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Issui Pottery (Yomitan Village) Offers a New Style of Okinawan Ceramics that Blends in Naturally with Your Daily Living
post : 2019.06.18 06:00
The bright colors are definitely tropical, but they are also very different from the Yachimun pottery (traditional Okinawan pottery) we can find at the Kita Gama in the pottery village in Yomitan Village and at Tsuboya in Naha City. These pottery pieces have a style that meet various tastes, including Japanese, western, Asian, and Ryukyu. They have a sharp impression but at the same time, have a simple beauty to them. These original pieces are created by Shinya Takahata of Issui Pottery, located in Yomitan Village.
“When I first became independent after apprenticing, most of the pieces I made were more like folk art pieces, using traditional motifs like arabesque designs, Sansai colors and such,” says Takahata-san. When I looked around at the pieces, he was right. There were a number of works like plates and Makai (rice bowls) with the Tobikanna technique, a traditional design with numerous engravings that looked to be marked with a sharp edge. It seems his original style took shape about four or five years since he started up his own studio
“I place value in cutting through to a new world and level in my work. There may be a sense that everything’s been done before and so it’s not easy, but when something new is created, that joy is just an amazing feeling. I’m lucky if I come across something like that once a year, but when I do, at that moment when I think, “this is it!” that’s when I feel so happy.” He showed me a piece as he explained this, which at first looked like a lacquerware piece. On a base coloring that looked similar to wipe-lacquering, there were oriental style flower designs. This piece looked like it could have traveled through Turkey on the Silk Road to Europe.
This flat plate has a retro pop design, like something that was created in the Showa period. “There’s an old shopping arcade with a real Showa feeling in Okinawa City called the Koza Ichibangai. Up until recently, I had a studio there. This piece was inspired by the atmosphere that lingers there.” Like the lacquer-like piece introduced above, this is also an original design, a new series using decals that he ordered from a printing company.
A world that’s truly his own is shown in the piece above. Since he was a young boy, Takahata-san loved insects. The designs of insects on this cool dish were created with reference to the specimen collection he acquired while in Southeast Asia. It has a tasteful, mannish touch. “Sometimes it takes over a year to complete a piece. I may have to try and try again to get the color that I want. I’ll think of other ways to do it, and try it again and again.” For Takahata-san, new pieces completed after all this must be like his own flesh and blood.
Next he showed me an area with his works of Southeast Asian style of high-fired unglazed ceramics that he created in Thailand, where he built himself a wood kiln. “It was actually unglazed, high-fired pottery that first moved me. Pieces made with this technique have the real texture of the clay on the surfaces, untouched by glazing.” The pieces he showed me took shape after he came across with this style of pottery, he said. Pieces baked in wood kilns have that unique expression of something very special, something that’s one of a kind. That somewhat muddy or crude essence brought out by the flames and clay creates a unique piece of art.
Takahata-san, who is well on his way in building his very own artistic world in Okinawa, first arrived on Okinawa in 1999. In those days, there was a ferry departing from Osaka for Taiwan via Okinawa. When Takahata-san was on the ferry, there were a few other fellow travelers on board, so it didn’t take long to make friends. One of them was a person from Okinawa, and after they got off the ferry at the port in Naha, they took him around to various places. That’s how he came to love Okinawa.
On his second visit to Okinawa, he stayed at a guesthouse in Naha. He was strolling around in the city and happened to come across the streets of Tsuboya. He spotted a flyer posted on a pole that said, “Apprentice Wanted”. He learned that even without any experience he could acquire pottery skills, and through various chance meetings, he began his apprenticeship at a kiln in Yomitan Village. During those days, he worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, and still was far from making 100,000 yen a month. Despite that, he continued to learn the basics of traditional Yachimun pottery, and successfully became independent in 2005, and founded Issui Pottery.
After graduating from a technical junior college, he worked as a machine maintenance staff in a factory owned by a large paper-manufacturing company. At times, his work required him to work alongside large roller machines where with one mistake, he could end up losing his life. He says in hindsight though, that was where he learned the difficulties as well as the pride behind creating something. Later, with various thoughts in mind, he quit the company and set on a journey, first to India and Nepal, then to Thailand and various other Southeast Asian countries.
When he worked at a factory assembling video cameras, he always felt the joys in creating things. “When I was working there, I’d think, I made 50 yesterday, but today, I was able to assemble 60. It was easy to see the fruits of my efforts in that job because I could see the creations, count the results, and it gave me a real perspective on my tasks,” says Takahata-san. He sounds like a genuine creator.
“In Okinawa, there are still relocating here and starting up businesses in making things. But unlike before, there are more and more people who give up.” Such talk is not so rare these days. Takahata-san reflects that his experience he gained before he moved to Okinawa, learning things and acquiring skills, and his passion for creating things were the foundation for him to get through the period of apprenticeship. He says that it’s not easy to get through years of learning simply based on hopes and admiration. These are the stories behind the handmade goods, untold by simply looking at them. Going around and meeting and talking with each of these creators, I saw a world that I couldn’t see before.
*Issui Pottery works are available at the Ryukyu Mingei (Folk Art) Center in Naha (https://www.rm-c.co.jp), CALiN Café in Nago (https://www.facebook.com/pg/calinamie/), Ryuyu Zakka Aosora in Miyako (http://aosoragr.com), Kayak Yaeyama Kobo in Ishigaki (https://www.facebook.com/kayak.ishigaki/), and others. Please refer to the Issui Pottery website for more details.
Address: 18 Nagahama, Yomitan Village, Nakagami, Okinawa
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda