The Einin Tsubo, Chapter 3: A Sunny Afternoon in Seto

Chapter Three
A Sunny Afternoon in Seto

Falling like rain from darkened skies, the ferocity of the firebombing of Tokyo intensified as the pages of the calendar turned to 1945. Hasegawa Shuko, the young wife of Mayor Hasegawa’s son Torao, prayed to herself as she slept in her futon, wishing she had the warmth of her husband next to her on such snowy January nights. Their baby daughter, still 3 years old, slept softly beside Shuko.

It was in 1944 that Torao the newspaper reporter had been drafted to the war at the relatively late age of 32, and was stationed on a secret air force base in Oita Prefecture. Shuko dreamt each night that her husband would return home safely. And so he would.

Ever the good wife, the responsibility was upon Shuko’s shoulders to protect the family home in the absence of its patriarch. Yet with the bombs hitting Tokyo in sporadic tangents, even the exemplar wife could only hope and pray for the devastation to fall elsewhere. Moreover, even more worrying for Shuko was not the fate of her Meguro home or their property therein. The somber words of her father-in law rang through her ears. “Protect this tsubo with your life!”How could Shuko possibly sleep at night when her husband's father's dearest treasure was in danger of obliteration at any moment? Worrying for the safety of herself and her child was an entirely different matter.

The next morning, Shuko’s mind was made. Wrapping the Einin Tsubo in a furoshiki linen for carrying goods, she clenched the tsubo in both arms and embarked for Nagoya on the Tokaido line. Behind her, Shuko’s small child clumsily followed her mother. Train, run faster, faster, Shuko thought to herself. Each and every second she held the tsubo felt like years. But the persistent air raids had already expanded their radius to the outskirts of Tokyo, and as a result, the Tokaido line would stop repeatedly until she would reach the central city of Nagoya. From Nagoya, Shuko, the tsubo and child would transfer on the Chuo line to Shidami Village, and greeted by Mayor Hasegawa at the nearest train station, Shuko would safely carry the tsubo back to Hasegawa’s home. Proud of his son’s loyal wife, Mayor Hasegawa was all smiles. And the tsubo, safely in Shidami, finally rested in the place where it would be widely recognised by the leading ceramic experts of Japan for the first time.

January, 1946. Half a year had passed since Emperor Hirohito broadcasted his surrender on national radio to his disheartened denizens. The war had decimated Japan to smoke and rubble, and its people were beginning to slowly pick up the broken pieces to their tattered lives. Yet from such desolation would be born an association of academics, artists, collectors and dealers who would bring a glimpse of hope to one small sector of Japan: the world of ceramic art. Established on January 20th, 1946 at the Shoto, Shibuya-ku home of Tanabe Katamaru, an entrepreneur who would eventually become the president of the Toho movie studio, was the Japan Ceramics Society (JCS). Not by mere chance alone, Tanabe’s elder brother Tanabe Shichiroku, a heavyweight politician in the Seiyukai (predecessor to the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan), would be the first (and not the last) person to purchase the Einin Tsubo.

Sato Shinzo, a founding member of the JCS who would become a central figure in the selling of the Einin Tsubo, poignantly wrote in the February 1946 issue of the antique journal “Kobijutsu” on the raison d’etre of the JCS, which continues to exist today, albeit with a largely diminished presence.

“(JCS) must proceed with all its might to help foster and guide the birth of a new age in ceramics. It is without question that we must invest our energies into the research of old ceramics, but simultaneously, we must extend such energies towards the creation of a new kind of ceramics that can one day be representative of Japanese culture as a whole, and can be something that we can proclaim and present to a global audience.

Such a role, in both pre-war and post-war Japan, should have been promulgated and fulfilled by the bureaucrats associated with cultural affairs, yet unfortunately they continue to have no greater plan or vision for the future of ceramics. The melancholy that inhibits the ivory towers of the old guard, or in other words, the status-quo of the oh-so-important art-related senseis associated with the Ministry of Education, are far from being in tune with the needs of the masses. With but one step taken outside of their ivory tower, they put on the arrogant face of the powerful bureaucrat and spit out their special privileges as if it were their birthright. Not only this, the many museums that were built to house the wonders of modern civilization are simply housing such wonders in the ineffectual quagmires of eternal sleep, largely due to the inability of their directors to take risks, much like snug cats locked up in the soothing warmth of conservatories.

