“15 seconds plus 60 years,” was the answer that Hamada is said to have given when asked about his quick and decisive finishing of the glazing process, something he did either with a perfunctory pass of his fingers, a brush sketch of a motif, or a ladle of glaze poured without hesitation. His finishing touch before firing his works may have looked rather careless, but it was backed by his 60 years of dedication to the craft. Take his sugar cane motif, for instance: it is the result of drawing the same design thousands if not tens of thousands of times. The motif was reduced to the simplest of abstractions. In every step of his creation, there was no wasted movement. This is the reason he was awarded a Living National Treasure status in 1955, the first year such a title was awarded, as the guardian of the skills of Japanese folk craft pottery, or Mingei Toki (民芸陶器).
The vase itself is the negative space of Hamada’s hands’ uncomplicated movements, which lead a lump of clay to become a strong and straightforward shape on his hand-spun wheel. On the surface, one can read the traces of his handiwork—how he ran his fingers up to stretch the body and neck upward, how he used his fingers to shape the lip, and how he trimmed the lower end of the body. Over the clay body, a modest clear glaze is applied. On top of that, a sugar cane motif is drawn effortlessly with a brush in iron oxide. A generously applied iron glaze with black and brown variation defines the shoulder with which the elements of this vase come together as a concise composition like an enso (a circle drawn with a single brush stroke) of Zen Buddhism.
Having lived and learned in numerous places—Kyoto, England, Okinawa and settling in Mashiko—Hamada adopted Mashiko’s local clay and glazes, incorporating it all into his style of mingei. To Hamada, being a mingei potter was not about producing one-off artworks or mechanically mass-produced goods. Rather, it was about working with clay endemic to its location and using what was available around it for the glaze. He dedicated his life to this cyclical process of making folk craft, and by following these principles, he naturally achieved an aesthetic of warm and simple craft, which would forever be associated with Japanese folk craft pottery and the honored local materials of the town of Mashiko.
Learn more about Hamada Shoji.