The history of Mashiko ware
While its industry suffered during the recession after World War I, as well as during the Great Depression and World War II, Mashiko potters endured, relying on their traditional production system of combining farming with pottery making (hannō-hantō). Today, more than 400 workshops thrive there, most built after World War II.
Ōtsuka Keizaburō: founder of Mashiko ceramics
It is widely acknowledged that Ōtsuka Keizaburō (1828–1876) was the founder of Mashiko ware. In 1853, he discovered good quality clay at Ōtsusawa in Mashiko, located within the Kurobane domain. Nearby, he built a kiln that produced everyday kitchen goods. Two years later, an experienced and popular administrative official named Mita Shōhei was sent to work for the Kurobane domain. Thanks to Mita’s efforts, by 1864 six pottery workshops were receiving support from the Kurobane government.
Mashiko’s ceramics industry developed further in the Meiji period (1868–1912). With the abolition of feudal domains and the establishment of prefectures in 1871, control of the Kurobane domain transferred to the jurisdiction of Kurobane prefecture. Later that year, it was incorporated into Utsunomiya prefecture. At that time, ceramics production in Mashiko mainly comprised household wares such as bowls, plates, teapots, sake flasks, jars, pans, beakers, grinding bowls (mortars), lidded cooking dishes, and rice cookers. Particularly popular in the early Meiji period was white slip and painted decoration, especially for teapots with landscape designs, known as sansui dobin (landscape teapots).
One well-known Meiji period Mashiko ceramics decorator was Minagawa Masu. Born in 1874, at around the age of ten she began painting decoration on pots using underglazes over white slip. It is said that in just one day she would paint 500-1000 pots such as teapots, bottles, and hibachi. The style of Minagawa’s sansui dobin painting aligned with the aesthetic values of the Mingei movement in which the natural handwork qualities of the decoration were highly praised. As these landscape teapots and other forms of ceramics were introduced through the Mingei movement across the nation, Mashiko came to be known as “the home of Mingei.”
Mashiko Ceramics Training Center
With the establishment of the Mashiko Ceramic Association in 1903, the training of ceramics craftsmen there began to progress. In 1913, the Mashiko Ceramics Association established the Mashiko Ceramics Training Center. Today, the Industrial Technology Center of Tochigi Prefecture educates specialists in the ceramics industry. In the Taishō (1912–1926) and Shōwa (1926–1989) eras, Mashiko potteries continued to produce a wide variety of utilitarian ceramics. Two particularly popular items were kisha dobin (train teapots) and kamakko. Kisha dobin were teapots used at train stations, and kamakko were lunchbox vessels for rice and meat. Kamakko reached their peak of production in 1956 when they were used at Yokogawa station.
Hamada Shōji was born in 1894 in present-day Kanagawa prefecture, and in 1924 moved to Mashiko to set up a ceramics workshop. Before Mashiko, he made ceramics and built an East Asian-style climbing kiln in St. Ives, a port city at the southwest edge of England, with his friend, British ceramist Bernard Leach (1887–1979). Leach’s studio became a cornerstone of modern British ceramics history, and continues to exert a great influence on contemporary British potters.
Upon returning to Japan, Hamada met the philosopher and scholar of religion Yanagi Sōetsu and the potter Kawai Kanjirō. The three are credited with coining the word Mingei (folk craft), a condensed form of the term minshūteki kōgei. This marked the beginning of the Mingei movement, which espoused appreciation of the beauty of common household objects made by anonymous craftspeople.
The Hamada Pottery in Mashiko
Many individuals associated with the Mingei movement visited Hamada, and Mashiko ware became increasingly popular as interest in Mingei spread throughout Japan and internationally.
One of the buildings of Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan MuseumOriginal Source: Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan Museum
Firing of the climbing kiln of the Hamada Pottery, Mashiko wareArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
Firing a climbing kiln, Mashiko wareArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
Mashiko potters after Hamada
Upon the conclusion of the Pacific War in 1945, Murata Gen (1904–1988), Shimaoka Tatsuzō (1919–2007), Takita Kōichi (born 1927–) and other aspiring potters gathered at Hamada’s workshop to study under his tutelage. Although they had different approaches to expression, together they laid the foundation for contemporary ceramics in Mashiko. Like Hamada, Murata pursued ceramics that embraced the particular qualities of Mashiko clay, resulting in rugged and practical vessels.
Without copying Hamada, Shimaoka combined the ceramics techniques he learned from him with a distinct method of rope pattern white slip inlay (jōmon zōgan). In 1996, Shimaoka succeeded Hamada as a Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property, or Living National Treasure.
Takita Kōichi turned to porcelain, using a forming process he learned from Hamada. Takita’s porcelain works exude a sense of warmth and serenity, an aesthetic contrasting that of many sharp-edged porcelain vessels that appear as if they could cut one’s hands.
The next generation of Mashiko potters comprised young people trained at universities. Kamoda Shōji（1933–1983) studied ceramics at the Kyoto City College of Fine Arts. In contrast to the utilitarian vessels of Hamada, Kamoda’s works reveal an emphasis on the expression of his individual aesthetic vision. From around 1968 onwards, Kamoda’s ceramics convey a sense of vitality and a fascination with revealing the qualities of the clay medium.
A younger former classmate of Kamoda Shōji, Seto Hiroshi (1941–1994) also established his studio in Mashiko. In contrast to the ceramics of Kamoda, Seto’s works boldly emphasize vivid colors like red, yellow, and green.
Hirosaki Yūya has sought creative possibilities outside of the limitations imposed by Mashiko clay, instead turning to porcelain. In this way, his approach is representative of the ways in which contemporary Mashiko ceramists are embracing a freedom of expression, one much beloved by fans of contemporary ceramics. Even with such creative diversity amongst makers, these ceramics can still be called Mashiko ware because, if nothing else, contemporary Mashiko ceramists tend not to veer from the format of the vessel.
Information provided by Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art, The Museum of Ceramic Art, Hyogo, Asahiyaki
Text written by Yokobori Satoshi, Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art
English Translation by Meghen Jones
Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum
Exhibition created by Suzuyama Masako, Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University