With its inception, the Japan Ceramics Society will attack and expunge the traditional and conservative hierarchical thought that pervades Japan, and will persevere to promote the true and greater good of the world of ceramics, and as an organisation that places a premium on research, will devote its entire energies to research, creative guidance and the promotion of ceramic art.”

Along with Tanabe Katamaru, Mitsuoka Tadanari and Sato Shinzo, several other founding directors of the JCS would become central characters to this saga of the Einin, in particular the likes of Koyama Fujio and Kato Tokuro.

Soon thereafter in May of 1946, the newly founded JCS quickly embarked on their pursuit of ceramic enlightenment by organising an inaugural expedition to research and excavate the medieval Konagaso-gama kiln in Seto. Wrote participant Mikami Tsuguo, a leading expert on Chinese ceramics and the future director of the Idemitsu Museum, in his diaries, “(The Konagaso expedition) took place not long after the war, and at that time, we Japanese in many ways had lost a sense of direction. For this reason, the researching of Seto’s old kiln sites helped us find and understand an important cultural heritage that Japanese civilisation had left behind, and this brought a sense of great pride and satisfaction to us research members. At the same time, it placed in us a sense of responsibility in communicating, loud and clear, to the Japanese citizens of the value of their cultural heritage that still remains to this day.”

(Mikami Tsuguo)

Other than Mikami, the ceramic experts who undertook lead roles in the research trip to Seto were Sato Shinzo and Koyama Fujio. Other members included the first Chairman of the JCS Board, art critic Isono Nobutake, Nezu Museum’s Mitsuoka Tadanari and Okuda Naoshige, architect Horiguchi Sutemi, Sato Shinzo’s son and the future dean of Kyoto City University of Art Sato Masahiko, and locals Kato Tokuro, archaeologist Akatsuka Mikiya, future Living National Treasure Arakawa Toyozo, Tokuro’s third son Kato Shigetaka, entrepreneur/ceramic connoisseur Honda Shizuo, and Seto potter Suzuki Seisei. Quite simply, an extraordinary group of individuals were assembled to excavate the old kilns of Seto. The majority of participants even slept under the same roof at the Zen temple Unkoji, which was adjacent to several key kiln sites. Although food was scarce, the wealthy Honda donated a bale of rice to feed the researchers during their studies. Suprisingly, access to camera film was incredibly difficult even a year after the war, and the researchers were armed only with pencil and paper, and made it their regimen to sketch each and every shard that they unearthed.

The excursion to Seto, which began on a bright Spring morning on May 11th, 1946, would ultimately end on a sunny afternoon on May 19th at the home of none other than the home of mayor Hasegawa.

Mikami’s remaining diaries illuminatingly chronicle this important excursion to Seto.

(Konagaso today, with a roof over the kiln remains)

May 11th, 21st Year of Showa (Extremely Clear Skies)
Early morning, arrived in Seto with Koyama Fujio. Stopped over at glass artist Sato Junshiro’s home. After a short rest, travelled north-west of Seto to visit Tokyo University’s Seto office director, Inui-san, and inquired about the geology of the Seto region. Borrowed a theodolite from Inui.
After returning to Seto, united with Sato Shinzo and Kato Tokuro, and Kato Tokuro enlightened us with tales of his earlier experiences in excavating old Seto kiln sites.
After preparing various materials needed for excavation, left Seto with Koyama, Sato Shinzo, glass artist Sato Junshiro, and Mikami, and after stopping over at Akazu, reached our lodgings at the Unkoji Temple.

