Posts tagged Japan
Introducing Ryuji Iwasaki
Beautifully crystalized glaze 

Beautifully crystalized glaze 

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Award winning craftsman Ryuji Iwasaki was born in Osaka in 1980, where he still lives and works in his studio/home, shown below. The contemporary and simple design of the house tells us a lot about his unique point of view for the traditional crafts.

He has won more than a dozen crafts awards all over Japan.

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“I create something from an undefined shape and make an object the user will find special and unique. I find great satisfaction in the bond this stimulates between the creator and the end user.”


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Creation:

I’ve always liked to make things since childhood, but not something standard or mass-produced like a plastic model. I’d rather make something without plans or instructions, which I can use to express my vision freely. I believe that is the key to becoming a potter.

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Wheel:

When you see videos or photos of potters, they are turning the wheel. Some potters don’t like that part so much, but I really enjoy it. It takes me to new places while I create.

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Color:

I think color is the most important element. The color of the ceramic is determined not simply by the type of glaze, but also by the proportion of the mixture, its flow, and firing. You become an alchemist by combining a very complex mix of all these elements and make one nuanced look. Therefore, I will spend the rest of my career searching for the various elements – call it a recipe if you like – on a quest for beautiful combinations of colors.

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Happiness:

The most exciting moment during the creation process is when I open the kiln. Even if I have a very clear expectation of what I think the image may look like, I never know for sure if it turns out the way I expect. It goes the way I expected sometimes, and fails sometimes. But time to time, it turns out more than I was hoping for, and I fall in love with the exact work I made myself.

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Dream:

When I create something, I am always inspired and fascinated by the depth and beauty of Japanese traditional crafts and ceramics. I want the world to know and experience the depth and the charm that I cannot express by the words. It would be great if I can inspire the world through my work.

 

Encounter with the new talent
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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.

Oldest shrine in Arita village

Oldest shrine in Arita village

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Traditional Japanese New Year decoration 

Traditional Japanese New Year decoration 

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.

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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.

Experiencing a memorable holiday in kyushu
Year of the dog by Kayo Kokubun

Year of the dog by Kayo Kokubun

Traditional Kyushu New Year Appetizer with Mountain veggie

Traditional Kyushu New Year Appetizer with Mountain veggie

A bit late, but we wanted very much to post some belated words and images about our trip to Kyushu to celebrate the New Year Holiday in Japan. A quick, very quick primer: In Japan, New Year is a three day event from Japan 1-3. And, of course there are preparations that go into making all of the foods and festivities associated with Oshogatsu. And pretty much all businesses are closed. Yes, we knew this going in.

We took a shinkansen to Fukuoka and spent two days and nights exploring the vibrancy that this now third-largest city in Japan exudes. This was during the two days leading up to Oshogatsu. Fukuoka had a lot of energy and we really loved our time there.

At Shrine in Hakata

At Shrine in Hakata

From there, we went to Nagasaki -- a place we have wanted to visit for a very long time, and it was akin to venturing into a home away from home in another world. It was all and more than we expected. We knew that many places would be closed because of the Holiday, but we found  much to do and see and explore and soak up. We spent New Years day with two longtime friends of Ria’s in the hills above Nagasaki with all of the food that symbolizes and makes New Year so special in Japan - osechi. It was an amazing afternoon and evening, eating and drinking sake with Ria’s old friends and my new ones. The food was amazing, the sake delicious and the company perfect. It was hard to say goodbye.

For our last few days in Kyushu, we ventured into the countryside, which required me to drive for the first time in Japan. I’ve been there a few dozen times, but never had to drive, but I grew up around Detroit in Michigan, so I’ve done my share of driving -- it was just that everything is opposite. Once you get your brain to think opposite, you’re fine. At least it was for me.

On our next to last day, we went to Arita in Saga Prefecture, which is famous for ceramics, especially porcelain with elaborate painting -- likely an influence from China and Korea as Nagasaki was the only port open to foreigners in the Edo Period and before. The town was empty. It was like walking on a movie set depicting Japan 100 years ago.

We don’t want to give too much away on this post about this part of the trip, but we literally stumbled on a budding artist and great guy working in his closed shop who motioned us in. We spent the whole afternoon there.

Thoughts and wishes for many at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka

Thoughts and wishes for many at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka

His name is Tsukasa Momota. We will talk more about our time with him and introduce his works in our next post. Stay tuned.

 

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From there, we went to Nagasaki -- a place we have wanted to visit for a very long time, and it was akin to venturing into a home away from home in another world. It was all and more than we expected. We knew that many places would be closed because of the Holiday, but we found  much to do and see and explore and soak up. We spent New Years day with two longtime friends of Ria’s in the hills above Nagasaki with all of the food that symbolizes and makes New Year so special in Japan - osechi. It was an amazing afternoon and evening, eating and drinking sake with Ria’s old friends and my new ones. The food was amazing, the sake delicious and the company perfect. It was hard to say goodbye.

