Swanica explores Japan

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This will be my last blog before I leave for Singapore in an hour for 4 days and then to Holland for 3 weeks to visit family and celebrate some special birthdays.

The Hokoku-ji Temple was founded by the Priest Butsujo Zenshi who studied under the renowned Buddhist Priest Musako Sosen (1226-1258) when he was 13 years old.

Although all that was best and most valuable has passed away, this lovely spot has a very romantic setting: the ancient trees; the carpet of ferns and wild flowers; the densely wooded valleys; above all for the indescribable atmosphere of peace and solitude, and mystic remoteness from the things of earth that seems to envelop like a dream so many of these old-world shrines and temples.

A flight of well-worn stone steps, thickly coated with moss.

Two niches hewn out of the solid rock:
here repose the ashes of the early priests
of the temple.

The bamboo forest.

Water flowing in a small pond.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Last Monday, I visited a man in Kamakura, who is a ceramics collector.
His name is Yoshinori Shiratori. Shiratori means "white bird"! So, may be a Swan!!!

I knew he had ceramic pieces by Kakurezaki Ryuichi and when I read this article of the "Generational Crossroads" exhibition in Ceramics, Art and Perception, # 63, 2006 issue, it was time to pay him a visit. This exhibition opened on April 1, 2006 at LaCoste Gallery in Concord, MA, USA and shows works by Isezaki Jun and Isezaki Koichiro, Kakurezaki Ryuichi, Jeff Shapiro and Tim Rowan, all related to eachother by their work through being a master and apprentice. They are Bizen potters, one of the main six schools, or kilns, in Japan.

Bizen is a stoneware made in Bizen, Okayama Prefecture, since the 12th century. This stoneware is unglazed and usually fired with red pine wood. The ash will fall on the piece and glaze is completely or partially. The clay used is also from the Bizen area of Japan. The central city is Imbe. This is the home of Isezaki Jun, a peaceful environment dotted with hundreds of ceramic workshops, woodfiring kilns and retail ceramic shops.

Yoshinori-san's house is filled with ceramics and is beautifully displayed. Quite a lot are for sale, but he has a wonderful personal collection.
He showed me some teabowls, "chawan", Ryuichi (or Kakure-san) made,

and also his big plates were on display and many more of his pieces.
He also owned one of the six abstracted vessels, shown on the first picture in the article.

Kakurezaki Ryuichi is now a master, but was an apprentice of the Japanese Living National Treasure Isezaki Jun. He showed me a water vessel, "mizusachi", made by him and some small pieces made by his son, Isezaki Koichiro.

"Mizusashi" by Isezaki Jun

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Today, I have my first piece in an exposition in Japan in the art gallery of the prestigious Mitsukoshi store in Nihombashi, Tokyo with the Nippon Tougei Club for a charity event for handicapped children.

My "Horsehair Chalice"

It is a wonderful exposition. A lot of customers were at the opening of the show.

My name in Katakana

Three beautiful spring
blossom plates

The director
Yuji Kodama-san
from the
Nippon Tougei Club

Beautiful peonies in the garden of the Mausoleum of the Engakuji Temple.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Engaku-ji temple is one of the five main Rinzai Zen temples in Kamakura and was founded by the great Hojo regent Tokimune, an ardent believer in Zen Buddhism. He is renowned for his autocratic methods of dealing with the envoys of Kublai Khan. Tokimone turned the Mongolian invasion into a distaster.

Tokimone assisted at the excavations for this temple. During the process he unearthed a stone box which was found to contain the "Engaku-kyo" -a section of the Buddha scriptures- hence the name of the temple. The site is an ideal one: a gently rising valley enclosed by the rockwalls of the green hills,

heavily shaded by majestic old trees and the feathery whispering of the bamboo groves.

This temple has always been a stronghold and sanctuary of Zen Buddhism. This sect teaches doctrines that every man may gradually purify his own soul and achieve the knowledge of Buddha through religious meditation and the gospel of silence.

Originally founded in India by the missionary priest Dharma in the year 513, Zen first reached Japan a year later, but the sect made no headway. However, at a Kamakura period that Buddhism finally spread all over Japan by the Chinese priest Eisai (who is considered the founder of Zen in Japan) who established these doctrines. They made a special appeal to the old warriors of ancient times and made a considerable contribution to the samurai ethic. The introspective philosophy of the Zen dogmas taught indifference to death and the manifold dangers and perils that beset life. This became a potent feature in the development of "bushido", or chivalry.

In 1282 the buildings of Engaku-ji were constructed. The grounds are on an extensive scale, comprising 500 acres of hill and valley; at that time the number of temples amounted to over fourty, of which barely half that number survive to the present day.

The sole construction that has been preserved intact from the Kamakua period and escaped all the catastrophes that demolished the neighboring structures is the Shariden and has been placed under special government protection (not open to visitors).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Before I write about my visit to the Engaku-ji temple, I tell you a little bit of Kamakura's history.