(Image depicting the medieval kiln)

May 12th (Cloudy, Then Rain)
After preparations, all members left Unkoji at 10am, passing 20 villages until reaching the Konagaso kiln. Borrowed various tools for excavation through the kindness of Tokyo University’s Akazu office, and immediately began research soon thereafter. Kiln is an anagama tunnel kiln dug into a small hill sloping southwards. The left-hand side of the ceiling part of the inner firing chamber had completely collapsed, and its state of ruin is not good. Office chief Inui-san joined in the excavation in the morning, and told the research members of the state of the kiln during 1933 and 1934. All members helped remove the earth that had filled the right-hand side of the firing chamber, and excavation began in full. As a result, the condition of the shoehorn-shaped shelves near the kiln floor and the the pillars that separate the left and right side of the kiln near the mouth of the kiln became evident. From the left-hand side, unearthed from various shelves, saggars and stabilizing rings was found one oblong-shaped shelf featuring the kamajirushi kiln mark of the Konagaso kiln.
The dig continued even with the rain, which began to fall from 3pm. Work finished at 5pm.

(Inner Firing Chamber of Kiln)

“May 13th (Drizzle, Then Clear Skies)
Clouds hung low in the morning, and with the incessant rain, all excavation work was cancelled. After waiting for the rain to end, the members left Unkoji slightly before noon, and I headed to the Konagaso kiln with the Satos. Excavation on the inner chamber began soon after arrival, and the majority of excavation was completed by the evening. Shards of a black Old Seto tea caddy, flower vase, and Yellow Seto works were found in the lower half the right side chamber, and kiln paraphernalia such as a triangular shelf and a chunk of feldspar were discovered…. Kato Tokuro entered the locale at night, and we listened to his lecture on the general state of Seto’s old kiln ruins.

May 14th (Sunny)
With both Satos, we researched the chimney shaft of the Konagaso kiln, and the surveying of the kiln in its entirety was completed by evening.
In the afternoon, Sato Shinzo left the kiln site. Koyama together with Kato Tokuro began composite research on the ruins of old kiln sites in the Hakuzan/Akazu region. Kato stayed the night with us at Unkoji.

(Remnants of Chimney Shaft)

May 15th (Sunny)
Early morning we went to Konagaso, and with the help of Sato Shinji, we completed a geological survey in a scale of 1/1000 of the entire area surrounding the kiln. Sato Shinzo researched the “monohara” area where damaged pottery were thrown away. Koyama and Kato Tokuro continued to research the other Seto kiln sites. After work, Kato left the kiln site and did not return to Unkoji.

May 16th (Sunny)
By going south down the Akazu River flowing in front of Unkoji Temple, we discovered a small patch of irrigated land surrounded by small hills to its east and west. This area is called Kanda, and we discovered the ruins of an old kiln in the middle side of the western hill. Currently this hill is used as an underground storage by the locals, and we named the kiln Kanda Nishi (west) kiln. As research progressed we discovered that this kiln was unexpectedly important, and we expanded our research area to the best of our abilities. I worked in excavation with Koyama until day’s end, and by evening we were able to grasp a great deal about the kiln. Immediately, we made an exact survey chart of the kiln.
In the evening, chairman of the board Isono Nobutake, Professor Horiguchi Sutemi and Sato Junshiro joined us at Unkoji.

(Geological survey of Konagaso and its surroundings, all images of Konagaso taken from the site http://www.geocities.jp/shimizuke1955/2215konagaso.html)

May 17th (Sunny)
Departing from the others, alone I visited the Seto Juvenile School to research the remnants of three kilns on the Seto school property associated with Sue ware. The main kiln was very large and in a decrepit state, and I felt that further study was extremely difficult. In the afternoon, through the kindness of the School, seven juveniles helped carry earth and gravel from the larger kiln, and with their help I was able to create a survey map of the remaining kiln sections. However there were parts that were unable to be surveyed, and thus the map was far from perfect. Due to the lack of time and manpower, it is with regret that I could not complete research of the other two kilns.
On this day, the other members visited the kiln sites in the Hakuzan area, and participated in a panel discussion organised by Seto City at Unkoji. In the afternoon, Mitsuoka Tadanari and Akatsuka Mikiya joined us at Unkoji, and the research group grew far more lively.

May 18th (Rain)
Torrid rain prevented further study, and taken by the kind associates of Unkoji, we took a look at the remains of kilns found in the hills located behind Unkoji and survey the area. After returning to the temple for a short break, in the evening we entered the hill once again with Chairman Isono and tried to dig in front of the ruins. Aside from fragments of kiln tools, we could not discover any shards. Later, Cho Takisumi and Mino’s Arakawa Toyozo entered Unkoji.

