Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Just recently, I was fortunate to be able to study a wonderful tsubo by Tokoname legendary potter, Osako Mikio (1940-1995). This tsubo was truly the embodiment of the medieval tradition of Tokoname and was the epitome of simplicity, strength and grace. Osako Mikio, together with his teacher, Ezaki Issei and fellow student, Takeuchi Kimiaki, ushered in a rebirth of medieval Tokoname styled pottery, re-establishing the idiom and tradition. The trio borrowed from the past to re-establish a contemporary Tokoname, the oldest of the 6 ancient kiln sites, Roku-koyo

Using cues from old Sueki wares, Sanage-yaki (glazed medieval pottery) and the yakishime pottery fired in large O-gama which fired to 1300 degrees c., Osako carved out a vital niche in Tokoname pottery. He arrived at ceramics late in life, starting to study with Ezaki Issei at the Tokonmane ceramic Research Center in 1968 and staying with his teacher until he built his first kiln in 1982. Known for his yakishime and ash glazed pottery, Osako won a number of prestigious awards including including first prize at the International Ceramics Exhibition in Vallauris.

Osako Mikio, who came late to ceramics, left well too soon at 55 years of age. His profound understanding of wood firing, post firing and pottery in general was exceptional and his forms and surfaces are mature beyond his years of experience. A fitting quote by Dr. Frederick Baekeland from the catalogue; MODERN JAPANESE CERAMICS IN AMERICAN COLLECTIONS, sums up the true nature of the potter and his pots; “The strong, conventional potting and rich sobriety of Osako’s ceramics appeal to the modern taste and accords well with the aesthetic canons of the tea ceremony.”

Illustrated is a meihin (masterpiece) tsubo by Osako Mikio made in 1982, the year he built his anagama and won the Vallauris prize. It borrows strongly from the ancient Sueki pottery found in Tokoname and has a spectacular ash surface composed of both applied ash and natural ash (shizen) that formed while the pot was wood fired in a Tokoname style anagama kiln. The fullness of the pot, culminating in the wide, flared neck puts me in mind to one of those timeless pots, born of the medieval tradition, yet executed in the modern day. Measuring about 12” x 14”, it is a pot of nobility and purpose and among the finest pots by Osako Mikio, I have ever seen

(Courtesy of a private collector)