The name Kamakura originates from the next theory. Fujiwara no Kamatari, the celebrated soldier and statesman of the seventh century, while on a pilgrimage to a distant shrine, passed one night at the little hamlet of Yui. Here he dreamed a sacred dream in which he was instructed by the powers above to bury his emblem, the "kama", or large sickle that he carried, upon a hill in the district. So, the district became known as the repository of the "kama", or Kamakura.

Kamakura was once the theater of a vast and densely populated city, thickly intersected with busy streets: studded with the splendid mansions of officials and retainers of the ruler; abounding in rich architecture and beautiful temples; in fact the most important city in the realm, the military capital of Japan.
This peaceful spot witnessed some of the most thrilling events in the feudal history of the nation; for, partly owing to the value of its strategic position, being entirely surrounded by mountains on three sides with the ocean on the south, an important consideration in those days, it was selected by the great Yoritomo as the base of his operations. In the year 1192, the first shogun of the Minamoto family was established in Kamakura.
Yoritomo caused the obscure little fishin hamlet to blossom into the most famous city of the day.

After quite some battles and intrigues he received the title of "shogun" from the emperor.Thus the dual system of government was established by which the emperor's authority was completely overshadowed, and which lasted for almost seven centuries, until the restoration of imperial power in 1868.

Simplicity and frugality, in strong contrast to the luxurious condition of society in Kyoto, the imperial capital, were Yoritomo's watchwords.

Yoritomo was of a sincerely religious nature. He attributed his many triumphs to his veneration and regard to the spiritual powers above. To this attitude Kamakura owed the large number of beautiful and important temples that were erected.

The power was usurped by the family of his wife when the line of Yoritomo became extinct. The rulers in this Hojo period were known as "shikken" or regents. The Hojo clan, weakened by the heavy costs of maintaining defences against the threats of attack from Kublai Khan in China, fell from power at the hands of the forces of Emperor Go-Daigo by the invasion of the general Nitta Yoshisada on July 5, 1333. The fidelity to their fallen ruler made more than six thousand people follow their lord in his death in a orgy of slaughter and extinction.

Although so many temples and shrines have been overtaken by various calamities and have disappeared since Kamakura's palmy days, yet there remain the considerable number of fourty Buddhist and nineteen Shinto temples.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

It was wonderful to go to Mashiko.
It is quite a long trip from Kamakura. First, you take the train to Utsunomiya for 3 hours. You relax and work on your Japanese language skills. It becomes more recognizable, but there is still so much to learn about this intriging difficult language.
Then you get on the bus for 1 hour to Mashiko.

It is like a breath of fresh air: going from cities with all buildings to the open fields.
It is the season of planting rice. So, a lot of the fields are floaded and machines plant the rice. They crawl through the mud.

Also, the frogs awake and while waiting for the bus you here them croaking everywhere: a beautiful symphony!

Around the houses, even on a small piece of ground, you will see vegetable gardens.

The houses here are all quite big compared to city houses, where they can be so small.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I went to Mashiko to meet with Lee Love and his wife Jean, who are showing/selling their work in a stand at the Mashiko Spring Festival: the Tokiichi.

Mashiko is the name of a town outside of Tokyo that is famous as a folk-craft village. The term mingei (folk art) was coined by Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961) to refer to common crafts that had been brushed aside and overlooked by the industrial revolution.Yanagi and his lifelong companions, the potters Bernard Leach, Hamada Shoji, Tomimoto Kenkichi and Kawai Kanjiro, sought to counteract the desire for cheap mass-produced products by pointing to the works of ordinary craftsmen that spoke to the spiritual and practical needs of life. The mingei movement is responsible for keeping alive many traditions.

Mashiko is the home of Hamada Shoji (1894-1978), a National Living Treasure and you can visit his house, kiln and they build a museum to show his work (and others) at the Togei Messe, where Lee had his stand.

Lee fires his ware in a wood firing kiln and his pieces have the most wonderful colors of the ash from the wood burning falling on the work during the firing.

Jean makes wood prints, which are very colorful.

At the festival are more than 500 potters. You can not see it all in 1 day. But there are some wonderful potters out there, who do the most exquisite work.

Eaun Craig

Matt Sovjani
On Saturday, there was a demonstration of a ceramics artist named Suzuki Tetsu at the Nippon Tougei Club. He is well-known because of his special green glazes; the Oribe glaze and lots of variants of it.
Oribe ware is a high-fired ware that originated around 1600. This ceramic style is named after tea master and warrior Furuta Oribe (1545-1615). General features include a dark green copper glaze, white slip, underglaze brush work, and use of clear glaze.

For me new and interesting was, how he attached the board on the wheel and made the whole in the center by stomping his fist regularly in the middle to make the whole bigger.

Also, his decoration was interesting. He incised with broken of pieces from plywood. He also had some nicely shaped ones.

After that the people who had signed up started to work to make their own plates.