As promised in our previous blog, continuing with our visit to Kyushu and especially Saga Prefecture and our visit with up and coming porcelain artist Tsukasa Momota.
We arrived in Arita, a town famous for ceramics on January 3, right in the midst of the three day New Year Holiday in Japan. This does not mean outdoor festivities. It means most people are at home with family and friends, relaxing, eating great food and maybe having a glass or two of sake, usually from the region. Wherever you are in Japan, you can’t go wrong with the seasonal food and sake.
We strolled the streets of the picturesque old Japanese town, and as I wrote previously, it felt like being on a movie set and we were the unwitting, but very interested actors. One Japanese native and one gaijin (me) who has been to Japan many times. We didn’t go into this ignorantly -- we knew most of the town may be closed, but we also knew Arita is famous for a certain type of ceramics - porcelain. And this is porcelain painted in various colors, often blue and likely inspired many centuries ago by artisans from Korea and probably China as well. This particular type of porcelain became known as Arita-yaki. It gained fame when European traders, who were the first to be allowed into Japan, through Nagasaki (the only open port to “Westerners” in the Edo period) brought them back to Europe.
So, as we walked the streets, we found a few places open and admired the crafts. As we walked, we happened to look into a storefront window and saw somebody working. He looked up and motioned us in. That was our introduction to Tsukasa Momota, a Fukuoka native who spend several years in northern Florida pursuing his love of surfing. Yup, we just happened to find a local Japanese guy who moved to Florida to study art and fell in love with surfing and antiques.
Thus began Tsukasa Momota’s journey into traditional Japanese crafts. Or, maybe I should say, it evolved as many would argue that surfing is a form of art in itself. We spent a really enjoyable afternoon talking with Momota-san, hearing his story and telling ours, while he showed us his works and served us oshogatsu delicacies with very good regional sake.
Arita craftspeople have been making a concerted effort to reinvent Arita-yaki to make it more contemporary and have recently shown here in New York and around the world. Momota-san prefers to take a slightly different approach. His work is more subtle, evolving without losing the beauty and usefulness of the centuries of work that his forbearers created.
We are now featuring his works here. Please take a look.