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Mark your calendar for the Labor Day weekend when Entoten will welcome Japanese glassblower Inoue Naruhito from Taketa in Oita prefecture, Kyushu.
GLASS SHOW with Inoue Naruhito
September 3 & 4, 2022
11 am – 5 pm
At The Den on Laurel Street
205 Laurel Street, #104
San Diego CA 92101
The city of Taketa is famous for bamboo and, appropriately, Inoue-san casts his “Kaguya” glass series in cured bamboo molds. The series is named after the bamboo princess Kaguya, who was born from a segment of bamboo in the old Japanese folklore, “The Tale of The Bamboo Cutter (竹取物語).”
These stunning bamboo cast plates resemble huge morning glory blossoms. We look forward to sharing plenty of stunning glasswork by Inoue-san this September at The Den.
2022 marks the 10th anniversary of my small business. I was so excited to embark on this endeavor after waiting 8 years for a green card that finally allowed me to work in the US. For this anniversary year, I wanted to push myself to write more as I find the whole writing process difficult. So I was delighted when I found the perfect literary enkindler: the 72 microseasons of old Japan.
When Meiji Japan replaced its calendar in 1872 as it sought to modernize and catch up with the rest of the world, many of the seasons expressed in the traditional version were no longer used in the new Gregorian calendar. In the old lunar calendar called kyureki, the year was divided into four seasons with each season sub-divided into three mini-seasons called sekki. But the most curious aspect of the kyureki were ko or microseasons that further divided each sekki into three, making a grand total of 72 microseasons in a year.
The 72 microseasons are fascinating because they have names like “east wind melts the ice” and “barley ripens” that literally depict subtle but distinct phenomenon in the surrounding nature. They are a testament to our farming history and how our ancestors lived close to the land that they depended upon. These days most Japanese have never heard of these microseasons, but in the last decade there has been a renewed interest with numerous books and online content published on the topic.
These microseasons have had the profound effect of triggering my memories in unique and personal ways. From childhood, summer has been my favorite season of the year and since today, May 5th, marks the start of summer in the Japanese calendar, it is the perfect day to begin recounting them. I hope that you will find my stories interesting and in some way intersect with your own experiences because I feel that it is my lifework to create deeper connections by communicating delicate gradations and subtleties of thought that transcends culture and language.
My essays will be accompanied by the vivid calligraphy of the 72 microseasons by Chieko, the mother of a good friend, who is a contemporary Japanese calligrapher currently residing in Kanagawa prefecture. Chieko first put ink on paper more than 70 years ago and her talent was soon recognized by her teacher who encouraged her to pursue the art form. She later studied under Kumagai Tsuneko (1893-1989), a renowned contemporary calligrapher at Daito Bunka University, who also taught calligraphy to the Japanese Empress Michiko.
Chieko’s love is for kanamoji calligraphy, a graceful and unique writing style using Japanese alphabets that were developed during the Heian Period (794-1192). However, for this 72 microseasons project, I requested Chieko to write the seasons in Kanji using regular to semi-cursive script, so that they will be legible and entice many people, even beginners learning kanji, to engage.
In creating the 72 microseasons calligraphy, Chieko used three kinds of ink: chaboku (brown ink), seiboku (blue ink), and kuro (black ink), which are rubbed on wet stone to release the pigments. Each piece is created quickly and deliberately because calligraphy is an ephemeral art form with no opportunity to make changes later.
For Chieko, the brushes are extensions of her hand and her work expresses her heart. Her immense focus lets the brush move freely, creating work that powerfully provokes strong emotions.
Calligraphy, while intrinsically imbuing meaning, leaves space for the imagination of the viewer that actual landscape photos do not. It is not necessary to be able to read the characters. Instead, please enjoy the flow, contrast, composition, and grace of the strokes, just like you would enjoy a painting.
