As you learn more about the Japanese sense of beauty, you will come to realize that the Japanese people possess at their core a fundamental shizenkan, or “view on nature.” Japanese people find the falling cherry blossoms beautiful, not simply because of their beautiful colors or scenery, but because seeing that makes them feel the impermanence of the world, as if everything is in a state of flux. It is important to note that this feeling that any given piece of nature has its own story is not common to all cultures, but is a characteristic of Japanese culture.
Gato Mikio Co., Ltd. was founded in 1908 as a woodworking factory in Yamanaka Onsen, Ishikawa Prefecture, a region known for its wood turning production. With excellent planning and sales capabilities, the company has actively developed products that combine traditional techniques with quality design to spread the charm of Yamanaka lacquerware both domestically and internationally.
Fascinated by an everlasting beauty that continues to shine. A solid power to create works that instantly attracts the attention of the viewer.
Takeshi Imaizumi’s works are beautiful. Behind the one-of-a-kind, self-taught expression that he has mastered by jumping into the royal path of the Chinese ceramics known as Celadon and Tenmoku, which many ceramic artists have tried to follow, lies his earnest pursuit of beautiful ceramics.
We asked Takeshi, who is approaching maturity as an artist, about his thoughts on ceramics while looking back on his career to date.
Takeshi Imaizumi is a ceramic artist based in Saitama Prefecture. He began making pottery while still a university student, and after graduating he went to Tajimi in Gifu Prefecture for further technical study before establishing his own studio. He has been working diligently to produce his own works, focusing on Tenmoku and Celadon. While learning from masterpieces such as those from the Song Dynasty in China, he continues to test new glaze formulations and firing techniques in pursuit of an expression uniquely his own.
The Publication of “Discover, Acquire, Enjoy – The Appreciation of Tea Ware”: An Extra Issue of the Quarterly Journal “Honoho Geijutsu” or “The Art of Fire”
Differing views on nature between West and East
The term shizenkan, or “view on nature,” refers to people’s values and attitudes toward nature. For example, what do you think of when you see a large forest? If you are Japanese, you may envision not only a forest itself, but also something mysterious lurking deep within it. The world depicted by animation artist Hayao Miyazaki is filled with just such a view of nature, but such views of nature differ according to culture and religion, and relate not only to aesthetics, but also to all aspects of food, clothing, and shelter.
Another major characteristic of this view of nature is that it differs greatly between the West and the East. In the West, under the teachings of Christianity, there was a belief that nature was to be ruled by man, and an anthropocentric view of nature prevailed. In the East, on the other hand, nature has been considered sacred, sometimes revered, sometimes feared, and maintaining a harmony with nature has been valued. In the Orient, Japan has a varied climate and complex topography, which have given rise to a diverse vocabulary describing nature and seasons, and creating a unique sensibility.
The “Gato Mikio Laboratory,” which was newly launched this spring, is a studio established by Gato Mikio with the hope of passing on the Yamanaka lacquerware industry to the younger generation. Conventionally, traditional lacquerware was the mainstay of the Yamanaka lacquerware industry. However, its market competitiveness has declined due to the development of modern plastic lacquerware and an increase in imported lacquerware from overseas. The rapid decrease in the number of craftsmen is also a challenge. Gato Mikio has been actively expanding the market for Yamanaka lacquerware to new customer bases through effective design management and by promoting product development and branding with external designers. Moreover, the establishment of Gato Mikio Laboratory reflects their commitment to creating value and demand for Yamanaka lacquerware as a sustainable industry by improving the working environment for craftsmen and refurbishing workshops to eliminate old-fashioned images.
The laboratory incorporated many opinions of designers and architects from the planning stage, and any problems that arose during construction were discussed without compromise. Each work process is given ample space, and all partitions are made of glass to create an open space in the studio that tends to be enclosed. Each space is designed to be visible from the entrance. The clean and sophisticated image is fresh and unique compared to traditional lacquerware workshops. Even the common room and facilities were carefully considered to create an environment where craftsmen can focus on their work and support the future of the Yamanaka lacquerware industry.
Based on years of experience, Gato Mikio is responding flexibly to the changing modern environment and working to solve problems not just in their own products, but across the industry as a whole. They are accepting inquiries about job recruitment and facility tours through their website.
How did you spend your childhood and school age years? What were your interests and encounters with pottery?
I was a child who loved to draw. I drew pictures and cartoons. I had no experience with ceramics, but since my father was from Saga Prefecture, most of the tableware we used at home was simple Arita ware. My father would tell me, “This is good stuff.” One of my father’s relatives was a specialized painter for Arita ware, so I had the opportunity to try my hand at painting on ceramics. What I painted was not a traditional pattern, but a cartoon character, Bikkuri-man. (Laughs)
When I was in high school, I was often late to school, and when I was, they wouldn’t let me into the classroom until after first period. On those occasions, I would go to the library just inside the school gate and spend my time reading books until the end of first period. There was a magazine called Bessatsu Taiyo in the magazine section, and I used to read it a lot. There I saw some tea bowls, such as Chojiro’s Black Tea Bowl. Before then, the only image I had of ceramics was Arita ware, so I thought, “What is this pitch-black stuff? It’s so cool.” I guess this was the first time I became interested in ceramics.
Discover, Acquire, Enjoy – The Appreciation of Tea Ware has been released by Abe Publishing Ltd. in April 2023. Specializing in ceramic arts, the quarterly journal Honoho Geijutsu or The Art of Fire was first published in 1982. It covers the history and techniques of pottery with high quality photographs and in-depth explanations of artists’ works. Its annual special issue is always well-received and favored by numerous ceramic enthusiasts and collectors from Japan and overseas.
