The Einin Tsubo, Chapter 4: The Brokering of the Einin

Chapter Four
The Brokering of the Einin

Thunderous applause swept Tokuro off his feet as he nimbly stepped away from the podium of the Tokyo Bijutsu Club. Ever so eloquently, infectiously ebullient, the preacher had made a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of the flock which assembled from throughout Japan to see and hear the latest archaeological finds of the Japan Ceramic Society in October of 1946. Shaking hands with contemporaries, historians, scientists and aficionados, Tokuro could not help but beam. With each word spoken and with each letter written concerning the Einin Tsubo and the Matsudome shards, Tokuro was in effect elevating his own status as a living legend in both the world of archaeology and of ceramic art.

In the November 1946 issue of the antique art journal Kobijutsu, Sato Shinzo, a founding member and passionate leader of the Japan Ceramic Society, wrote the following unequivocal commentary regarding Tokuro’s enigmatic Matsudome kiln.

“The number of elements, types and changes found in the works unearthed at Matsudome surpasses all other kilns from the same time period.”

And more.

“Dim and callous individuals may view the works produced in the Matsudome kiln and think them peculiar, simply because they have not seen similar works anywhere else, and will be quick to consider them awry or faulty. But it is far greater a crime to consider quality works awry than to label awry works as quality ones. In such a case, it is easy to discern this person’s eye for art.”

Sato Shinzo and Kato Tokuro were a formidable duo of great intellectual and artistic authority. If they were to call water wine, who could possibly disagree? The stage was set, thus, for the effortless brokering of the Tsubo and, ultimately, a movement spearheaded by Koyama Fujio to designate the two (yes, two) Einin Tsubos as Important Cultural Properties of Japan.

Shortly after Tokuro’s mesmerising soliloquy at the Tokyo Bijutsu Club, Tanabe Shichiroku, a former member of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) during pre-war Japan, informed Sato of his interest in acquiring the Einin Tsubo from Mayor Hasegawa. Big fish were now biting, and Tokuro and Sato were on the verge of making their first catch.

One should remember that Tanabe’s younger brother Katamaru was a founding member and director of the Japan Ceramic Society, and as mentioned in Chapter 3 of this tale, it was in Katamaru’s home in Shibuya where the JCS was first established. At the same time, Tanabe Shichiroku and Nezu Kaichiro, the founder of the Nezu Museum in Aoyama, both hailed from Yamanashi Prefecture (formerly called Koshu Province). It was the Nezu which had first been offered the Einin for 35,000 yen (12 million yen today) in 1943, and it is an interesting twist of fate to find that the Einin would entwine these men of Koshu together.

Perhaps more intriguing was the fact that Shichiroku’s elder half-brother was Kobayashi Ichizo, the legendary industrialist and founder of the impressive Hankyu conglomerate. Kobayashi was a key benefactor of the traditional arts, and his penchant for art collecting (an influence still visible today by the continued existence and legacy of the Hankyu Department Store’s Art Department) had undoubtedly influenced his younger brother Shichiroku. This artistic influence may have been hereditary, as Shichiroku’s second son and former LDP member Tanabe Kunio would ultimately rise to be the governor of Yamanashi, and when inaugurating Yamanashi’s prefectural museum in 1978, went out and purchased Millet’s famous “The Sower” and “The Return of the Flock” for an outstanding 185 million yen (approx. 370 million yen today). Of course, these precious paintings were not purchased from Kunio’s pockets but from the pockets of Yamanashi’s taxpayers. And so it goes.

Unlike his son’s extravagant acquisition, Shichiroku’s was hardly as costly. The selling price for Einin Tsubo #1 (with the Mizuno Shiro Harumasa inscription) was an unusually low 50,000 yen (approx. 3 million yen today). Content with his luck in acquiring such a historic piece for a relatively low sum, Shichiroku sent both Tokuro and Sato a bottle each of premium daiginjo sake as simple tokens of gratitude.

But who actually brokered the deal? In a September 25th, 1960 interview with the liberal-leaning Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese daily, in Paris (where he had fled to escape the media upon the national declaration that the Einin were fakes), Tokuro flatly denied his participation.

Recalled Tokuro, “When Mayor Hasegawa went and sold the tsubo, I hadn’t a clue! I heard of this fact much later.”