<The 72 microseasons essays from 2022 summer are currently being edited to be published in a different form in the future>
During the month of February, a narrow and deep tea bowl called “tsutsujyawan” is used to prepare thin tea in Chanoyu, the Japanese Way of Tea. The word tsutsu means cylinder, and I was told that the reason for using this type of tea bowl, whose design makes it near-impossible to whisk and create good foam, is to retain the heat of the tea so that guests can enjoy it hot at the coldest time of the year.
Although I’m skeptical how effective the shape is for keeping the tea hot, the tsutsu tea bowl symbolizes “mid-winter,” and also implies that spring is just around the corner. And getting people into the spirit of the season through the use of seasonal utensils is an important aspect in Chanoyu.
Thinking about tsutsujyawan made me a little sad because I realized that I have not been able to practice tea with my teacher for the past two years because of Covid. Another year will pass before I’ll be able to prepare tea in her beautiful Mishima tsutsujyawan, an ash glazed bowl with white slip inlay decorations that comes out of a little paulownia box only once a year.
I’m surprised to catch myself feeling this nostalgia because, when I was growing up, I thought all this seasonal stuff was such a waste of time, especially the Ohinasama dolls decorations that come out of boxes in February to celebrate Girls’ Day on March 3rd. Families with daughters display dolls depicting a married couple in celebration of the Peach Flower Festival, which is also known as the Doll festival.
My parents originally had a simple Ohinasama comprised of a dressed-up couple already glued in position side by side in a glass case with a fitting box. Then my mother won a spectacular nanadan kazari (seven-tiered Ohinasama) in a giveaway by a radio station in the late 1970s. I still clearly remember the day she won it. We were having breakfast before going to school when the radio host started reading a letter from a mother of three daughters who could not afford a nanadan kazari…, at which point my overjoyed mother screamed, “that’s me!”
A few months later, several large boxes arrived at our house containing the nanadan kazari. The decoration was huge with a total of 15 dolls, equipped with miniature furniture for the bride, and because it took up most of our living room, it was totally incongruous. We were all excited to decorate them for the first few years, then gradually lost interest, except my mother. Her enthusiasm for the hard-won Ohinasama continued and she insisted that we take the whole set to Singapore when my father was transferred there for work several years later.
Year after year, the Ohinasama came out of the boxes in tropical Southeast Asia and went back into the boxes promptly on March 4th. This is due to the superstition that daughters will not be able to get married for a long time if the dolls are left out past March 3rd. I think I was not alone in questioning if a happy and early marriage should be my primary goal in life, but more than that, I dreaded the task of boxing and unboxing these dolls and wished that they stayed in their boxes forever.
These days the Girls’ Day spirit of the season does not arrive unless I step up to the task of taking out the Ohinasama. My older sister in Japan inherited the nanadan kazari for her daughters, but whether they are out of boxes right now is unknown and I dare not ask.
When I pull out my own little Ohinasama and put it on a shelf, I think back to the time we decorated the nanadan kazari. We could never remember where all the dolls went, and it was fun figuring them out with my sisters. Many friends came over to our apartment to take pictures in front of the dolls because few people had such a display. Over the years, the Ohinasama evolved into a marker of the coming of spring and its subsequent gatherings.
Which brings me back to my Tea teacher’s tsutsujyawan. The winter tea bowl is just one example of many utensils that are taken out and put away throughout the year, just as with my family’s Ohinasama. Like Christmas lights in December, these symbols give support to the traditions that anchor us and provide stability and comfort. I think that perhaps the Way of Tea is also a training in resilience to repeat these traditions. Through the simple act of preparing tea, we are learning to step up and to bring people together. I’m keenly looking forward to resuming the practice with my teacher, which shouldn’t be too far away now. She has been hanging the lights patiently for over 50 years.
Tea consumption goes up 5 fold during the winter in my house. Hot tea for warmth is only part of the reason, because I’m also in pursuit of the delicious steam during these coldest months of the year. New Tokoname teapots by Yamada Yutaro for your tea and steam in Entoten shop today.
