Interview with Miraku Kamei, 15th Grandmaster of Takatoriyaki.
Are you originally from Fukuoka?
My family came from Korea in 1606 to Nogata city ( I realize now that this means the lineage of his pottery school). They moved around a bit, living in Oita for a while before settling in Fukuoka in 1700.
And every generation of your family has been potters?
My bloodline started in the 9th generation. Before that, the most skilled artist would take over when the head of the school past away. So the lineage of Takatoriyaki passed between families. But from the 9th generation on, it has been in my immediate family. Until the 3rd generation, Takatoriyaki was primarily Korean women. Due to a lack of sutiable male heirs, they passed the lineage on to Japanese potters.
What makes Takatori unique among the many styles of Japanese pottery?
Its roots lie in its proximity to Korea. Fukuoka is close by and has unique clay. So it was an extension of the Korean style. Our style evolved and was taught by Chajin, a tea master (like Sen-No-Rikyu). The specific lines and shape of the tea ware evolved to suit the needs of the Chajin. Originally though, Takatoriyaki shared quite a lot with Karatsuyaki. We moved away from that though in the 6th generation.
How much of what you make is learned style and how much is your own personal expression? How do they work together, or don’t they?
The tradition is not as simple as that. All of the pieces have always evolved along with the times. With what is happening in the tea world currently.
What kind of things would influence your work?
Ultimately Takatoriyaki is meant to be used everyday. In addition to the beauty of the object, it is of great importance that the experience of using the piece is good. So making the user experience better influences my work.
What are your goals when you sit down to work? Is the process or the finished product more important? The same?
They’re both of equal importance. When I sit down I aim for 100%. But when a piece is finished, maybe its 85%.
So you are always aiming for 100%?
Of course! Each year I think “this is good!”, but as my skill improves, so do my standards. So every year I have to be better than before. If the goal is here (points in front of his face) it is easy to lose momentum, but if the goal is here (points towards ceiling) you are always striving and hungry. Also age is important. If my eyes get bad and I can’t see what I am doing, it is difficult to make great work.
At this point is creativity or simplicity the goal?
Great question! Simplicity is a world, the world of tea. At this point I have all the skills to express myself many ways, but simplicity and usefulness is what I strive for. (showing me a tea bowl with slight detail), I want to redo this and strip it down to its essentials. Just simple.
What do you think about the future of your lineage and of Japanese craftsmanship in general?
Certainly I see a trend of interest in Chado (the way of tea) decreasing, and think that will continue. But it will never disappear. The spirit of tea remains. Honestly, people are studying the traditional ways (tea, archery, calligraphy) less and less these days. The importance of pottery was more central to our culture many years ago. A shogun displayed his worth in the amount of pottery he had. Attitudes have changed! I now make many new items like plates and cups to sell to a new type of customer, but tea ware will always be my passion.