Yet Sato’s recollection was far different. In his memoirs, Sato clearly wrote that “Tokuro brought the Einin Tsubo to my home and asked if I could find a buyer for it. And so I did.”

In any event, art lover Tanabe Shichiroku was a happy man. Recalled his son Kunio upon his father’s passing in 1952, “my father was deeply enamoured with collecting tea ceramics in the later years of his life. This passion was greatly influenced by his brothers Kobayashi Ichizo and Tanabe Katamaru.” And the three art-inclined brothers would meet from time to time, comparing their art collections and enjoying the view whilst smoking cigars and sipping foreign spirits. Shichiroku’s pride and joy, in particular, was the Seto vase called the Einin Tsubo. Like many of the entrepreneurs of the Showa period, rich men were cultured folk, and the Kobayashi/Tanabe brothers were no different.

Compared to the 12 million yen that was the asking price of the Einin Tsubo towards the Nezu Museum, the 3 million paid by Shichiroku was a paltry sum. Yet this was largely in part due to the rampant inflation of post-war Japan, wherein the price of goods quintupled from 1945 to 1946, and later tripled from 1946 to 1947. The basic necessities of life such as fresh vegetables and medicine were scarce, and goods were often obtained through black markets that sprung forth throughout the decimated nation.

But what of the second Einin Tsubo and its selling? Two new characters must be welcomed.

Hasegawa Utako, Mayor Hasegawa’s single daughter, was a doctor, and running her own small clinic in Kasugai City, Aichi Prefecture, she was also a benefactor of the black markets, where she had no choice but to obtain her medicine from. Near Utako’s clinic was the home of Takahashi Shigeru, who owned a small factory that produced industrial grinders. Coincidentally, Takahashi was also a ceramic enthusiast, and in his youth, would frequent the Kamakura-based kiln of Kitaoji Rosanjin and befriended Rosanjin’s master craftsman Arakawa Toyozo, the future Living National Treasure for Shino ware.

As the fates would have it, Takahashi’s life would also cross paths with Kato Tokuro. In fact, shortly after the war, Tokuro would reside in Takahashi’s employee residence for several months, borrowing Takahashi’s industrial coal-burning kiln to fire his ceramic works. “Tokuro said that in return for putting him up and lending him my kiln, that he would give me half of the profits he earned from selling his pottery. Well, I don’t remember ever receiving a dime!” laughed Takahashi in his later years.

It is Takahashi’s testimony that helps shed light on the reasons behind the sudden emergence of the second Einin Tsubo and its subsequent retail.

‘Twas either the end of 1946 or the beginning of 1947. Takahashi, nursing a bad cold, stopped over at Mayor Hasegawa’s home in Shidami to say hello to Utako, his neighbour in Kasugai, and Tokuro, who was also spending time with the Mayor.

To his surprise, Utako was in tears.

“You two are just like the tanuki (raccoon) and kitsune (fox), constantly trying to scheme and connive,” cried Utako.

Frowning in consternation, Mayor Hasegawa and Tokuro looked at one another and sighed. Takahashi had not a clue as to what had taken place.

Utako, calming herself, then began to explain to Takahashi how the Mayor, who was also the head of the local farmers union, was recently the victim of a scam to acquire fertilizer. Agricultural materials were extremely hard to come by in Japan after the war, and a lawyer named Morita had approached him with an offer to acquire 60,000 yen (approx. 3.5 million yen today) worth of ammonia on the black market, for the use of the entire union. Morita then took off with the funds, or so the story went, and as Hasegawa had withdrawn the money from the union coffers, and as the fiscal year was coming to a close, he had no choice but to borrow funds from his daughter Utako in order to balance the books.

“But Takahashi-san, I desperately need my money back so that I can purchase medicine for my clinic. My patients can’t wait,” pleaded Utako.

Takahashi, taken back by this sudden and unexpected turn of events, didn’t know what to say.

Sternly, Tokuro spoke as he pointed to an ash-glazed tsubo resting in the tokonoma alcove of Hasegawa’s guestroom.

“Takahashi-san, the fact of the matter is that I’d like to travel to Tokyo so that I can sell this tsubo for Hasegawa-san and return the money to Utako. But to be frank, I don’t have enough money to cover the travel costs. Can you do me a favour and lend me 10,000 yen so that I can make it to Tokyo?”