I have only been to the Japanese coastal prefecture of Fukui once when I was still a university student. Having plenty of time but not much money, I remember being excited discovering a cheap pop-up soup shop in a fish market where they served isaza, the small, clear fish that turns white when they are cooked whole in miso soup and served piping hot. That spring was the last time I got to taste the delicious isaza soup because like many regional dishes in Japan, you must be at the right place at the right time to enjoy them.
Fukui is most well known for its nature and dramatic coastal scenery, a nuclear power plant, the high-quality eyeglasses of Sabae City where the titanium type was first produced, and for the chopsticks of Obama City; the kind that are coated with urushi, with patterns created from eggshells and seashells. You may faintly remember that Obama City appeared in the international news in 2008 when the then senator and later 44th U.S. President found support and connections in unexpected faraway places.
You may also wonder why I brought simple cedar chopsticks from the region famous for urushi. It is because I find coated chopsticks slippery and difficult to pick up food, and I also prefer being able to feel the texture of wood that gets obscured by coating.
I was therefore very excited when I discovered Style of Japan (SOJ), a Japanese company that produces chopsticks in Obama, a region where 80% of coated chopsticks in Japan are produced. The local chopsticks are known as Wakasa Nuribashi, but almost none of them are completely made in Fukui. Wood milled abroad but processed in Japan can bare the label “made in Japan” and little is disclosed about where the imported wood comes from.
“We’ve been shifting to source local wood from Fukui for our most popular product lines, mainly by incorporating wood harvested from local forests through conservational thinning and management”, said Omori Kaz, the President and CEO of SOJ. Their popular “OEDO” line of coated chopsticks use wood certified by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), an international organization that promotes sustainable forest management.
This past summer, SOJ introduced the “Yu” line of cedar chopsticks through Makuake, a Japanese crowd funding website like gofundme. The project was fully funded and the chopsticks went into production. “Yu” chopsticks are made using traceable local cedar that are PEFC certified, and they also go further by providing certificates with information such as the age and size of the tree, the region and timing they were harvested, and the woodworker and nushi, the crafts specialist who applies the coating to the wood. “We want to make chopsticks with more transparency in the process, by utilizing local wood and by providing the names of woodworkers and nushi, and also the wood source and the coating material,” Omori san explained.
For me, Yu’s design and finish are its most profound and appealing aspects. The end of a Yu chopstick is square so that it sits comfortably between the index finger and the thumb. The section held with the fingers is octagonal, providing a comfortable grip. The tip is tapered to a circle making it easy to pick up the tiniest pieces of food. They are also coated with beeswax, which I think is the best type of protective coating for any wood used around the table that retains its texture, the most exquisite and often overlooked property of wood.
Omori san observed that, “as Japanese people now regularly use knives and forks [in addition to chopsticks], I believe that families that mainly use knives and forks will also start to regularly use chopsticks in the future. When that time comes, I hope that people will choose our chopsticks that are sourced responsibly and produces less carbon emissions.”
In Japan, people often use new chopsticks for their new year’s feast so I’m looking forward to opening a new pair of Yu on New Year’s Day that is just a few weeks away. And dream about Fukui’s isaza soup that I hope to taste once more when we can again travel freely. I wish you all a healthy and happy 2022!
A flower bud yet to open is more desirable to display in a Japanese tearoom than one already in bloom. When a camellia in a vase opened too quickly during practice, my tea teacher exclaimed, “it was closed half an hour ago but it’s already open!”
I find that it is uniquely Japanese to prefer a bud holding its potential within over the prominent display of a blossom in its prime. Ceramic artist Takahashi Nami’s work is an expression of this distinct Japanese aesthetic.
“I’m strongly attracted to the beautiful lines and forms of seeds, fruits, and flower buds found in nature,” Nami said, when I asked her about what inspires her work. Nami’s work is created using slip molds by casting plaster models in a ceramics technique called slip casting. “The forms and lines are of utmost importance in my work,” Nami continued, “and slip casting is best suited to create the desired forms and lines in porcelain.”
