The Einin Tsubo, Chapter 1: Prelude to a Myth

Foreword and Chapter One
A Prelude to a Myth

The Einin Tsubo 1.jpg

For many years, I had wanted to write about the Einin Tsubo. Unfortunately, each attempt ended in failure. The reasons for this are plenty.

One reason was a lack of time to properly research the subject (this continues to elude me), and another was an uncertainty towards my own ability to write about the Einin Tsubo with enough eloquence and faithfulness towards the subject matter to give it the proper treatment that it so rightfully deserves.

I remain uncertain as to whether there is a "proper" way to write about this sensationally fugacious subject, and the Einin Tsubo to this very day continues to abound in a plume of fabrication and libel. Will the truth out? Perhaps more fascinating than adjudicating the colours of truth are the characters that colour the tale itself. I find it is extremely easy to become lazy with protagonist depictions and assign them to becoming mere caricatures, that there are merely foils to one another, polar opposites, as different as night and day, sun and moon -- the brilliant culpability of Kato Tokuro, the insipid gullibility of Koyama Fujio, the greedy arrogance of Tokuro, the untainted innocence of Koyama. Yet I would like to stress and make clear within the following story is that such one-sided parsimony hardly does justice in portraying and unlocking the complexities that simmer within the two lead characters. Man is known for carrying the weight of contradictions within one’s self, and these two men were hardly any different. In each lies the seven seas of lies and truth, and none are infallible, as are none more innocent than the other. And what of Kato (Okabe) Mineo? Victim or culprit? Honest angel or shrewd strategist?

In any event, I only wish to assume the role of the storyteller and eschew that of the arbiter, and hope that the following dramatic essays (which will be published within this blog in separate and somewhat sporadic monthly instalments that I estimate will end with 10 or so chapters) will be read with a sympathetic pinch of salt. Most importantly, and perhaps with the hope of exonerating my own biases, I wish to make claim that the onus lies with the reader to discern between the plethora of lies and truth that shroud the Einin Tsubo in both mystery and myth.

* Disclaimer *

The following chapters are narrative fiction (or is it called dramatised non-fiction?) based on a true story with researched facts taken and supplemented from the book by Matsui Kakushin entitled Einin no Tsubo -Gisaku no Tanmatsu, published by Asahi Shimbun Publishing in 1990. By interpreting and re-organizing the telling of the events by the author through the kaleidoscope of fiction, I have taken the liberty in creating a dramatization of the events and characters pertaining to the Einin Tsubo Incident. In no way do I lay claim to any of the assertions and research laid down by Mr Matsui, and I wish to make clear that the following chapters are inspired in full by the work of Mr Matsui. Factual credit, therefore, is given to Mr Matsui and his meticulous work in researching this particularly nebulous subject, except in areas where facts have been added for narrative coherence. The overwhelming majority of the narrative and the sequence of events are predominantly my own making.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited/Yufuku Gallery
September 28th, 2009

Chapter One
Prelude to a Myth -- The Nezu Gifts

February snow fell softly upon the elegant garden grounds of the Nezu Museum in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo. It is 1943, and the Japanese army, already demoralized by a string of defeats in the South Pacific, had recently been decimated in Guadalcanal. This particular museum was hardly oblivious to the workings of the war, as the Doolittle Raid, the first air bombing of Tokyo, had nearly punctured the institution on April 18th, 1942. The Nezu was in the midst of displaying an exhibition of exquisite Chinese celadon on this fateful day, and Mitsuoka Tadanari, a young curator who would eventually become a leading member of the Japan Ceramic Society, panicked as the bombs struck at Tokyo’s heart. The artworks were unscathed, yet many of the citizens of Tokyo were hardly as lucky.