Since the Azuchi-Momoyama period, the unique Japanese culture of tea ceremony, which has been cultivated over a long history, has been practiced among samurai, townspeople, and court nobles. In this journal, tea utensils such as tea bowls, tea containers, flower vases, water jars, incense burners, and incense containers, which have become representative art pieces of Japanese culture used in the tea ceremony, are introduced according to the artist’s work, divided into different categories such as “10 current notable artists,” “40 diverse contemporary artists,” “21 master craftsmen.” This journal features many masterpieces from both currently active and popular artists who have passed away. Additionally, this journal also introduces various ways to enjoy tea ceremony in a more casual setting, such as “ryurei” or “bondate,” which are performed not on tatami mats but with chairs or sofas. It also introduces foreigners who are interested in tea bowls as well as showcases the various way of enjoying tea utensils that have emerged in recent years. The profile of each artist and information on galleries across Japan selling tea utensils are also included in the journal, providing readers with opportunity to learn about tea utensils and enjoy them by holding in their hands.
Japan’s unique yaoyorozu-no-kami, or “eight million gods”
Japan exhibits a variety of climates within a single country, from east to west, north to south. Even within the same season, the scenery is very different between a winter in Tohoku and a winter in Kyushu. Apart from large countries like the U.S. and China, there are not many countries the size of Japan that have such a wide variety of climates. In addition to the forests that cover much of the country, there is an abundance of nature in the form of mountains, rivers, and the sea, and many earthquakes and typhoons strike the region. In such an environment, people have no choice but to accept nature as it is, and it is inevitable that a sense has emerged of respect and fear for nature as something outside of people’s control. In Japan, there is a Shinto concept of yaoyorozu-no-kami, or literally “eight million gods,” in which all things in nature are believed to be inhabited by gods.
You joined a ceramics club at university. Please tell us about the works you were making then and how you came to work with Celadon and Tenmoku, which are the main focus of your current production.
I started out with an interest in Black Raku, so when I was a freshman, I was making Black Oribe and other types of ceramics. The leader of the club at that time was Akio Niisato, who was a junior at the time. Niisato-san is now known for his white porcelain, but at that time he was working in Celadon. He was very stoic about it. We used a kerosene kiln in the club, and it was very difficult to successfully achieve reduction firing, which is best suited for Celadon, in a kerosene kiln. It was a tough process that often went wrong. So my admiration for Celadon was both for the work itself and for the stoic attitude in producing it.
■ List of featured artists
“10 current notable artists”
Kyusetsu Miwa XIII, Yuho Kaneshige, Kei Wakao, Shintaro Uchimura, Makoto Yamaguchi, Sadamitsu Genkaku Sugimoto, Hiroshi Tsuji, Yoh Tanimoto, Kiyokazu Kato, Jong Hun Kim
“40 diverse contemporary artists”
Sajiro Tanaka, Takahiro Kato, Hidehito Ito, Hokuto Ito, Sawako Kobayashi, Aki Takahashi, Shinbei Sakakura XV, Tobei Tahara XIII, Tarouemon Nakazato XIV, Ichiro Hori, Takemi Seto, Ryotaro Kato, Taro Tabuchi, Masahiko Imanishi, Hideki Yanashita, Yu Nishioka, Naoto Yano, Katsunori Sawa, Takashi Tanimoto, Kazuhiro Fukushima, Masahiro Sakakura, Takashi Baba, Takao Kawasaki, Tosho Terao, Keita Matsunaga, Toru Ichikawa, Kodai Ujiie, Fuminori Fukami, Shogo Ikeda, Yukiya Izumita, Nami Takahashi, Hiroshi Goseki, Kazuyuki Suizu, Tori Yoshino, Kazuo Toyomasu, Michael Martino, Yukifumi Tada, Makoto Hashimoto, Yotaro Fujinoki, Kenta Nakazato
“21 master craftsmen”
Tokuro Kato, Toyozo Arakawa, Rosanjin Kitaoji, Handeishi Kawakita, Munemaro Ishiguro, Fujio Koyama, Kyuwa Miwa, Toyo Kaneshige, Muan Nakazato, Kanjiro Kawai, Shoji Hamada, Mineo Okabe, Shoji Kamoda, Kazuo Yagi, Sozan Kaneshige, Uichi Shimizu, Seimei Tsuji, Sanan Yamada, Hazan Itaya, Kaiji Tsukamoto, Takuo Kato
What is missing in today’s life
The Japanese view of nature has had a profound influence on culture and the arts. One of the most prominent influences has been on haiku poetry. Haiku, with its use of seasonal words as a rule, is a uniquely Japanese art form, and gives one a sense of the way in which the Japanese approach and deal with nature. In painting, too, there are many masterpieces that were created through an engagement with nature. Among them, Katsushika Hokusai’s “Fugaku Sanjurokkei” (“Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji”), which depicts Mt. Fuji from various seasons and locations, is a masterpiece that epitomizes the Japanese view of nature. Some of the landscapes depicted are serene, while others are rougher, and the work is a perfect reflection of the Japanese sense of beauty.
In the world of Japanese crafts, the popularity of works with strong earthen textures such as Shigaraki ware and Bizen ware is increasing both in Japan and abroad, and there seems to be a growing interest in kusaki-zome, or natural dye and bamboo products as well. Perhaps a sense has emerged among people that these are things that are missing from our lives today. As environmental destruction and climate change become global issues, people are unconsciously rethinking the way they perceive nature, transcending the boundaries of East and West.
Today, cities all over the world are filled with similar buildings, and the unique views of nature that each culture built are disappearing. It is precisely because we live in such an era that Japanese arts and crafts should return to a uniquely Japanese view of nature and express their individuality to the fullest.