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Miwa Kyusetsu XI (Hagi)



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Miwa Kyusetsu XI
is now known as
Jusetsu, for in April
2003 he passed
on the honor to
Ryosaku, 63, his eldest son, who
is now known as
Miwa Kyusetsu XII

Yellin's gallery
sells pieces from
the kilns of Japan's
finest potters


Veteran of Hagi Continues Rediscovery

 for The Japan Times, May 27, 2000

Most of the great potters who rediscovered and revived old potting styles in the early to mid years of the 20th century have passed on into the great kiln in the sky. Yet there is one legend who is still potting -- Hagi ceramist Miwa Kyusetsu XI. 

To celebrate his sotsuju birthday (90th), a large exhibition is traveling Japan, kicking off in Tokyo at Nihonbashi Takashimaya department store's sixth-floor art gallery until Jan. 26, 2000.  

Chawan by Miwa Kyusetsu XI

Miwa was a contemporary of the likes of
Arakawa Toyozo (1894-1985) and Kaneshige Toyo (1896-1967), both in the first wave of Living National Treasures in the mid-1950s. Miwa was named an LNT for Hagi in 1983, becoming the second LNT for Hagi after his brother Miwa Kyuwa (1895-1981, Kyusetsu X). The Miwa brothers are responsible for putting the spirit of Tea back into the Hagi chawan

The Hagi chawan (tea bowl) has been revered in the tea world for centuries; chajin (tea men) have long ranked chawan styles as "Raku first, Hagi second, Karatsu third." Like many pottery styles, Hagi ware derives its name from its home, in this the former castle town of that name located on the Japan Sea in Yamaguchi Prefecture. (For a brief history of Hagi Ware, please click here.

The first Hagi wares, a glazed, high-fired stoneware, originated with the Korean potter Li Kyong. He was brought back to Japan by Lord Mori Terumoto after the invasion of Korea in 1593. Many potting centers in Western Japan, such as Agano, Takatori and Satsuma, date their beginnings to the same period and for the same reasons. Local daimyo were not only focused on war activities but also on the world in a chashitsu (tea hut) and were intent on setting up potteries to supply the needed chadogu (tea utensils).

Li made pots in the same manner of Korean peasant bowls, those which later came to be called Ido Chawan. He changed his name to Koraizaemon and took the family name Saka; this potting dynasty is still active in Hagi today. In the year Kanbun 3 (1663) a new kiln was founded near Hagi in Matsumoto by the first Kyusetsu, Miwa Chubei Toshisada. Both his and the Saka family served the Mori daimyo until the Meiji Restoration (1868). 

Miwa is the foremost chawan maker in all of Japan these days and his chawan have a massive feeling, contained within a vessel that fits comfortably in two hands. It's hard to believe that a man of his age made them; they are bursting with vitality and power, without being reckless or indifferent. Miwa leads a very active life, still raising his own vegetables, and he says that he gets his energy for chawan from the ocean.

"I often ride my bicycle to the Japan Sea, which is so different from the Pacific Ocean or the Seto Inland Sea," he wrote in a recent article in Honoho Geijutsu ceramic magazine. "The waves are so rough, even if there's only a light breeze. I often lose myself while watching them crash on the shore. I have only just recently been able to put that turbulent feeling into my chawan." 

The chawan are mostly a pure ivory color that sometimes have shades of pink or blue and small stones (ishihaze) bursting out from them. 

Miwa refers to many of his chawan as "Oni (Devil)" Hagi, which sets them in direct contrast with the more tame and traditional "Hime (Princess)" Hagi. It's easy to see why. Oni Hagi chawan have a coarse, almost grotesque look to them, especially where the thickly applied glaze has crawled during the firing, leaving large chunks of the body exposed over the gritty porous clay. 

Miwa uses a special mountain clay called daido into which he adds fine sand to give it that coarse, earthy feel. He then kneads the clay the old-fashioned way by slapping a large pile on the floor and trampling it with his feet for up to an hour. At age 90 that's not easy, but Miwa still insists on doing it himself. After forming the pieces he then dips or ladles onto them a feldspar glaze mixed with various kinds of ash.   