For our last few days in Kyushu, we ventured into the countryside, which required me to drive for the first time in Japan. I’ve been there a few dozen times, but never had to drive, but I grew up around Detroit in Michigan, so I’ve done my share of driving -- it was just that everything is opposite. Once you get your brain to think opposite, you’re fine. At least it was for me.

On our next to last day, we went to Arita in Saga Prefecture, which is famous for ceramics, especially porcelain with elaborate painting -- likely an influence from China and Korea as Nagasaki was the only port open to foreigners in the Edo Period and before. The town was empty. It was like walking on a movie set depicting Japan 100 years ago.

We don’t want to give too much away on this post about this part of the trip, but we literally stumbled on a budding artist and great guy working in his closed shop who motioned us in. We spent the whole afternoon there.

His name is Tsukasa Momota. We will talk more about our time with him and introduce his works in our next post.

 
At Yanagibashi Market in Fukuoka

At Yanagibashi Market in Fukuoka

Motsu nabe, staple in Fukuoka

Motsu nabe, staple in Fukuoka

Saga light snow strawberry

Saga light snow strawberry

On the Famous Road of Light at at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka...Well-Known for the beautiful sunsets.

On the Famous Road of Light at at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka...Well-Known for the beautiful sunsets.

Matcha Storms New York!
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We recently introduced a Matcha story in Bon Appetit magazine on our Japan Suite Facebook site. It seems now that nealy everyone is talking about the wonders of Matcha mania as evidenced by this Huffington Post article — and also discovering where to go to enjoy it here in New York City

Matcha bar in Brooklyn has been enjoying a lot of pub in the media lately, and newer Matcha cafes are popping up every month. We Manhattaners can also enjoy great authentic Matcha at places like Ippodo and at a new tea room opened by Satoko Souheki Mori in the great Japanese furniture store, Miya Shoji

Matcha is a powdered green tea, so we are literally drinking the whole green tea leaves that contain health-giving antioxidants, and “anti-aging” catechins as well as providing Matcha’s “relaxing effect” due to the L-Theanine contained in the leaves.

Matcha does have caffeine, but it releases its effect slowly over time not like coffee that and other caffeinated drinks that hit you very quickly. So, we enjoy the calm alertness all day long with one or two cups of Matcha a day. 

I have been taking Tea Ceremony classes, learning how to serve and enjoy Matcha properly in a more ceremonial manner, which is certainly different from grabbing Matcha latte at a cafe. However wherever you get your Matcha fix on, the core spirit of it is simply to enjoy the tea.

Now, if your neighborhood doesn’t have a Matcha cafe, can you make a cup of Matcha at home? Of course. We now offer Matcha whisks and scoops at our store. We particularly love the 100 tine whisk that makes creating the finest foam easy - even for a beginner. The subtle combination of the bitter taste with slight sweetness is sure to satisfy and make you happy.
Please let us know if you have any questions, we would love to share information about making and enjoying a great cup of Matcha…!

Infographics curtesy of © Epic Matcha 

The Simple Truth
Notice Forest by Yuken Teruya ©Japan Suite

Notice Forest by Yuken Teruya ©Japan Suite

We just visited Yuken Teruya’s new show, The Simple Truth, at Josee Bienvenu gallery in NYC. Teruya is a New York based artist from Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan. His works utilizes ordinary objects to reveal underlying problems of our society.  

One of his most recognized pieces is a series of paper cut-out trees that seem to be growing inside paper bags. These trees may appear fragile, but can also look as if they are supporting the bag. This symbolizes the full circle of a tree that became paper, and then a commercial bag, and then the bag symbolically returns to the original tree.

Here is the artist’s statement. "Uncovering small metamorphosis in familiar objects is an exercise which enables one to turn routine into moments of significance, making us more aware of the indefinite alterations in our surroundings."

Another exhibit showed a series of New York Times newspapers depicting tragedy or conflict around the world on their front pages. However, “growing” or “sprouting” out of the assorted troubling news were trees and flowers that had been laboriously cut from the photos on the front page and folded to stand up as if growing in a field or forest. These papers, which came from trees, were used to depict and report chaotic world events--but in the hands of Teruya, they became an intriguing garden of life emerging from tales of death and destruction.

There is also a series of newspapers from his hometown in Okinawa reporting on a massive local protest against the U.S. Air Force there --  with the theme “It’s about me, It’s about you. There is a truth bigger than geopolitics.”  Stencil cut into each paper is a phrase, written in Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, Georgian, English and Basque. Teruya has used Okinawan traditional patterns called Bingata Kimono to express his messages in the past. While it is talking about a long history of occupation and friction with Japan and USA, the art piece is calm and poetic.

In addition, his other work, Forest Inc, is also on view now at 601 ArtSpace here in New York until April 25.

Minding My Own Business by Yuken Teruya ©Japan Suite

Minding My Own Business by Yuken Teruya ©Japan Suite

 ©Japan Suite

 ©Japan Suite

It's about me, it's about you. ©Japan Suite

It's about me, it's about you. ©Japan Suite

©Japan Suite

©Japan Suite

Rebirth and Regeneration: Salt of the Art

Motoi Yamamoto has created numerous art installations around the world during the past several years using only salt.