If piety had a Japanese incarnation, Koyama Fujio (b.1900 – d. 1975) was it. A third-generation devout Christian of Quaker affiliation who grew up going to Sunday school, Koyama in 1943, often dressed in tie and tweed, was not only an advisor to the Nezu Museum, but was also the editor of the prestigious bimonthly ceramic journal “Tohji” published by the Toyo Toji Kenkyusho (Oriental Ceramics Research Institute) and a researcher at the Tokyo Imperial Museum (the present Tokyo National Museum). Koyama at the time was straight as an arrow, diligent and devoted, studiously passionate when deep in research. He was a potter/scholar with a knowledge and vision beyond his years, and was a formidable authority to be reckoned with. Ultimately, the Koyama of then was a very different man from the incomprehensible drunk which devoured and overshadowed the latter years of his life.

Koyama Fujio.jpg
(Koyama Fujio)

Koyama’s personal story may be summed up by a single word, tsubo (jar), a word he himself so aptly composed in calligraphy shortly before his death. Little did Koyama know in 1943 that the Einin Tsubo was one of those utterly magnificent, beautiful yet ominous works of art that would become the Pandora’s Box of his own self-destruction. We do not know or realize these things at such times, but upon closer, careful inspection, one would discover that the strings of our tightrope were already unravelling right before our very eyes.

Kani-Kosen, or the Crab Cannery Ship, was an influential Socialist novel written by Kobayashi Kitaji in 1929 which idealized the class struggles of the proletariat (workers on ship) versus the bourgeoisie (owners of said ship), and which recently has seen a revival in popularity, in particular due to the increasing inequalities between the supposedly “middle” class structures of our modern age. Socialism was in true vogue at the time of Kobayashi’s novel, and Koyama himself, tickled by socialistic tendencies during the rise of Taisho Democracy in 1921, renounced his studies at the present-day Hitotsubashi University and boarded a crab cannery ship off the coast of Kamchatka Peninsula in 1923, perhaps to feel the pain of the working classes. On board, the educated Koyama served as a translator between the Japanese and Russian crewmembers, and the sturdily built and strapping lad, a health fanatic and sports aficionado, would even overpower the muscular Russian sailors in bouts of sumo.

The Kanto Great Earthquake in September of 1923 would provoke Koyama to cancel his 3-month infatuation for an ascetically difficult working-class existence, and the young man would soon return to Tokyo as a volunteer worker to help victims of the disaster, perhaps also to satisfy his Christian beliefs of self-sacrifice and service to society. This insatiable idealism for a “greater cause” would lead Koyama to enlist in the military, and it was there that the impressionable Koyama would be introduced to the works of Rosanin and Chinese ceramics by his colleague, the aristrocratic Okabe Chosei, born the wealthy son of former feudal lord Okabe Nagahiro.

Inspired by the beauty of Japanese and Chinese ceramics, Koyama headed straight to the library. Night and day, he would study the histories of ceramics from different ages, and view the photographic images of masterworks. Yet mere knowledge was not enough to satisfy his voracious hunger for beautiful objects, and he quickly decided to begin an apprenticeship at Yano Toto’s kiln in Seto in 1925, and soon thereafter, with Kyoto’s Mashimizu Zoroku II to create works of his own liking. The following year, Koyama opened his first independent kiln in Kyoto near the kiln of Ishiguro Munemaro (1893-1968), the future Living National Treasure. They would remain friends for life.

Yet Koyama’s fledgling fascination with creating pottery soon dwindled, perhaps due to his inability to throw and glaze works with the prowess of his Kyoto contemporaries. Rather, Koyama realized that his raison d’etre was not in creating ceramics (of which he would return to in the latter stages of his life), but in the archaeological research and excavation of ancient and medieval pottery. Returning to Tokyo in 1930, Koyama would become a member of the Oriental Ceramics Research Institute and begin a productive and prominent career as an archaeologist/art historian. His studies would bring forth a flurry of important articles on the subject of Chinese ceramics in particular, and after joining the Tokyo Imperial Museum in 1941, Koyama would travel to China in the midst of the Sino-Japanese War and make the most important discovery of his career -- the unearthing of the Song Dynasty white porcelain kiln at Ding Yao.

