‘Yo No Bi’ The Beauty in Everyday Crafts - Shoji Hamada, Mashiko

 Shoji Hamada outside his Mashiko pottery studio in 1974

Shoji Hamada outside his Mashiko pottery studio in 1974


Visit to Mashiko

In this episode, we recall our visit to Mashiko, a small rural pottery town steeped in Japanese Folkcraft history. Here we discuss the life and work of one of its most influential potters and founding fathers.

 

Shoji Hamada

Shoji Hamada (濱田 庄司, 1894-1978) was a significant figure in Japanese pottery, whose contributions to ceramic ware were influential in the shaping of modern-day studio pottery. Hamada, along with Soetsu Yanagi, was one of the founding members of Mingei (民芸), a Japanese folk art movement, which promoted the philosophy of the people’s craft (民衆的な工芸, minshū-teki-na kōgei) in postindustrial Japan. In 1924, he settled in Mashiko, a small town in the east of Japan under the Yamizo Mountains, establishing it as a cultural centre for Japanese pottery and Mingei.


What is Mingei (民芸) 

Mingei valued the accessibility and approachability of craft, which moved away from the notion of past elitism. It aimed to return crafts to the people as it were before the Industrial Revolution, emphasising the anonymity of craftsmen. This was upheld through inexpensive, utilitarian pottery made by the people, for the people. Previous to Mingei, the making of crafts was restricted to a small number of esteemed craftsmen, whose works would be prized in collections. Mingei recognised ‘Yo No Bi’, the beauty in everyday crafts, and opened up crafts to be made and used by the masses. These new craft objects embodied locality, reflecting their regions through the use of local clays and glazes..

 

Hamada & Bernard Leach - St. Ives, UK

In 1920, Hamada was introduced to Bernard Leach, by Yanagi. Leach, who is regarded as the ‘father of British studio pottery’, brought and popularised traditional Japanese pottery to the UK. Upon seeing Leach’s work in Tokyo, Hamada decided to accompany him back to England. He spent three years in St. Ives with Leach and helped build the first Japanese style climbing kiln in the west before returning to Japan. During his time there, Hamada learnt of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and became influenced by its teachings, laying a pathway towards the Mingei movement.


 The irori (fire-pit) in Hamada's personal residence.

The irori (fire-pit) in Hamada's personal residence.

 Hamada lived and worked out of traditional Japanese buildings, but admired modern design pieces, he was particularly fond of  Charles and Ray Eames . 

Hamada lived and worked out of traditional Japanese buildings, but admired modern design pieces, he was particularly fond of Charles and Ray Eames


Shoji Hamada in Mashiko

After moving back to Japan in 1923, Hamada dedicated his life work to making pottery while influencing other craftsmen to work alongside him in promoting the Mingei philosophy. In 1924, he established his studio in Mashiko and committed to the use of locally sourced materials and tools including clays, glazes, and brushes. This small pottery town, with its history dating back to the late Edo period, has become the centre of Japanese folk crafts. Today, there are about 400 kilns and 50 pottery shops in Mashiko.


 Hamada’s personal climbing kiln, an ancient type of wood-fired kiln, often used for stonewares and porcelains.

Hamada’s personal climbing kiln, an ancient type of wood-fired kiln, often used for stonewares and porcelains.

 Hamada’s pottery studio is adjacent to his home. He usually worked seated and would spin his potter's wheel with the help of a stick. The clay could then be shaped with his hands while there was still enough momentum in the wheel.

Hamada’s pottery studio is adjacent to his home. He usually worked seated and would spin his potter's wheel with the help of a stick. The clay could then be shaped with his hands while there was still enough momentum in the wheel.


 Green glazed large bowl with black and white dripping design by Shoji Hamada in 1951, now part of the  Museum of Oriental Ceramics , Osaka.

Green glazed large bowl with black and white dripping design by Shoji Hamada in 1951, now part of the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka.

Ceramics of Mashiko

Mashiko-yaki pottery is distinguished by its thick and often dark brushstrokes, representing decorative elements of flowers and leaves. Hamada's work, in particular, combined the earthy tones of Mashiko clay with striking dripped glazes applied by ladle and brush. His pieces aimed to capture the fleeting moment of the glaze running against the clay,  an unintentional but lasting beauty. 

 White glaze bowl with black stripped design by Shoji Hamada.  Museum of Oriental Ceramics , Osaka. 

White glaze bowl with black stripped design by Shoji Hamada. Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka. 


 A selection of Hamada’s pottery along side furniture pieces from his personal collection.

A selection of Hamada’s pottery along side furniture pieces from his personal collection.

Hamada’s lifelong efforts to preserve and develop Japanese craft gained him international recognition, and his works are part of numerous museum collections around the world. In 1955, he was designated a ‘Living National Treasure’ of Japan, a highly prestigious title. Tomoo Hamada, Hamada's grandson, lives and works in Mashiko, carrying on the tradition of his family's work and Mingei in the present day. In 2008, he joined Bernard Leach’s grandson, John Leach, in the ribbon cutting at the opening ceremony of Leach Pottery following its restoration. Together, they continue the legacy of Mashiko and St. Ives as significant pottery towns of the East and the West.
 

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Upon his death in 1978, Shoji Hamada’s personal residence and pottery studio became a public museum.  The house has remained unchanged since and still showcases his personal belongings. 


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 A climbing kiln ‘climbs’ up a slope, carrying the heat from a fire-pit below up through a series of chambers.

A climbing kiln ‘climbs’ up a slope, carrying the heat from a fire-pit below up through a series of chambers.


This Journal is part of an on-going series of our visit to Mashiko and Kasama kilns. If you’d like to read more about Mashiko click here. (To be released soon)