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Yamamoto Tōshū: living national treasure for Bizen ware


Yamamoto Tōshū (1906-1994) was a Japanese potter certified as a Living National Treasure (Important Intangible Cultural Asset Holder) from Inbe, Bizen City, Okayama.


Yamamoto was also a figure that supported the recovery of Bizen ware after the Second World War, along with Kaneshige Tōyō and Fujiwara Kei, also known for being Living National Treasures for Bizen ware.


Yamamoto Tōshū The Man
When it comes to Tōshū, the keyword is chatō (containers for tea), since he had a large number of outstanding chatō works.


At the age of 15, Yamamoto Tōshū was accepted as an apprentice at a pottery shop in Inbe. Although he was 27 when he went independent as a Bizen ware artisan, his skill with a potter’s wheel was so superior that he was known as the “potter’s wheel magician”. This skill led him to create superior chatō works.


The reason that he was so talented with his skills on the potter’s wheel was largely due to the fact that he was driven and passionate about study. At the time, there was a book called Taisho Meikikan (“The Taisho Encyclopedia of Famous Ware”), which cost about the same price as a luxury car. The Taisho Meikikan was a book written about “the tea ceremony way”, such as tea equipment and rehearsals.


In order to make chatō, Yamamoto purchased the Taisho Meikikan and did his research.


Later, he went on to study under a potter in Kyoto named Kusube Yaichi, where he learned about glaze (the glass-like substance that covers the surface of pottery) and refined his skills.


What Tōshū was shooting for was the chatō from the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603) – the era in which the world of tea ceremonies was in the spotlight and hitting its peak. The Bizen ware from the Azuchi-Momoyama Period has such a good reputation that there is a word, Momoyama Bizen.


So, Tōshū, being influenced by the first Living National Treasure for Bizen ware, Kaneshige Tōyō, sought after Momoyama Bizen, using his unparalleled skills with the potter’s wheel to turn out unique chatō. Afterwards, he would receive great acclaim as a Bizen ware artisan, being certified as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset Holder in Okayama Prefecture.


In 1979, he dedicated his work, Nagare Goma Sanpo Hanairi, to Japan’s most traditional and historic shrine, Ise Shrine.


The following year, he was quite active internationally as well, including his tribute of a flower vase to King Juan Carlos I of Spain and his queen, Sofia of Spain


It was finally acknowledged that "Tōshū of the Chatō's" skill was the best there was after he turned 80 years old. In 1987 he was designated as a Living National Treasure, and his chatō abilities were certified as a treasure of Japan.

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