This tsubo, it turns out, was Einin Tsubo No. 2 (with the Mizuno Masaharu inscription). Takahashi agreed to dole out Tokuro’s travel expenses as an act of friendship. And with the 10,000 yen in travel fees covered by Takahashi, Tokuro would travel to Tokyo with the tsubo and visit the home of Sato Shinzo. Subsequently, the clever Sato would successful sell the Einin Tsubo No. 2 to his friend and colleague Fukada Yuichiro, a wealthy businessman from Yonago (Tottori Prefecture) who had also attended the Tokyo Bijutsu Club presentation. The price paid by Fukada was 70,000 yen, or approx. 4 million yen today.

Fukada had fallen in love with ceramics during his time spent in pre-war Tokyo, where he ran a company manufacturing activated carbon used in gasmasks. The end of the war marked a fitting end for the need for gasmasks, and Fukada would return to Yonago, his ancestral home, to create activated carbon used instead in the making of sake. His passion for collecting ceramics would grow together with the size of his company, and he would eventually become the first director of the Yonago branch of the Japan Ceramic Society upon the Society’s inception. Fukada was personally close with Kato Hajime, the artist who would eventually become a Living National Treasure for enamelled porcelain, and had even visited the kiln of Bizen’s Living National Treasure Kaneshige Toyo several times together with his JCS colleague Sato.

Upon Sato’s proposition to acquire a magical second Einin that had never before been publically recognised in any form or manner, Fukada’s only request was that Tokuro would authenticate the piece with a hako-gaki (a paulownia box with calligraphy attesting to a work’s title and authenticity).

“Certainly,” Sato replied, and days later, visited Tokuro to ask for a hako-gaki. Tokuro obliged without hesitation, and in his now-legendary masterful brushstrokes, wrote the following words on the lid of a wooden box.

Top of Lid: Einin Mei (Engraved Einin) Kizeto (Yellow Seto) Heishi (Vase/Flask)
Bottom of Lid: Tokuro Shi (Authenticated by Tokuro)

Not once did Fukada question the ambiguous origins of the second Einin Tsubo. Rather, most antique ceramic collectors and cultural historians were privy to the fact that heishi-shaped sake flasks for Shinto rituals were almost always made in pairs. If Tokuro would attest to the fact that the second Einin Tsubo was also unearthed by Mayor Hasegawa in Shidami Village, who was to disagree? The existence of Einin Tsubo No. 1 was already an unmovable, infallible fact, and although Einin Tsubo No. 2 was never presented in archaeological journals or discussed by the JCS, one could simply assume that the second jar was hidden from publicity as it was intended to be held privately by its discoverer. Until, of course, its owner suddenly needed fast cash.

Upon careful inspection, it is easy to find grave discrepancies between the two works. In particular, three major differences can be brought to light.

1) Einin No. 1 had the erred inscription Hyakuzan, whilst Einin No. 2 was correctly engraved the words Hakuzan, the correct geological reference to a nearby mountain and Shinto shrine.
2) Einin No. 1 referred to a samurai with the full title “Mizuno Shiro Masaharu,” whilst Einin No. 2 abbreviated his title as “Mizuno Masaharu.”
3) Einin No. 1 correctly features the word “Nen” (Year) after the mention of the time period Einin, whilst Einin No. 2 incorrectly leaves the word “Nen” out.

Despite these seemingly blatant errors, the handwriting found on both vases was unquestionably the work of the same artist. Yet why the discrepancies? Were the works made at different points of time? Or were they skewed on purpose? Yet regardless, such details could not hide the fact that the overall balance of the glazing, the form and the firing of the second Einin Tsubo paled in comparison to the beauty and grandeur of the original Einin.


Like falling water, the memories of men drip quickly from our minds. Only five years had passed since the War to end all Wars was effectively nipped in the bud, and now the Korean War had again brought death and despair to the Far East. Was peace really so elusive? Yet ironically enough, the travesty in the Korean peninsula was a heavenly blessing for Japan’s distraught economy. What Japan was about to witness from the early 1950’s was the dawn of perhaps the greatest economic miracle of the 20th century. Indeed, the sun would rise once more.