Koyama built the foundations for scientific research of Japanese and East Asian ceramics that placed prime precedence on evidence. In other words, archaeological findings such as shards were considered by Koyama to be the greatest infallible evidence of a certain style or ceramic period, and it were shards which revealed the skills and techniques of peoples and cultures past. His research would influence a legion of academics, and many of his scientific findings live on today.

The already-influential Koyama, then, trembled with excitement upon hearing that Seto’s Kato Tokuro, also already a prominent scholar and potter, had excavated what appeared to be approximately 700 Old Seto shards (Kamakura period 1185-1333) from the remnants of a landslide-stricken cliff after a powerful typhoon on August 15th, 1925.

In his diary, Koyama wrote:

“In February of 1943, Kato Tokuro explained to me how he discovered the remains of the Seto Matsudome kiln.” Kato said, “That year (1925) after the strong winds had passed I went to the woods where the remains of Seto’s Old Kilns were located, and saw that a cliff had collapsed, and lying in the rubble were shards with beautiful carved patterns that I had never seen before. I’ve never been so exhilarated in my life, and proceeded to excavate hundreds of shards. But I felt that it would be best that these are documented for the public good, and that’s why I decided to donate these shards as gifts to the Nezu Museum.”

Tokuro’s eyes sparkled as he spoke passionately of his find to Koyama. Kato Tokuro (1898-1985) was already well-respected in artistic circles for his Shino chawan that embodied the aesthetics of the Momoyama, in particular his magnificent 1930 opus, Tsurara (Icicle), owned by the great Masuda Donnoh. Yet not only known for his mastery of Shino, his fame (or infamy) was further bolstered by his scientific research into the old kilns of Seto, even writing a book in 1933 called “Ki-Seto” which effectively refuted the existence of Kato Shiro Kagemasa as the founder of Seto ware. For this sensational new take on Seto, Tokuro’s house was burned down by arsons unhappy with his findings, and his standing in Seto was precarious at best. In this light, Tokuro could be seen as unafraid of controversy.

Kato Tokuro.jpg
(Kato Tokuro)

Mitsuoka Tadanari approached the museum director, Mitsuya Miyamatsu, for his opinion after hearing that Tokuro wished to donate the Matsudome shards. “Why shouldn’t we?” was Mitsuya’s reply. Indeed, none had an inkling of doubt towards Tokuro’s findings. And why should they? Works that were thought to have been born from the Matsudome kiln during its heyday were already known to exist, including a vase, jar and bowl.

The records that remain at the Nezu show the following:

Seto Matsudome
Discovered by: Kato Tokuro
Donated by: Kato Tokuro
Date of Donation: March 31st, Showa 18 (1943)
Number of Items: 690

For his kind generosity, the Nezu Museum would pay Tokuro 2000 yen or approximately 1 million yen in today’s currency.

After the shards were delivered safely to the Nezu, Koyama and Mitsuoka took their time to study each and every fragment to learn more about this mysterious and little-known kiln in Seto. Koyama said to Mitsuoka as he examined the shards of a gourd-shaped flower vase much like vases discovered from the end of the Goryeo Period in the Korean Peninsula, “I’ve never seen anything like these shards in any of Old Seto works. The Matsudome kiln must have been an advanced kiln.” Mitsuoka, mystified, replied, “It’s baffling to think that someone in Seto during the Kamakura Period could have copied such a work during this time.”

The curtains of winter would soon melt away to the warmth of Spring, and soon after the shards were deposited by Tokuro, the Einin Tsubo would be delivered to the Nezu Museum by the mayor of Shidami Village in Aichi Prefecture named Hasegawa Yoshitaka.

‘Tis then, a brilliant Spring morning in April of 1943, that the Einin Tsubo and Koyama Fujio would fatefully first meet.

(Continued in Chapter 2: Into Literature, Enter Infamy)
posted by Toku Art Limited at 16:44| Comment(0) | Einin Tsubo Incident | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする
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