Nami grew up in Tokyo and vaguely wanted to become an artist at a very young age because she loved drawing. In 7th grade, her art teacher introduced her to ceramics when she became infatuated with clay and decided that she wanted to work as a ceramic artist in the future. She chose to attend Musashino Art University Junior College of Art and Design in Tokyo to study ceramics.
After graduating in 1997, Nami continued to study ceramic sculpture at the National School of Ceramic Art (Istituto Statale d’Arte per la Ceramica) in Faenza, Italy, for two years. “In the Japanese university I mostly learned to make tableware, but I was always interested in ceramic sculptures, so I decided to go to Italy,” she said. She made terracotta sculptures because she liked the clay’s texture and tones. “The colorful and unique forms and free expressions of Italian ceramics was so interesting,” she recalls.
Nami was also exposed to exhibits of prominent Japanese contemporary ceramic artists at the International Museum of Ceramics, which was right next door to her school in Faenza. She saw works by Raku Kichizaemon XV (Jikinyu) and Fukami Sueharu. “Seeing the work of Japanese ceramic artists while studying abroad made me realize the exceptional quality of Japanese ceramics,” Nami said. So after finishing her course in Faenza, Nami decided to return to Japan to establish her studio.
In Japan, Nami started working with porcelain because she had a yearning to work with white clay. She initially made sculptural installations for art galleries, but soon began creating tableware at the request of other galleries. “I made sculptures and tableware but avoided making teaware and tea bowls,” Nami recalls, “because I felt they were very noble types of wares, with many rules, and I was very afraid that people would be critical.”
But that all changed when Hayashiya Seizo (1928-2017) –the best description of Hayashiya’s work is to use Google translate on this page–a prominent tea master, ceramics expert, and former curator of Tokyo National Museum, became interested in Nami’s work and encouraged her to make tea bowls. Since then, Nami has been working to develop larger vessels for the tearoom while receiving advice from other tea masters.
This development in Nami’s work led to numerous accolades. In 2016, she was selected as The Best New Artist at the 63rd Japan Kogei Crafts Exhibition, and in 2018 was awarded Grand Prize at the 11th Tea Ceramics Exhibition at the Toki City Cultural Promotion Foundation. “To be encouraged by an expert like Hayashiya Sensei was a huge push forward,” Nami explained about her jump into tea ceramics. Through Hayashiya, Nami had the chance to hold some of the most famous historic tea bowls, including Muichimotsu by Raku Chojiro. Hayashiya encouraged Nami to see and touch teaware, insisting that they can only be understood by holding them by hand.
And the most surprising aspect of Nami’s work is the warmth of the matte porcelain with sculptural and crisp lines. “I borrow the capacity of soft white clay to express beauty found in nature,” Nami explained about the power of her material. Her work opened my eyes to the unexpected ability of porcelain to capture the tenderness of a budding flower. When you hold her work in your hands, I guarantee that you will be filled with anticipation for them to unfold.
Entoten’s craft pop-up at The Den on Laurel Street over Labor Day weekend was a huge success! Thank you for taking the time to come and meet Kazu and to support his work. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here are some photos of the event, taken by our friend Tomoko Matsubayashi.
I hope to organize another pop-up event at the Den this December, so look forward to seeing you then.
Thank you for participating in our Mingei Museum fundraiser by purchasing our special edition tea whisk by Tanimura Tango, and also by visiting, liking, and sharing my post.
Today, Entoten was able to donate $1150 to the museum.
Here are some beautiful photos taken by photographer Tomoko Matsubayashi at the pre-opening event of the museum, which I hope you’ll enjoy browsing.
If you ever have the opportunity, please come to San Diego!
Museums play a major role in defining a city, and as I await the reopening of the Mingei International Museum on September 3rd, 2021, I have never been as excited for San Diego as I am now.
