Monday, February 9, 2015


To say our first trip to Japan (1990) was not exactly well planned out would be an understatement. We flew in to Osaka in late mid-November and made our way to Kyoto by shuttle. In what can only be described as tourist hubris I assumed my ability to read kanji and speak a few necessary lines of Japanese would be fine and we would wing our itinerary. This worked well in Kyoto, Osaka and Nara while visiting museums, temples, shops, galleries and other must see places but not so much in our first trek to Shigaraki to meet with various potters. We departed Kyoto by train, transferred to bus and made our way along the winding roadway to Shigaraki where it had begun raining for which we were totally unprepared. We visited a few shops in town and wandered up the road in the direction I suspected Furutani Michio had his studio only to realize we had no idea what so ever where we were or where to go and it was all of 9:30am.
What we did notice was that we found ourselves standing in front of a very nice Japanese home, walled in with a decorative  fence and with a simple sign reading, Honiwa Rakunyu. Not sure what to do we stood there for a while, in the rain, like complete foreigners when luckily a young woman came out and asked us, in English, if we were lost. We explained what our intent was, to visit Shigaraki potters and she asked us into the house had us sit down and her mother brought us tea and sweets, each skewered with little sharpened sticks, complete with their bark. After about 15 minutes or so, Keiko Okuda (nee Honiwa) told us she would act as our guide for the day and had appointments made to see Ueda Naokata, Otani Shiro, Furutani Michio, Kohyama Yasuhisa, Takahashi Rakusai, Takahashi Shunsai, Tani Seiemon and several others. We were exceptionally fortunate to have ended up at exactly the right place at the right time and meet such a wonderful family and our surprise guide.
After we made our way around Shigaraki, the Honiwa family prepared us a very late lunch/ early dinner and we meet her father, Honiwa Rakunyu. Dressed in traditional Japanese haori and hakama he showed us around his studio, kiln and showroom, showing us secret treasures from his private collection as well as pieces on display for sale. Though a bit stoic, he was animated and gracious and very pleased that these foreigners who showed up out of the blue had a keen interest in his chadogu and Shigaraki pottery. He presented (presento) us with a well fired tanuki kogo and guinomi both in their signed boxes. We had selected a wonderful and noble chaire to purchase with an exceptional bag made by Keiko for her father's chaire. It was a fitting memento for an experience we will never forget, a simple act of Shigaraki serendipity.
Illustrated is avery nice example of Shigaraki chaire by Honiwa Rakunyu II (1929-2002). Made in the early 1990s, we recently found this piece on a ubiquitous auction website and we were immediately brought back to that moment in November of 1990 when we first saw his work. Honiwa Rakunyu II, though not a native of Shigaraki moved there and studied with Honiwa Rakunyu I, succeeded to the name in 1962 and set a studio and a noborigama, later building his first anagama in 1971 which he  named, Kochu-gama. Though Rakunyu II made a wide array of Shigaraki ware he specialized in chadogu tea wares and it shows in his mizusashi and chaire in particular. At first glance his pots would also seem to have a sense of stoicism to them, like the maker, but there is a nobility and grace to their forms and surfaces. I have always found these pots to be simple, contemplative objects that reward the viewer who takes the time to study and listen to what each piece has to say.

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