One of the important figures in Japanese studio pottery is Shoji Hamada (1894 – 1978). He was also one of the four key contributors to Mingei Japanese folk art movement and was designated as one of the first National Living Treasure awardees.
Here are his words — “My pottery found its way in Kyoto, started in England, learned in Okinawa, and was brought up in Mashiko.” Let’s look into his life.
He was born in present Kawasaki City, near Tokyo, and studied ceramics at Tokyo Institute of Technology, where he met Kanjiro Kawai, another future Mingei contributor. These two young men went to Kyoto and worked together at the former body of Kyoto Municipal Institute of Industrial Technology and Culture, where they experimented on glazes using various minerals for four years. They came to know Soetsu Yanagi and Kenkichi Tomimoto, other Mingei contributors, while visiting potteries and exhibitions in various places in Japan.
Hamada was impressed by ceramic artwork by Bernard Leach, a British potter who was then in Japan with Soetsu Yanagi, and he wrote to Leach. They became good friends, and when Leach went back to England in 1920, they went together. Hamada was twenty-six years old then. They started a new pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall with a financial support by a local philanthropist. They produced earthenware dishes, slip decorated, lead-glazed tableware and so on in their three-chamber, wood-burning climbing kiln, which was Hamada’s start as an artist. He made a great success at an exhibition in London.