Kimura Moriyasu—A Universe in a Tea Bowl
by Robert Yellin with photos by Ron Beimel
The Japanese say that there is a universe to be found in a small hand-held chawan, a ceramic bowl used for serving whisked green tea. This metaphor for the magical space in a bowl for gazing is similar to Blake’s way to see the universe in a grain of sand. For some of Japan’s potters, the colors and textures in a chawan actually do mimic a star-filled night sky and the unfathomable universe; oil-spot tenmoku being the most obvious style for such observations. And at the age of 80, Kyoto’s Kimura Moriyasu is one of the brightest tenmoku ceramic artists in all of Japan’s long ceramic history.
Kimura is one of three famous Kimura ceramist brothers, the other two being Morikazu (b.1921) and Morinobu (b.1932). Helping his elder brothers while still in his teens, Moriyasu has not once stepped off the tenmoku path, having mastered all the classic styles, such as the aforementioned oil-spot tenmoku and another known as hare’s-fur tenmoku.
Yet what really highlights the brilliance of Kimura is his thoroughly original tenmoku. Aptly named Tenmoku Andromeda, the radiant colors evoke a deep emotional response from viewers, often with a simple, “Wow” or a long deep breath of wordless amazement.
Tenmoku was the name of a chawan first produced in China during the Song Period (960-1279) and was first mentioned in a Japanese document in 1335 by Zen abbot, Onkei Soyu. From the 14th century, the Ashikaga Shoguns held tenmoku and jade-like celadon in the highest esteem and this reverence reached its peak during the reign of the 8th shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1369-1395). Tenmoku also refers to the form of the chawan, with a small base that flares out into a wider opening, a form that Kimura prefers as “it allows for my colors to be seen more vividly.”
And even as Kimura enters his eighth decade he is still creating new glaze recipes that are stretching and re-defining tenmoku in the 21stcentury. One such style is called Koyama (yellow mountain), seen here with a dark-rimmed lip interspersed with black wavy calligraphic lines.
Kimura fires these in a gas kiln for about 16-20 hours, never knowing until the kiln door is opened how his tenmoku will turn out. The kiln unloading still makes his heart nervously pound knowing from 1000’s of past experiences that one magic chawan might be ‘born’ or the entire stock may be duds; the iron glazes are “that hard” to control. When Kimura speaks about this his eyes twinkle like a child. And one must always keep in mind that these chawan only really come alive when they are actually held and used. Imagine frothy whisked matcha in Kimura's Koyama-style chawan!
Other forms that Kimura creates include eared vases with white icing-cloudy-sakura petal-like effects, as well as tall jar forms where the broader ‘clay palette’ allows his glazes to take on the impressionistic feel of, say, Monet. In fact, if Monet was able to see the Kimura vase shown here he would applaud and bow in acknowledgement of an artistic creation with which he shares a similar inspiration.
Robert Yellin is one of the world’s authorities on Japanese ceramics. A resident of Japan for nearly 30 years, he has played a central role in the introduction of cutting-edge Japanese artists to the world as an author, lecturer and gallery owner. His website, http://www.japanesepo