May 19th (Sunny)
Today we concluded research, and left the premises. We bid farewell to several members at Seto City, and after this, we visited the homes of Hasegawa Yoshitaka and Takahashi Shigeru, who helped us study their Old Seto collections. With these final visits, the curtains on this expedition were closed.”

On that sunny afternoon at Hasegawa’s home did Mikami first witness the Einin Tsubo. Curiously, visiting Hasegawa was actually not included in the JCS schedule for the day. Yet after lunch on the 19th, one member brought up this peculiar proposition. This member was none other than Kato Tokuro.

Honda Shizuo recalled the following conversation.

“May I suggest that we visit a man called Hasegawa Yoshitaka of Shidami Village, just off of Seto. This area is a part of Yamada no Kori county, and was a stop for carrying works fired in Seto along the Tamanogawa River. Observing the area’s geography may be interesting, and what’s more, Yoshitaka-san is in possession of a flask with the inscription ‘Einin’. I believe this tsubo may possibly be the oldest existing Old Seto work to feature such an inscription.”

Surprised by the sudden prospect of coming face to face with such an important work, the JCS members looked at one another in curious amazement. How could they possibly pass this opportunity up? Of course, Koyama, Sato Shinzo and Mitsuoka, among others, had already seen the Einin Tsubo several years earlier at the Nezu Museum. But the other members had not even heard of its existence, and their curiosity was peaking.

Tokuro was in unusually good spirits on this sunny afternoon in Seto, and grinning along the way, the JCS group found their way to the home of Hasegawa. Hasegawa smiled as he greeted the famous scholars at his front gate. Inviting them inside, Hasegawa offered them tea and sweets, and after brief chatter, the mayor of Shidami brought out his prized possession.

Gasps of astonishment could be heard leaking from the mouths of the JCS members. An old Seto flask with an Einin engraving in such a fine condition! The men huddled close to the jar, which was placed in the center of the tokonoma alcove of Hasegawa’s tatami guestroom. The first Chairman of the JCS, Isono Nobutake, recalled his first meeting with the Einin.

“I was an uneducated philistine, and all I could do was gaze at the tsubo in wonder and adoration. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined at the time that the tsubo I was admiring would, several years later, become such a major dilemma that would inflict a devastating blow to the life and career of Koyama Fujio.”

When asked how Hasegawa could have possibly stumbled across such a historic find, the mayor calmly explained that he dug it up himself from a road construction site near his home. Hasegawa even took the time to walk the JCS members to the exact location of his find in Shiratori, Shidami Village.

Tokuro was literally chirping as he explained to the group the history of Old Seto flasks such as the Einin. His sunny afternoon excursion to Shidami had paid off in spades.

Autumn winds blew briskly in Tokyo, as bright yellows and reds coloured the still heavily-damaged Tokyo skyline. On October 16th of 1946, the Japan Ceramic Society organised a special meeting at the prestigious Tokyo Bijutsu Club (Toobi) to report its findings from Konagaso, with Mikami Tsuguo and Koyama Fujio as principal lecturers. A total of 150 JCS members travelled from the furthest reaches of Japan to participate in the event, hailing from such distances as Miyazaki and Sadogashima. Company president and ceramic enthusiast Fukada Yuichiro, who came from distant Yonago in Tottori Prefecture, was exuberant in his hunger to learn more about the history of Old Seto. Little did he know that his life would soon become deeply entwined with the fate of the Einin Tsubo.

(Koyama Fujio)

To coincide with the lecture, the Einin Tsubo and several other famed works of Seto were physically exhibited at the Tokyo Bijutsu Club. It was Tokuro’s role to passionately reminisce his experiences on researching Old Seto kiln sites to the JCS members, and provided in-depth commentaries on each exhibited work. He made it an irrefutable fact that each and every work exhibited by the JCS was a masterpiece of historic proportions. And so did each and every member of the JCS eagerly believe its charismatic preacher.

(Continued in Chapter 4: The Selling of the Einin)
Due in December
(Continued in Chapter 5: The Birth of an Important Cultural Property)
Due in January
(Continued in Chapter 6: In Doubt and Shadows
Due in February

(Chapters of titles subject to change)

Written by Wahei Aoyama, based on the book "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin
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