By Wakako Takeuchi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer MASHIKO, Tochigi — Utilizing part of the living national treasure potter’s residence, the Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan Museum exhibits his works as well as handicrafts that he collected from all over the world.
Hamada (1894-1978), working with philosopher Muneyoshi Yanagi and others, dedicated himself to preserving and passing down to future generations the traditional handicrafts that were rapidly disappearing in various parts of Japan from the prewar period to the postwar period.
Visitors to the museum can immerse themselves in the world of beauty alive in everyday life that Hamada discovered.
Scattered on a hillside of the mountainous area in Mashiko, Tochigi Prefecture, are a magnificent house with a Nagayamon style gate, a stone storehouse and a one-story thatched roof building, which was used as the main house for a village headman.
It is said that Hamada fell in love with each one and bought them from nearby farmers before relocating them to where they stand now. Even the buildings used as exhibition facilities are part of his collection. This came as a pure surprise as it shows the museum’s large scale.
Hamada would carry in old pillars and beams by carriage, which caught people’s attention in Mashiko in the early Showa era (1926-1989), when many people in the city were pursuing modernization.
Tomoo Hamada, 52, a grandson of the potter and the museum’s director, said, “He was moved by a sense of mission not to lose the beauty of the countryside,”
Entering the museum, I was surprised again with the wide variety of exhibits. They include an olive pot from Spain, pieces of slipware — earthenware decorated with patterns and designs using muddy engobe — from Britain and a millstone from the Hida Takayama region in Gifu Prefecture, to name a few.
Hamada used to say, “When I encounter something that I find nice, it’s a sign that I’m lost [to it].” He then placed around him the items to which he was “lost” as inspiration to further develop his pottery making.
At the museum, visitors can also see Hamada’s masterpieces. “Kakiyunukie Ozara,” a platter featuring sugarcane patterns, is one of them.
After studying in Tokyo and Kyoto, he moved to Britain. Later back in Japan, he devoted his time to pottery in Okinawa Prefecture, where there was a sugarcane field in front of his boarding house. He used to sketch the plant, which eventually became a pattern for his works. It blends beautifully on the platter with the persimmon color produced from a traditional glaze used in Mashiko, where he later migrated.
“He loved the abundance of nature of Mashiko’s locality. While using Mashiko’s soil and glaze, he also introduced techniques from various regions and brought artistic quality to Mashiko ware,” said the director.
I felt like I saw the source of the centripetal force of Mashiko, where potters still gather from all over the world.