by Robert Yellin (04 August 2009)
Visiting Japan for many people usually turns out to be one the most memorable trips of a lifetime. Personally I’ve heard this time and time again, “the best trip of my life,” one person told me and another exclaimed, “I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the arts I saw, I shall always treasure the memories.” Most visitors usually take back a part of Japan with them and nothing is more representative of that than an actual piece of the land, a clay pot.
Most likely there is no country in the world with such a vibrant, rich, exciting and diverse ceramic culture then Japan. Literally the flames have been burning in Japan for more than 10,000 years from the very first ceramics ever made in the world, that being known as Jomon. Today the potters of Japan turn out a myriad of styles and forms that run the gamut of lowly chopstick rests to high-end porcelain and stoneware sculptures that are highly sought after by private collectors and museums the world over. Looking at such works in books is a good way to learn about the styles, yet nothing can hold a flame to actually visiting the studios and kilns of the artists themselves.
Most traditional Japanese styles, such as Bizen, Karatsu or Mashiko, are located away from major cities and often in rural areas, such as Tamba. The journey to these areas is often filled with wonderful scenery, as the drive to Hagi is, and one’s imagination runs wild thinking of all the history that each potting center has rooted there. Often pottery towns have ceramic museums displaying the proud history of the area and these are often a good place to start a journey. One can see masterpieces and learn about processes that define what each style is, for all of the great ceramic traditions in Japan are defined by region and more specific the indigenous materials found only in that area. A Bizen jar, for example, is defined by the very specific clay of that area as can be said for all ancient potting centers. And that is one of the greatest aspects of the beauty of Japanese ceramic art, the way that materials—as well as the human hand-consciousness–create the uniqueness of each style.
Meeting the creators of Japan’s finest pottery is also a treasured encounter. One can see firsthand the studios and kilns as well as ask questions about inspirations, goals and technique. Often works are bought and sent back home as a daily reminder of the meeting and the great joy such works bring to the home is never-ending.
And thus a visit to Japan’s magical kilns is a dream come true for any ceramic lover, whether one be a potter or a collector; so much to see, so much to experience with all the senses, so much to learn and appreciate, and so much to treasure as part of life’s journey.
About Mr. Robert Yellin
Mr. Robert Yellin has lived in Japan since 1984, and runs a Japanese pottery gallery in Kyoto. He is one of the pioneers to deal with Japanese pottery on the internet targeting overseas residents.
He imparts how attractive Japanese ceramics is through his eyes as a non-Japanese, and influences even a lot of Japanese.