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More than a humble piece of clay

 for The Japan Times, Aug. 14, 1999

Photos of Japanese PotteryJapan is a ceramic paradise, plain and simple.

I tried to explain this to some people back in San Diego a few weeks ago. Most just looked at me like I was some garbanzo bean-eating hippie who thought that Jerry Garcia was God. There are just no criteria for them to understand the significance that ceramics have played in Oriental culture. When I mentioned that whole museums in Japan are devoted to ceramics, some having priceless national treasures, my culturally deprived listeners just shrugged their shoulders and said, "whatever."

To most of them, pro sports is culture.

That "whatever" is indeed a great something, though, and I encourage residents of Japan or visitors to learn more about Japanese ceramics in order to understand more about Japanese culture. It's a bit hard not to notice the array of ceramics that greet you at most meals and a closer look at the fascinating world of Japanese ceramics will also lead you to find out about history, Zen, Tea, wabi and sabi, and the different potting centers that dot Japan.

When viewing a potting exhibition I wonder if people are aware that the finished products took countless hours of intensive labor to make. They're not just "pop in the oven" muffins. There's digging the clay (although many potters buy from clay brokers), processing and wedging, throwing, glazing (if required), loading, firing and unloading the kiln, and then cleaning the finished work. The sweat, toil and spirit of the potter goes into each piece.

When I view a pot in that way, I have a great respect for potters and the commitment that went into the making of a piece. In addition, the energy of the potter working with the natural elements of water, air, clay and fire leaves a piece of pottery with a magical ambience that isn't found in any other art.

In Japan there is really very little of the distinction between art and crafts observed in the West, and for this reason pottery can be more expensive than in other countries. This bewilders some first-time collectors and turns them away from purchasing.

Yet to really understand Japanese pottery one must use it -- whether it be a tea bowl (chawan), a vase (kabin) or a plate (sara). As for payment, I look upon it as a rental fee. I feel that I have the piece for as long as I walk on this glorious earth, and when I pass away the piece will pass into the hands of another.

Now let's say that my time to leave is in 30 years (I'll be 39 on Monday) and I buy a nice tea cup by a well-known potter for 35,000 yen. A simple breakdown of numbers will show that I pay very little over the long term for something that will bring years of pleasure. What a bargain!

In writing this column I get quite a few inquiries on where to view ceramics, so I thought that since this is the slowest month for exhibitions I'd gather up a list that will help you to view contemporary potters' work and perhaps find something that captures your senses and heart.

Most major department stores have good selections and are easy to  find, although personally I'd rather patronize a small gallery. Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya always have a few glass cases filled with ceramics, as do Matsuya in Ginza and Odakyu in Shinjuku. Go to their respective art galleries where more often than not you'll also find an individual ceramist's exhibition.

In Tokyo there are dozens of smaller galleries, though, and the below list is just the tip of the iceberg.

Kuroda Toen (in Tokyo, Shibuya)
As regular readers of this column know, I often introduce exhibitions at Shibuya's Kuroda Toen. This small gallery has weekly exhibitions as well as a well-stocked regular space showing dozen of styles such as Bizen, sometsuke, Shino, celadon and Karatsu, among others. I've learned many things there and highly recommend this at-home gallery. Located at 1-16-14 Shibuya. Tel: (03) 3499-3225.

Kuroda Toen (in Tokyo, Ginza)
There is another Kuroda Toen, though, in Ginza, which is run by a different branch of the Kuroda family. It's not as good as the one in Shibuya, but worth a visit if you happen to be in Ginza:  7-8-6 Ginza; Tel.: (03) 3571- 3223.

Gallery Pousse (in Tokyo, Ginza)
Also in the Ginza is Gallery Pousse at 5-14-16 Ginza; Tel: (03)  5565-3870

Gallery Ima (in Tokyo, Ginza)
7-17-5 Ginza; Tel: (03) 3542-5707.

Bizen Gallery (Tokyo, Aoyama)
A great place for those just getting interested in Bizen. The shop's owner Yoko Kimura, a charming young lady, speaks English very well. Besides Bizen wares a few other styles are usually shown. 5-16-3-203 Minami Aoyama; Tel: (03) 3797-5417.

Shizutani (Tokyo, Sendagaya)
Another good Bizen gallery is Shizutani at 1-29-4 Sendagaya; Tel: (03) 3403-6448.

Gallery Kokou (Tokyo, Kanda)
Near JR Kanda Station is Gallery Kokou at 2-8-7 Kanda; Tel: (03) 3256-9160.

Suigyoku (Tokyo, Itabashi)
A fine gallery located at 2-45-11 Itabashi; Tel: (03) 3961-8984.

Galleries in Meguro-ku
If you're in Meguro-ku, try Gallery Midori at 2-11-12  Higashigaoka; Tel: (03) 5486-3152, Gallery Yamamoto at 3-3-19 Takaban; Tel: (03) 3794-2202 or Gallery Naganawa; Tel: (03)  3792-3969.

Gallery Ichirin, at 3-25-11 Nogata, run by Ms. Suzuki. Tel: (03) 3387-4588.

As a reminder, many of the above galleries are closed for the Bon holidays. I'll put together another list for those in other regions in the coming months.

The Japan Times: Aug. 14, 1999
(C) All  rights reserved

Bizen Galleries

There are many galleries in Japan that specialize in Bizen and here are a few of the better ones.

Hirakawa-cho 1-5-13                     
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo                       
Tel/Fax: 03-3239-0400
Open 11:00-6:00
Closed weekends and holidays

Kuroda Toen Shibuya

Sendagaya 1-29-4                        
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo                       
Tel: 03-3403-6448                         
Open 11:00-7:00                         
Closed Sundays and holidays             

Bizen Gallery Aoyama
Minami Aoyama 5-16-3
Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3797-5417  Fax: 03-3797-5417
Open 11:00-6:00
Closed Wednesdays

Minami Aoyama 1-10-3                    
Minato-ku, Tokyo                        
Tel: 03-3402-2061                         
Open 11:00-11:00                          
Closed Sundays and holidays

Himonya 6-3-1
Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3792-3969
Open 11:00-7:00

O-machi 1-6-3                         
Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture    
Tel: 0467-25-0184                       
Shinjuku 572-15
Kawakoshi City, Saitama Prefecture
Tel/Fax: 0492-48-7822
Closed Tuesdays

There quite a few better galleries in Bizen and Okayama cities of course. If anyone would like to know the names just
drop me an email.



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