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Ever since he lost his sister to cancer, Yamamoto has been exploring different mediums of expression to overcome his sorrow. One day, he thought of using salt, which symbolizes purification in Japanese culture -- it is even used as a part of funeral ceremonies.

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His exhibition, Meikyu (Labyrinth), took 250 kilograms (more than 500 pounds) of salt to complete. He worked meticulously for 10-20 hours a day to finish this large installation piece. Though its size is very large and could appear overwhelming, it gives off an air of calm tranquility.

Salt has very special meanings for Japanese. For example, you will see Sumo wrestlers throw salt before the match. In ancient times, Japanese purified themselves by dipping in the sea, and that ritual evolved into using salt for purification or cleansing of the spirit—-and to ward off evil spirits. Japanese believe that salt is essential for life energy, and it is considered a symbol of life. Salt contents in body fluid are considered to be similar to that of seawater, and many cultures feel that this mirrors a belief that life came from the ocean.

On the last day of his exhibition, visitors are asked to help in breaking down the installation, collecting the salt in a bag and encouraged to spread it in their chosen sea. This helps complete the cycle of life.

Yamamoto used to feel sad about the end of show. But, once this ritual to visit the beach with people who experienced his art started, he now appreciates the symbolism, and he can smile on the last day.

We look forward to seeing his more of his ever-evolving works of art.

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山本基(やまもともとい)さん、塩を使ったインスタレーションアートを世界各地で展開し、日本人にとっての清めを意味する塩をいろいろなかたちで紹介して来られています。最愛の妹を癌でなくし、それを乗り越える過程でいろいろな表現を探していた山本さん。ある日、お葬式でお清めに使われる塩を素材に制作を考えた事がはじまりだとか。

写真で紹介された作品「迷宮」では250kgもの塩を使って1日10-20時間の根気のいる作業を繰り返します。圧巻の大きさであるにかかわらず、静謐が漂います。

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古来より海に身を沈めて穢れを清めてきた日本では、お清めに塩を撒く慣習があります。塩は人間の生命エネルギーに不可欠なものであり、生命力の象徴。体液中の塩分と海水の塩分とは非常に似ていると言われており、まるで人類が海から発生した事の証明のようです。塩は生命の循環の象徴ともいえます。

インスタレーションの期間が終わるとビジターが作品を自由にくずして袋に入れて持ち帰り、それぞれが好きな海に戻すというのが慣例だそう。山本氏は以前は寂しい気持ちになっていた展覧会の終わりを、観客と一緒に塩を集めるイベントで終える事により、逆に笑顔で迎える事ができるようになりました、と語っています。

常に変わり続ける山本さんの作品の、今後の進化を見守っていくのがとても楽しみです。

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Tanabata — Story of Two Star-crossed Lovers

Today is a special day all over Japan where people celebrate Tanabata, the Star Festival. Tanabata is celebrated to commemorate the romantic story of two lovers represented by the stars Vega and Altair who are only allowed to meet each other once a year as long as the skies are clear. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, which is July 7th in the modern calendar. Some places in Japan celebrate Tanabata on August 7th in accordance with the older Chinese calendar, which is where the legend originated. The most famous of all the Tanabata festivals is celebrated in Sendai on August 7th, but most of Japan recognizes Tanabata today (July 7th).

On Tanabata, people write wishes on small pieces of colored paper called tanzaku and hang them on bamboo trees. These become beautiful wish trees. On the following day, the decorated trees are floated on a river or in the ocean and burned as an offering. There are many celebrations all over Japan, which also include parades, food stalls, colorful decorations, and fireworks.

Tanabata originated from a Chinese legend called Qixi and was brought to Japan in the 8th century. This is the story of two lovers. Princess Orihime, the seamstress, wove beautiful clothes by the heavenly river, represented by the Milky Way. Because Orihime worked so hard weaving beautiful clothes, she became sad and despaired of ever finding love. Her father, who was a God of the heavens, loved her dearly and arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the cow herder who lived on the other side of the Milky Way. The two fell in love instantly and married. Their love and devotion was so deep that Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to wander the heavens. 

Orihime’s father became angry and forbade the lovers to be together, but Orihime pleaded with him to allow them to stay. He loved his daughter, so he decreed that the two star-crossed lovers could meet once a year--on the 7th day of the 7th month if Orihime returned to her weaving. On the first day they were to be reunited, they found the river (Milky Way) to be too difficult to cross. Orihime became so despondent that a flock of magpies came and made a bridge for her. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies will not come, and the two lovers must wait another year to be reunited, so Japanese always wish for good weather on Tanabata. There are many variations of this story, but this version is the most widely held.

We hope for clear skies on Tanabata so the lovers can always be reunited.

市中繁栄七夕祭 by Hiroshige

市中繁栄七夕祭 by Hiroshige

Tanabata Festival in Edo (Hiroshige, 1852)

Tanabata Festival in Edo (Hiroshige, 1852)

Tanabata festival in Tokyo

Tanabata festival in Tokyo