In the midst of war, the owner of Einin No. 1, Tanabe Shichiroku, would pass away in 1952, shrouding the whereabouts of his treasure in foggy mist. And in 1954, a year after the Korean War would end, the old Mayor of Shidami, Hasegawa Yoshitaka, would also pass. An anonymous ex-member of the Seto Historical Committee who was a friend of Hasegawa would testify many years later that the poor Mayor would not live to see a yen from Tokuro’s brokerage of either Einins.

1954 was also the year that Tokuro would publish his famous Toji-Jiten (Dictionary of Ceramics), still found in major bookstores throughout Japan (and even online). The dictionary was originally a series of six rather large books first published in 1937. Tokuro would leap at the chance to edit the separate dictionaries into a single, abbreviated version that also happened to be in colour. Of course, editing was only half the story. The artist would also gain the golden opportunity to add and rewrite respective entries of his choosing.

In the 1954 edition of the Toji-Jiten, the images of six historic works would be featured in full colour. Among them were the “Momoyama Period Oribe Lion-Shaped Incense Container”, Nonomura Ninsei’s “Tsubo with Young Pine Motif”, and perhaps not surprisingly, two works that hailed from Tokuro’s mysterious Matsudome kiln - - the Flower Vase with Willow Pattern, owned by Tanabe Shichiroku’s younger brother Katamaru, and, of course, the Einin Tsubo no. 1.

The commentary on the Einin, written by Kato Tokuro himself, went as follows.

“Kamakura Period Seto Heishi (Jar/Flask)”

“Its base clay is gray and fine, while its glaze is a clear amber colour, similar to many early-period ash-glazed works. It is built by coiling, and then forming and smoothing upon a potter’s wheel. The work is representative of the Seto heishi style, and contains a powerful energy. On its body is written the following inscription. Offered to the Gods at Hyakuzan Shrine, Dedicated by Mizuno Shiro Masaharu, of Mikuriya in Seto, Yamadanokori County, Bishuu Province (present-day Aichi Prefecture), Second Year of Einin, A Day in November. In the Western calendar this date refers to 1294, or the late Kamakura Period soon after the Mongol Invasion; although the level of ceramics in Japan was commonly thought to have deteriorated greatly during this period, the quality of this work makes it extremely rare. Furthermore, this work is now considered to be the oldest remaining Seto pottery that features an inscription of a historic time period.”

“Owned by Fukada Yuichiro.”

Fukada, of course, did not own Einin Tsubo No. 1. Rather, he had purchased the unspectacular Einin No. 2. But why did the dictionary name Fukada as the owner and still feature an image of the Einin owned by Tanabe Shichiroku? Was this an honest mistake on behalf of Tokuro? Or did he simply not want to disclose an image of a faulty work?

Both Tokuro’s third son Shigetaka and Hayashiya Seizo, currently the honorary director of the Tokyo National Museum, recall Tokuro in later years adamantly denying that the words to the commentary were his. In a recorded public discussion with art critic and philosopher Aoyama Jiro, Tokuro said, “It wasn’t me that put that photograph in the dictionary. The damn publisher had put it in to sell more copies!”

Interestingly, within the dictionary is featured a list of several prominent individuals who had written words of praise in testament to the exceptional quality of Tokuro’s opus.

Takahashi Seiichiro, Chairman of the Japan Art Academy
Asano Nagatake, Director of the Tokyo National Museum
Ueno Naoaki, Chancellor of the Tokyo University of Arts
Umezawa Hikotaro, Director of the Japan Ceramic Society
Kawabata Yasunari, author and future recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature
Matsunaga Jian, wealthy entrepreneur and one of the greatest Showa tea masters

Last but not least, we can find the name of our unknowing protagonist, Koyama Fujio, on the list as well: the man who would, in the following chapter, effectively, strategically, and ultimately tragically, designate the Einin Tsubo an Important Cultural Property of Japan.

(Continued in Chapter 5: The Birth of an Important Cultural Property)
Due in February
(Continued in Chapter 6: In Doubt and Shadows)
Due in March
(Continued in Chapter 7: Koyama Tomio’s Fall from Grace)
Due in April

(Titles of Chapters subject to change)

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

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