Potters in the Wood

Masaka's World
“You have reached your destination.”  “That’s good” I thought.  All I needed to do was to call Masaka Nakayama to get final instruction on how to get to her studio.  I told Masaka I was parked outside the local shrine, so she said she would come and meet me.  I know what you are thinking.  Were we talking about the same shrine?  Evidently not, because after waiting for nearly thirty minutes, Masaka had not appeared.

On the phone again.  Masaka asked, “Which shrine are you parked in front of?”  Well, it was lucky that I could read the shrine name.  Some can be difficult, especially for a foreigner like me.  “It’s the Sugawara Shrine near the coast.”  There was a long silence.  “Oh, you are a long way off.  Why not try getting a bit closer using part of the address”.

Fine, I could do that and I set off with renewed hope of finding my way without causing any more trouble.  I was now heading for Shoinji-machi and the SatNav was doing its job well.

“You have reached your destination.”  This time I was certainly near buildings that could house a potter, so I felt more confident of locating Masaka.  However, although there were five or six houses clustered into a hamlet where I had stopped, there was nobody to be seen.  At least, that’s what I thought at first.  Then I could hear the sound of a radio and it was then that I saw a lady tending her garden.

“Excuse me.  I’m looking for the potter Masaka Nakayama.  Could you give me some directions, please.”

The lady began giving me directions as it seemed I was still some way off my intended “destination”.  She stopped giving directions in mid-sentence and said, “Just a moment.  I’ll take you there.  It will be easier”.  This visit was becoming much more of an adventure than I had anticipated.

Full of apologies for taking her away from her gardening, I followed her light pick-up truck and we sped off down narrow roads between newly planted paddies, making right-angled turns at the corners of the paddies until we came to a dirt track, which dropped steeply away from the road, and was shaded by bamboo and vines hanging from trees and lush vegetation of all kinds.  The narrow rutted track made me more than a little concerned for the safety of my low slung and small wheeled Honda N One.

Thankfully, however, soon after crossing a narrow timber bridge, a collection of sheds came into view.  This time I really had arrived at my destination.

Having thanked and bad farewell to my helpful navigator, it was time to introduce myself to Masaka Nakayama and to apologise for causing so much trouble.

“Oh, don’t worry.  It happens all the time.”  That made me feel a little less ashamed for not being able to find my own way to this veritable hideout in the woods.  It was Masaka’s father, Tatsuma who built his kiln here well away from any other habitation, so that the smoke from the kiln would not cause any problems.

This woodland hideout has always been home to Masaka, who was born in 1981.  It was perhaps inevitable that she too should become a potter.  Right from an early age she was watching her father work and was soon trying her hand at making things of her own.  Nevertheless, she did do some formal training and graduated in 2000.  By 2003, however, she was doing her own work and started to exhibit.

She tries to exhibit about four times a year and now has a considerable following of admirers, most of whom are female.  So, what it her work like?  Getting to Masaka’s had already been an adventure but I was not really prepared for the kind of “adventure” I was about to be taken on next.

I knew I was going to meet Masaka and her father even before I left the UK but despite my well laid plans, I had not done any research on either of these two potters.  Mind you, this is often how I have worked in the past.  I prefer for a meeting to be as spontaneous as possible rather than going to interview someone with preconceived ideas about them or their work.  Do you think I’m lazy?  Perhaps I am, but whatever I say now will seem like an excuse.

After talking about her background and training it was now time to look at Masaka’s work.  “Whoa!  Is this your work?”  It was a complete surprise.  As you can see, it is nothing like the kind of work for which Japanese potters are usually known, especially in the West.  I have never been more surprised and my honest reaction would seem to vindicate not having done any research before meeting this extremely talented young potter.

Although many of the forms Masaka uses are true to the creature, whether its domain is the sea, land or air, the colouring and patterns she uses are more like spontaneous doodles than anything preconceived.  And all the better for it, I think.  Take this Sea Slug, for example.  In Japanese they are called Umi-ushi, literally Sea Cow, and can be quite colourful in real life but Masaka’s imagination has taken it to an entirely different plane.  Masaka’s work is fun, intriguing, stimulating, thought provoking, colourful, elevating and so many other things besides.

Sadly when I visited her she had not got much work for me to photograph.  I would point you to an internet search in English but very few images of her work appear.  If you are willing and would like to see more of her work, please either click on the Japanese below or copy and paste it.  Her name in Japanese along with the location is enough to bring up a number of images.

Masaka’s work could not be more different from that of her father’s.  He was one of the pioneering potters who was involved in resurrecting Suzu ware.  It was during the 1960s that Tatsuma and others such as Takashi Shinohara (see post 18th August 2015 Takashi Shinohara—Suzu Ware) worked to bring back this lost ware, which had thrived in the area in the past.

Some of Tatsuma’s crocks and pots stand in the garden outside the kiln.  The simple decorative effects are simple and reminiscent of ancient pottery not only from Japan but from other parts of the World too.

So, while Tatsuma’s work reaches back to go forward, Masaka’s work is reaching out to a bright and colourful future.  May they both continue to work and strive for what they do best.

Two of Tatsuma's pots sit shyly outside waiting for a good home to go to.  Suzu ware at its best.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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