By Patricia Belyea
KYOTO JP As makers, we all love to see the studios of others. In eastern Kyoto, the home and studio of Kawai Kanjiro (1896-1966) is open for the public to see where this Japanese artist lived and worked. Known mostly for his pottery, Kawai-san was also a sculptor, calligrapher, philosopher, and writer.
Kawai-san designed his home and worked with his brother, an architect, to build his vision. With an unassuming street facade, the spacious home is a cross between a sturdy farmhouse and a breezy modern home. Heavy beams, dark patinated floors, and rustic furniture contrast with an airy two-story central hearth and shoji-screened panels that open to a verdant courtyard.
Behind Kawai-san’s studio looms an enormous climbing kiln with eight chambers. Big enough to fire hundreds of pieces at a time, the kiln was used by Kawai-san and many of the neighboring potters. Fired every couple of months, a team of professionals were hired to feed the kiln four truckloads of pine wood over a 36- to 48-hour time period. The workmen kept flames licking out of the sides and the top of the kiln, maintaining a high temperature of 1300º C.
Kawai-san was one of the founders of mingei, the Japanese folk art movement that began in the mid-1920s. By that time he had abandoned chemical glazes and had adopted glazes made from natural sources. This new direction produced earthy tones of rust, brown and blue on his ceramics.
A man who respected simplicity and unpretentiousness, Kawai-san declined all honors offered to him—including the designation of Living National Treasure. Also Kawai-san did not sign his work as he stated, "My work itself is my best signature."
Here’s a quote from Kawai-san that was included in the booklet We Do Not Work Alone by Yoshiko Uchida. He said, “Anyone can make beautiful things. The capacity for expression and creation is in everyone, but not all of us realize this.”
If you make it to Kyoto, I hope you’ll visit this singular place. There's no need to hurry through Kawai-san's home. Instead slow down and imagine meeting a lively man in farmer clothes who’s completely down-to-earth. Kawai-san might be the most favorite person you meet on your trip!
Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum
Gojozaka Higashioji Nishiiru
Open Tue-Sun, 10am to 5pm
Closed Mondays and holidays
Entrance fee: 9¥