Arriving at Tougei Messe Mashiko
In April 2015 is was invited along side Lisa Hammond to Mashiko, Japan to take part in a residency, here is brief summery of what I experienced during my stay.
When arriving in Japan we were greated by Yokobori san, curator at the Museum. Tsukimura San (Mayumi), International Craft affairs and Abe San who was our studio assistant/technician.
We were briefly shown around the museum, where we would be staying, facilities available etc. I later learned that the Kiln and traditional Japanese house on site were that of Shoji Hammada, they were dismantled and moved from his land to be apart of the museum.
We later were introduced to Yuko san, a curator at the museum who had just produced an excellent exhibition called Vessels: The Spirit of Modern British Ceramics.
Last but not Least Rainar Day who holds a similar position to Mayumi and helped us around the town and set up our meetings throughout our stay. Rainar was very useful as she spoke fluent English.
Mashiko is not considered a large pottery town but within the 20,000 people living there some 400 are potters, so it was an exciting place to be with that in mind and the connection between Leach and Hamada.
Our first outing was to Shoji Hamada's site where the larger kiln is sited. The kiln had not been fired for 40 years and Tomoo Hamada, the grandson of Shoji was leading a project were the potters of Mashiko were all invited to put pots in the firing for the celebration. The Kiln had been damaged during the Earthquake and part of the project was its restoration.
To the side of the Kiln shelves pots would be stacked in Sagars. Im unsure of the cubic foot of each chamber but from his particular firing 5,000 pots came out of the firing, but after talking to Tomoo Hamada it was estimated that when in use the kiln would hold up to 10,000 pots.
For this firing the kiln was packed over 5 days. Then for 3 consecutive days the kiln was fired but only through the day similar to a pre heat. Then the kiln was fired day and night to gain the temperature before concentrating on each chamber working their way up the hill.
The Studio of Shoji Hammada
A beautiful studio with all the kickwheels (Kelokulo suru) in a row, a fire in the middle of the room for boiling water, I’m sure its pretty cold in the winter. But a fantastic open space to work in as a pottery.
The Studio of the Museum
Lisa and myself started by sampling the clays of Mashiko, plus some other clays sent over by Matsuzaki Ken san.
It was difficult to start with. I didn't realise until my visit that Ball clay is only available to mine in England and parts of the USA and so didn't have the plastic quality’s I was used to back home, pulling handles for the mugs was interesting as some of the clays do not seem to stretch, despite using lots of water they just seemed to break away.
Noborigama Project Exhibition
We then later visited the project again were we saw each potter had displayed a piece of there work within the studio. Mashiko traditionaly has 6 glazes that all the towns people will use but was incredible to see the variations in style and approach to the materials.
It was a great celebration, with a live band for music, plenty of food stalls and people who had come to visit. Shoji Hamadas quest house was open to the public with his collection of furniture and objects he had collected on his travels many years ago.
The Glaze Maker
Whilst in Mashiko we were taken to be introduced to the glaze maker for the residency. Murata, Hiroshi was his name, a very kind and inviting man who spent a long time explaining the glazes and their uses along with Abe san and Rainar san who help in translation. We were shown many examples and ways to use the glazes of Mashiko. Differently to the UK, towns in Japan hold an identity in their work. Although each potters hand will give a different style representing their own work, the potters of Mashiko will use 7 glazes iconic to the area.
Mondays for us in Japan was our time off and instead of visiting Tokyo we decided to take a trip up the mountains to visit Nikko the mountains the waterfall and of course the shrine.
We arrived in Nikko to stay in a Ryokan, a traditional old style Japanese Hotel which had outdoor Onsen - the hot spring baths. We arrived to a traditional Japanese meal before sampling the baths.
We visited the 90 meter water fall Kegon No Taki, Kegon being the name and no taki meaning waterfall, although taking many pictures non of them really do the sights justice. We then headed on to the lake Chuzenji. whilst hi up in the mountains we stumbled across a little shop with the owner whittling away in the window. Making table ware such as bowls, Yunomi’s, Chopsticks as well as furniture all hand crafted and then lacured.
Descending down the mountains the rest of the day was spent visiting the shrine of Nikko. The shrine climbed up the side of the mountain, such a vast area spread amongst the trees, each area exposing more beautiful buildings decorated with hand carvings and heavily showing the influence of china.
Whilst in Mashiko we were given the chance to visit Higtea, the 9th Generation to the indigo dyed cloth family business.
Rows of indigo dyeing pits all at ground level with the plant fermenting in the pits until matured and ready to take the fabrics for dying. The English equivalent to the plant apparently is called Wade.
I met some amazing people in Japan and can understand the love affair people have with it, Seeing different techniques and approaches to the same subject is inspiring. The differences in clay and how they approach the materials is so evident now in the finished work.
The trip answered a lot of questions I had and taught me a lot more.
Within the last few days of my visit we were invited to a rehearsal Tea ceremony hosted by the daughter of Shimaoka, we were then shown around the workshop and kiln site. Then the day before we left Mashiko to travel to the airport with Masaki Dejima san, former Apprentice to Matsuzaki Ken san, I was taken too and shown around Matsuzaki sans Studio and kiln area, Unfortunatly he was traveling back from a workshop over sea's so I was unable to get the chance to see him again.
The Museum Kiln opposite the Studio
Shoji Hamada's Kiln The Noborigama project
One of Eight Chambers
Shoji Hamada Studio
Bernard Leach Ware
Glaze Maker of Mashiko
The Red Bridge at Nikko
Indigo dying pits