Five ceramic cups

Mashiko – Japanese studio pottery through the generations

Five ceramic cups

Located in southeast Tochigi Prefecture, Mashiko is regarded as a site of major significance for Japanese ceramics. 

In 1853, towards the end of the Edo period (1603–1868 CE), Ōtsuka Keizaburō found potter’s clay of a distinctive red-brown colour in the area and built a kiln which marked the beginning of the production of Mashiko ware (Mashiko-yaki

In the early 20th century, the town became associated with the mingei (Japanese folk craft) movement and, specifically, one of its founding members, celebrated potter Hamada Shōji (1894–1978). 

Hamada, who had established his studio in Mashiko in 1924, worked with the local clay and glazes to create a simple, soft and thick style of pottery, which served as major influence to local potters that followed. 

Though he continuously championed the mingei philosophy, leading the town’s development into a mingei pottery centre, Hamada encouraged his apprentices - which include Shimaoka Tatsuzō, Takita Kōichi and Shinsaku Hamada - early on not to imitate his style but pursue their own originality. 

This gradually led to Mashiko artists and craftspeople employing a variety of different styles and techniques over the decades, combining tradition with a creative, contemporary take. 

In the mid-20th century, studio potters outside of the Hamada school emerged. One early example of this is Kimura Ichirō, who studied pottery in Kyoto and adopted copper red glaze and marbling techniques that Mashiko didn’t have at the time. He can be considered a pioneer of Mashiko modernism. 

During the latter half of the 20th century, the Tsukamoto Pottery apprenticeship developed supporting Mashiko’s studio pottery further. During the day time, trainees would learn techniques for producing ceramics efficiently and in greater quantities, while in their spare time they would develop their own craft, eventually leading them to work as individual artists. Kamoda Shōji, one of Japan’s leading potters today, is the most well-known studio potter that graduated from the apprenticeship. 

Around this time, other renowned ceramic artists with distinct styles developed their craft as individual studio potters, including Hirosaki Hiroya, Seto Hiroshi and Yoshikawa Mizuki. They are considered part of a second ‘golden generation’ following Hamada. 

During the 1970s and 1980s potters such as Nagakura Suiko, Takauchi Shugo, Yasuda Takeshi, Koinuma Michio and Matsuzaki Ken experimented with a more dynamic, expressionist style of pottery, mainly in the form of vessels. A decade later, during the 1990s, another era of potters emerged, who put an emphasis on the exploration of their relationship with nature in the form of pottery. A famous potter of this era is Iwami Shinsuke. 

While the style of present-day Mashiko ceramics can be described as decorative, simple and experimental, new generations of independent potters and artists continue to shape a new identity of Japanese studio pottery.