Back in the early 80's there used to be an Asian specialist dealer who would make the rounds to various antique shows in NYC, Hartford, Cleveland and a few other places we would travel to. He would usually have several nice modern Japanese pots including the work of Hamada Shoji, Kawai Kanjiro, Shimaoka and various other potters. At one particular show we attended he have a number of very fine Hagi chawan including a piece by Miwa Kyuwa, Saka Koraizaemon X and a particularly fine chawan by Sakakura Shinbei XII, our first encounter with any of his work first hand. It was a wonderful chawan, made when he was 69 years old (as annotated on the box) and was just a noble and classic piece. The asking price at the time was $2000, so owning the piece was just not going to happen and as luck would have it, next show around it was gone.Flash forward to the internet age when meeting with collectors become a much easier task and it was only a matter of time before I would encounter the Sakakura chawan again. As luck would have it, as well as the gracious nature of the owner, he sent it to me to study for a while and I was very pleased to handle it. This particular chawan was the first Sakakura Shinbei XII pot that I had handled and set a standard to judge his works against and it was indeed a high bar. The majority of works I have seen and handled by XII have a classic sense of beauty and honesty to them, in hand they give one the sense of appropriateness in weight, form, scale and purpose. Despite the potters intentional manipulation with hand and spatula, there is a directness and simplicity that belies the complexity and thoughtfulness of their creation. To this day, Sakakura Shinbei XII is one of my favorite Hagi potters against which, I measure the field of pots and potters from the south of Honshu in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Sakakura Shinbei XII (1881-1960) was born Sakakura Heikichi in Yamaguchi Prefecture (Hagi) and became the head of the Sakakura family all too early and was named the Ju-Ni-Dai, 12th generation of the family in 1897. Having started his study with the XI generation, he went and completed his eduction in clay with Saka Koraizaemon IX becoming independent and building his first kiln in Yamaguchi City in 1905. By the time Shinvbei XII was in his late 20's and early 30's he began to get attention for his pottery, winning various awards for the work starting in about 1910. He immersed himself in his study of making pots, studying pots and tea ceremony and his work shows the dedication to his craft. In 1956, Sakakura Shinbei XII was named Prefectural Intangible Cultural Asset and in 1960, his nomination was being reviewed for Juyo Mukei Bunkazai (Living National Treasure). His works have been well illustrated and collected in Japan and abroad and the following links are of three chawan which were collected by The National Museum Of Modern Art in Tokyo;