you can’t carve out your career of pottery toward the future for yourself by playing in lazy and corrupted attitude. It was not a pleasure but an interacting, or not amusing yourself but being curious. He has pushed himself into an situation where he can’t escape anymore, when he recognized that he was in actually viewing the horizon of the next stage as a potter. That’s him, Yohei Konish.


Yohei Konishi smiles with his self-sculpture he made on his hand


It is no doubt for Konishi that conserving and tradition support the skills of pottery, while innovation and enterprising spirit endorse his current pottery style. Is he a genius or just the eccentric? The judgment must be made later depending on how Tokoname-yaki will develop in future. Even the teapot Hokujo Shimizu makes in Mogake-yaki style with eelgrass pattern must have been the innovation and enterprising in Tempo, Edo era (1831 to 1845). If it had been denied as an outcast from traditional Tokoname-yaki, the beauty of Mogake would never come down to our age. Again I must say that it is the enterprising sprit to explore next generation that have been supporting the life of Tokoname-yaki from Heian period to modern days.


Tokoname-city operates the pottery school growing the promising potters of next generation


I hung around the town of Tokoname in the evening, when I recognized that there are some chimneys of kilns, pottery studios, and wares placed on the streets everywhere. I climbed up the steep slope called the Earthware pipe around six o’clock. The sun in the early summer was still shining above me and I was overlooking the town from the top. The city lied down in front of me that have been formed by pottery workers on one hand, and on the other hand it has been protecting the workers as if an umbrella covers people, I was quite convinced.



Written by Akitoshi Urayama
Photo by Soudou Kawaguchi


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