The reason for my anticipation is because I dream of San Diego becoming a city where people deeply appreciate the social and spiritual significance of craft, and with the fresh energy of the revitalized Mingei Museum, it will become a destination for people in search of design and craft inspirations. I would also like to believe that it is no coincidence that I live in a city where the only Mingei museum outside of Japan is located.
The Mingei International’s management, headed by director Rob Sidner and aided by architect Jennifer Luce, designed the new museum with an open ground floor. It is intended to become a “living room” for Balboa Park where representative objects from the collection will always be on view, free of charge, for anyone to experience craft from many cultures. The space will also be equipped with a café, bistro, and shop: Becoming a museum that serves as a place for people to gather, eat, and drink or to simply be.
Featuring careful use of materials and excellent craftsmanship within the fabric of its design, the newly renovated museum will be an important addition to our local community and cultural identity. But the cost to pay for this grand transformation has yet to be fully funded, so, as an expression of community support for the museum, I asked 20th generation master tea whisk maker, Tanimura Tango in Nara, Japan, to create limited-edition tea whisks (chasen) in the color scheme of Mingei International Museum to organize a modest fundraiser.
Tanimura Tango’s tea whisk is one of the articles that the Mingei International Museum added to its collection in 2020. His shin-kazuho chasen was also included in the Mingei time capsule this January, together with select Museum publications and other undisclosed objects to commemorate the occasion. This makes his work the perfect symbol for this fundraiser.
To me, the tea whisk is an allegory for craft that connects us to people across history -over 500 years- and cultures whose collective labor has given it form. In a world that places so much value on speed and immediacy, it is also a powerful reminder that we should strive to build a culture that does not easily forget.
Please help me raise $1000 to donate to the museum that will include all the proceeds from the sale of these limited-edition tea whisks. The whisks are made of white bamboo in shin-kazuho style, a tried and tested design that is highly durable while creating fine foam on top of your matcha when used. It is the same style that is used by the grandmaster of the largest tea school in Japan.
Lastly, thank you very much for your support for my fundraiser. I hope that this blog post will entice you to include San Diego in the list of places that you will visit in the future.
Mingei International Museum reopens over Labor Day weekend
Free admission, September 3rd – 6th
For more information or to donate directly to the museum, please visit their website
Minnesota-based potter Mitch Iburg’s latest collection of work is quiet, with simple forms and surfaces. The work reminded me of the unglazed and mostly undecorated Yayoi period pottery in Japan’s ancient history, an era generally accepted to be between 300 BCE and 300 CE. When I told him this, Mitch reminisced about the time we first connected in 2014 and said, “[back then] my interest was more in the very aggressive and bold wood fire surfaces.”
I enjoy looking at Yayoi pottery. Whenever I visit Tokyo’s National Museum, I’m one of the few visitors pottering around in the dark and deserted first floor of the museum’s Heiseikan wing where there is a chronologically arranged exhibition of Japanese archeology. I have often wondered what caused the drastic change in the style of pottery from Jomon (14000-300 BCE), which was highly decorated with ostentatious forms, to Yayoi that is very minimal and often with no decorations.
“After firing in mostly electric kilns for a few years I get much more joy from the simple qualities of the natural clay,” Mitch explained. “Much of the historical work I find myself drawn to these days has a similar quality.” The Minneapolis Institute of Art has a collection of Chinese Han dynasty vessels, Korean Silla ware, African vessels, and several works from the Jomon and Yayoi periods, and Mitch says he discovers something new from them every time he visits the museum.
After learning what inspires Mitch, I realized that the draw of Mitch’s work and Yayoi pottery is the unspoken respect for the character of the surface. Mitch evolved to prefer the natural beauty of the exterior without obscuring it with ash, and perhaps the Yayoi people grew to enjoy the clay surface without decorations. Regardless of the era and background, people can identify simple, unpretentious beauty. And we can all share our fascination for the Earth and its history.