I catch the 9:30am train out of Kyoto. En route, I meet up with my friend Robert Yellin, an ex-pat American, ceramics expert and gallery owner from Mishima (near Mt. Fuji.) I have invited Rob to meet my friend, Takemoto Ikuo-san, at his studio in Echizen, located on the Sea of Japan side of Honshu. I had fallen in love with his work many years ago. His unglazed ceramics are reminiscent of that of the Bizen district, where he apprenticed with Fujiwara Kei, a Living National Treasure. I found his pieces to be warmer and more intimate than Bizen ware. Three years ago, long after I “met” his tea bowls, I actually got to meet the man who made those bowls. Since then, I have really wanted to introduce Rob to him. Now, three years later, Rob and I are finally making that trip to Echizen.
Takemoto-san picks us up at the station, and we pass the small town commercial district, rice fields and woods and large timber framed farmhouses before arriving at Takemoto-san’s spacious house, crafted with a light colored wood interior and sitting high on a hill with dynamic views of snow-capped mountains. A blend of traditional minimalist design with modern conveniences.
Takemoto-san is a master of tea and he serves us a couple of rounds of matcha in his tearoom before taking us to his kiln. He begins and ends each work day by thoroughly cleaning his workspace. “He is more of a Zen priest than a Zen priest,” our mutual friend and Kyoto gallery owner, Taji-san, often quips about him. He takes his work very seriously, with classic Japanese one-pointedness and the discipline of a monk. “In the path that I have chosen, there are many points where you could say I could have taken an easier path. Each time, however, I ended up choosing the more difficult one,” he explains. “It always took my work to a better place. The other path would have been easier, but would probably have resulted in something superficial or lacking.”
We view the enormous wood burning kiln. Its design is based on an excavated, 1000-year old kiln from the Heian period. We then enter a room displaying finished work. “These pieces are light, sensuous and poetic,” says an obviously happy Robert as he turns one piece after another in his hands. He decides to show some of Takemoto’s pieces at his gallery in Mishima A relationship is born and I guess that makes me the Cupid, here.
Takemoto-san, with Rob Yellin
Mizusashi (cold water jar) for tea
Rob Yellin’s gallery: http://www.e-yakimono.net
- A Four Matcha Afternoon
- Mukune, January’s Sake of the Month from Author, Lecturer and Sake Expert, John Gauntner