Story by Robert Yellin
First Published Honoho Geijutsu, No. 51, 1997
I'm often asked why I came to Japan and why of all places did I choose Mishima and Numazu in East Shizuoka Prefecture. I always give a logical answer yet I have a feeling deep down inside that East Shizuoka Prefecture chose me. Many mysteries abound in life and one of them surely is fate, it just cannot be explained with logic.
My father was in World War Two and flew P-51 mustangs from Iwo Jima over Numazu, the city where I now live. That I didn't know that when I moved here leads me to believe that some unseen force influences us humans, it's simply beyond coincidence.
Shizuoka-ken is probably better known for green tea, hot springs, and Mt.Fuji than for the great many potters working here even, though there are no great historic kilns. Of course, there is Shidoro-yaki, one of the seven kilns that Kobori Enshu lent his patronage to, but basically it's turned into an almost forgotten pottery. Instead in Shizuoka-ken, there are potters firing Karatsu, Bizen, Seihakuji, Seiji, ash-glazed pieces, and Shigaraki among others. Please see our Guidebook for more on all these styles.
Since I collect sake utensils, I like to purchase works from local potters and fill them as soon as possible with some fine sake. I used to look to Nigatta and the Tohoku region for that sake but in the last few years Shizuoka sake has become outstanding. Isojiman, Kaiun, Hana no Mai, Kikuyoi, and Kame, to name but a few, are indeed worthy of a fine tokkuri or guinomi. Which is just what these sake utensils are!
They were made by Mori-machi based potter Yoshisuji Keiji who lives in a beautiful valley where he absorbs the subtle power of nature. I first saw a guinomi of his in a book and was taken back by the variety of colors that he got in such a small cup. There were blues, pinks, oranges, purples, yellows, browns, black, and greens. It was a miniature rainbow that lifted my spirit and the more I drank (not that much) the greater the view of the world became! I especially liked the greens that have a wavy flowing motion to them that look like river weeds twisting in a cool current.
Yoshisuji sometimes fires pieces more than once and this accounts somewhat for the range of colors. Some of his tokkuri are fired just once though. The light purples on the guinomi resemble the color of the azaleas that are in bloom outside my house as I write this on fathers day 97'. The rounded facted-mentori form fits comfortably in the hand and the lip is perfect for drinking. It's been carved with gusto, almost too much though. The inside is a crater-like space that is smooth and glows when filled with sake.
Yoshisuji is an experienced drinker himself and it takes a seasoned drinker to make fine sake wares. He also, being a somewhat young potter, is willing to experiment with shapes and recently made 80 sake utensils, all coil built and differently shaped. Some turned out better than others but the point is that Yoshisuji is creating not imitating.
Which is what life should also be, not following someone else's path but using your own senses to discover the world. So here I am uncovering my life's mysteries in Shizuoka (with a little help from Yoshisuji's sake wares and Shizuoka sake), the same place my father flew P-51's over so many years ago.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS ARTIST
Yoshisuji Keiji - Japan Times Story
Yoshisuji Keiji - Exhibition Review 2002