Giving away an old secret favorite
By ROBERT YELLIN
for The Japan Times, Nov. 13, 1999
I'm not so sure that I want to tell you about this wonderful Mino potter who's having an exhibition in Tokyo next week. It's like spreading the word about your favorite restaurant, and you can never seem to get a reservation thereafter.
The fact is, this Mino potter has been around for decades. He could have ridden a wave of accolades and prestigious titles, since he studied with renowned Mino potter and Living National Treasure Arakawa Toyozo (1894-1985) for 13 years, ending his apprenticeship in 1968. He just hasn't been interested in promoting himself in big department store exhibitions or in joining any associations; he's like a sennin (mountain aesthete) distancing himself from the world and focusing on his art.
More than his sterling resume, though, it's his work that shines. It's not the kind of work that dazzles like a fireworks display and as quickly disappears. Quite the contrary: It seduces one's senses on a very subtle, wabi-sabi level that one will never grow tired of and will only cherish more as time passes, like a good friend.
Okay, I'm going to spill the beans. Yoshihiko Yoshida (b. 1936) is his name and a special showing of 30 chawan (tea bowls) runs Nov. 16-20, 1999, at Nihonbashi's Kochukyo, TEL (03) 3271-1835, located on the south side of Takashimaya department store. Click here for photos of a more recent exhibition (2001).
Yoshida's workshop is set within a dense forest in the hills of Toki City, Gifu Prefecture. Toki is where Mino pottery was first made in 1573 by Kato Kagemitsu (1513-1585). Mino, the name of the old province, is used as a broad name to cover Shino, Oribe, Ki-Seto, and Setoguro wares. Yoshida fires all of the above except Oribe. This exhibition includes Setoguro, Aka-Shino (red Shino), ash-glazed, Ki-Seto, and white-glazed wares as well as regular Shino.
Most of his chawan have a rounded or cylindrical (tsutsu-gata) form and an air of quiet dignity. Their organic forms are not pretentious or proud. It's their simple nobility and honesty that draws the viewer in. A good chawan seems to "ask" to be used, and all of Yoshida's works do. The delicate pastel colors and the inviting lips of his chawan beg to be held in almost a sensual way.
Yoshida's Shino chawan don't have the thickly applied feldspar glaze (choseki-yu) characteristic of most Shino chawan, but a thinner, delicate covering that doesn't cosmetically mask imperfections. Yoshida's are the Sophia Loren of chawan in their perfection and beauty.
Yoshida is one of only a handful of potters to fire Shino in a makigama (wood-fired kiln), and this accounts for some of the personality of his chawan. Small unglazed areas can often be seen around the base; these are called yubi ato, finger impressions, showing where the potter held it while dipping the pot in a vat of glaze.
Yoshida feels that in order to fully appreciate a chawan it must be held in the hands. These days most chawan are purely visual. Although they may have a chawan shape, they are not true chawan, but only sort of fancy rice bowls in masquerade. Yoshida encourages visitors to his exhibitions to pick up the bowls.
A few words on chawan-viewing etiquette: Always remove any rings or other jewelry that might touch the chawan before you pick it up. Never raise the chawan high in the air; it's best to kneel and raise it only a few centimeters above the display shelf.
In Japan, tea and Zen are the same, and it takes a man of Zen to make a worthy chawan. Yoshida, in his "no complexity," "no mind" and in the way he distances himself from civilization, has given us city dwellers the chance to drink from a small well of tranquillity.
The Japan Times: Nov. 13, 1999
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For more on the artist, plus photos, please visit:
Yoshida Yoshihiko Exhibition 2001
Yoshida Yoshihiko Sake Vessles
Yoshida Yoshihiko - Chawan and Zen