mashiko: yo no bi

Known as pottery town, Mashiko is one of the few places in Japan where sloping kilns are still being used. 

They are built on slopes and designed to keep the heat inside at a constant temperature for a long time (up to 60 hours). 

First kilns were constructed here in the late Edo period by Otsuka Keizaburou. 

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Sloping kilns are becoming becoming increasingly rare in  Japan these days.

 

Potters often use gas kilns instead,  mainly because it's more and more difficult to obtain the wood that needs to be used in them -- Japanese red pine.  

 

Mashiko, which is located on rolling hills of the Tochigi Prefecture, still continues to use them.

 

The area  is rich in natural clay. Its quality earthenware - Mashikoyaki -- is appreciated all over the world.

 

 

Mashiko is also known as the birthplace of the art folk movement - mingeikan. 

Shoji Hamada, one of its founders, settled here in the 1920s.

His friends and collaborators, who included British potter and philosopher Bernard Leach,  Kenjiro Kawai or Soetsou Yanagi promoted the idea of  "yo no bi" (the beauty of function). 

 

Hamada did not consider pottery that he made as pieces of art but as every day, functional objects, that should nevertheless be beautiful. 

He believed that "If you live a good lifestyle, you will be able to create good pieces."

 

Other important potters included Tatsuzo Shimaoka, who was Hamada's student after World War II  and later invented the original technique called "Jomon-zougan." 

 

Hamada who lived and worked in St. Ives, England for a while, returned to Japan inspired by western culture and design. It can easily be observed when one looks at his pottery. 

 

And yet, he did remain faithful to his Mashiko, which he regarded as a "simple and genuine town in the countryside" and which he loved. "I learn so much just by working with the masterful artisans who work here quietly" he is quoted by his grandson, Tomoo Hamada. 

As I walk around his house and garden -- today a museum -- I keep thinking about comfortable and beautiful this space feels. Is it more western or more Japanese? 

It's both. Wonderfully both.