The pieces are loaded into the wood-burning kiln in a stacking style called tenbin-zumi (balance piling) on the kiln shelves  -- a technique that requires extreme skill and experience. Miwa fires his kiln for about 30 hours, intensely stoking the fire box and raising the temperature very quickly, unlike the slow, patient rise in temperature of, say, a two-week Bizen firing. 

Tea connoisseurs say a Hagi chawan goes through seven stages of color changes, and the more one uses it, the better it becomes. Part of the reason is the porous clay, which allows the tea to seep into the bowl and leave residues. Another effect seen on chawan is called amamori (leaky roof) due to the spots that appear on the surface of the piece; this effect is most highly regarded and antique pieces with amamori inevitably sell for the highest prices, no matter the style.

On the making of chawan Miwa comments, "Relying on technique alone is no good, and usually finds a potter stretching the clay beyond what is called for. One should add a bit of a childish manner, and in that way chadogu with grace and style are made." Sounds like Miwa has the playful spirit of the Zen monk Ryokan in him.

Many of Miwa's chawan have a split cross footring called a warekodai that was favored by busho chajin (warrior tea men); it traces its origins to Korean chawan. Miwa includes this footring on more than half of the chawan in the current exhibition. 

Miwa limits his output to chadogu. These include some mizusashi (freshwater jars) and various hanaire (vases), some of which have hooks on the back for hanging on a wall.

Although the exhibition takes place in the somewhat stuffy confines of a department store's gallery, that's the way the art world has operated in Japan for years and many great potters choose to exhibit in such settings. As a matter of fact, for many artists a show at a big department store is like a stamp of approval from the art critics, something to aspire to. I don't buy into that theory, but just accept the fact that department stores are venues for many of Japan's best artists -- and Miwa is certainly one of the best.

Works by Kyusetsu Miwa XI at Nihonbashi Takashimaya until Jan. 26, 2000; in Osaka Feb. 3-8, in Kyoto Feb. 9-15, and in Yokohama Feb. 23-29, in all cases at Takashimaya department stores. 

Above Story by Robert Yellin for
The Japan Times, Jan. 22, 2000
(C) All  rights reserved

Ryusaku (Son of LNT Miwa Kyusetsu XI)
Below Story by Robert Yellin for
The Japan Times, May 27, 2000

Regular readers may recall a column I wrote a few months back about Hagi veteran and Living National Treasure Miwa Kyusetsu XI. Well, his eldest son Ryusaku is in Tokyo this time, exhibiting 30 chawan (tea bowls), which he terms ryukiwan ("dragon-power bowls") at Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi department store's sixth floor gallery May 30-June 5, 2000.

Ryusaku's chawan are very different from his traditionally oriented dad's. For one thing, I've never seen any Hagi chawan with dragons floating around the surface. (The first kanji in Ryusaku's name means "dragon.") 

In the past Ryusaku has delved into the themes of love, life and death in his works. He has even made chawan with little red hearts dotting the surface; I find them a bit too cute. Other novel ideas he has put into clay are his high-heel series and "Himiko," a provocative series in gold with large fissures blasting the surface. Himiko was the ruler of the ancient kingdom Yamataikoku. 

These dragon chawan are much more to my liking than any of his work I've seen before, with the image of a dragon boldly incised into the creamy white glaze that Hagi wares are so well known for. Some of the dragons on his chawan seem to be flying in a white cloud (hakuun) while others, set against a light purple glaze (shiun), seem to be flying into a setting sun.

Many of the chawan have a "mountain ridge" drinking lip (yamamichi) and a split cross foot ring (warikodai) in the gritty daido clay from Hagi.

Ryusaku is a very charismatic figure and has a large following; he'll be in the gallery most days.  

The Japan Times: May 27, 2000
(C) All  rights reserved



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