From November 18 to 26, 2023, ceramic artist Hideki Yanashita held an exhibition of his works at Japanese pottery gallery TOBETOBEKUSA in Hatchobori, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. This marks the sixth time that Hideki has held a solo exhibition at the gallery, and exactly one year since the last one there.
After graduating from Kuwasawa Design School in Tokyo, Hideki trained in Shigaraki and built an ana-gama kiln in Iga, Mie Prefecture, the home of Iga ware. Later, under the tutelage of Sadamitsu Sugimoto, he explored new creative dimensions, and now continues his work in Iga. This exhibition featured around 180 pieces, including his latest works.
Hideki’s pottery ranges from Shigaraki ware and Iga ware to Shino ware and Oribe ware, and includes a wide variety of sake cups, flower vases, and tea ware. However all his pieces share a common thread in how they embody the wabi-sabi aesthetic perfected during the Momoyama period (1573-1603).
According to Hideki, “Wabi-sabi is expressed in form and atmosphere.” For example, he says wabi-sabi is the image that many Japanese have in their minds when they hear Fujiwara no Teika’s tanka poem, “Casting wide my gaze, neither flowers nor scarlet maple leaves – a humble fisherman’s hut, in the autumn dusk.” In recent years, he has taken Matsuo Basho’s words “Fueki-ryuko” (“The unchanging is the essence of change”) as a theme, incorporating changes in the long-standing techniques of ceramics as he constantly seeks to identify areas in which he can brush up and refine his works.
The new works are also diverse, with a wide range of attractive ceramics on display. Among them, “Ima-yaki Black Tea Bowl” is particularly impressive, with an earthen texture that feels familiar to the hand when touched. The subdued black, slight waist, and the charm created by these elements make it a memorable bowl. The name “Ima-yaki” (which literally means “now-ware” ) is a reference to tea bowls created by Chojiro which are said to have given birth to Raku ware and were called “Ima-yaki Tea Bowls” to reflect their novelty when first introduced to the world. It is a gem in which old and new coexist, reinterpreting wabi- sabi, and fueki-ryuko in the contemporary context.
Hideki says that while he has an image of what he wants to create, he is also drawn to the unpredictable nature of ceramics, where chance plays a role.
As the materials used in ceramics are natural substances, even with what appear to be the same materials, their actual composition will differ slightly, and colors may not reproduce exactly even if the ingredients are mixed in the same way. For example, even when black and oxidized iron glaze are used to color a black tea bowl, sometimes the rust color turns out to have a purple hue. Because of this, Hideki believes that relying on his own experience is more reliable than strictly adhering to numerical formulations.
Furthermore, ceramics undergo changes during firing, and until they come out of the kiln, the final outcome is unknown. Sometimes, the result exceeds one’s imagination. Hideki finds himself captivated by the “teeth-grinding fascination” of creating ceramics, where the meticulous calculation required to achieve an ideal coexists with unforeseeable or accidental factors.
Hideki’s ceramics can be used for a wide variety of purposes, and one of their special characteristics is that it enhances the appearance of dishes served in them. For instance, his Oribe ware is characterized by restrained thickness, elegant green tones, and an overall refined form, making it suitable not only for everyday home-cooked meals but also for kaiseki Japanese traditional cuisine as it blends seamlessly into tea ceremony settings. His sake wares, with their adaptable shapes and color palettes, suit a variety of purposes and both Japanese and Western contexts. Contemplating what dish to serve in each vessel, where to place it, and so forth adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the experience.
Hideki says, “I put my heart into everything I make.” Each of his works is the fruit of tireless experimentation. While embodying the new beauty of wabi-sabi, these pieces fit intimately into any space, ready to serve diverse purposes and enrich the imagination of those who use them.
Written by Akiko Nakano
Kowa Building 1F, 1-4-5 Hatchobori, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0032, Japan
Open: 11:00 am to 6:00 pm
Closed every Thursday, with occasional irregular closures