Behold and Hold: The Pottery of Miraku Kamei XV
In the Japanese ceramic world, there is a category of chatou (tea ceremony pottery) used in tea ceremonies, which includes chawan (tea bowls), mizusashi (water containers), hanaire (vases), and kensui (slop bowls). While Japanese pottery has endured for more than 13,000 years, tea ceremony pottery started to bloom during the Momoyama Period (1573-1615) when Japanese warriors intently observed the traditions of chanoyu (the Japanese tea ceremony). This form of pottery is considered practical as well as a subject of appreciation.
Miraku Kamei XV (b. 1960) continues to produce tea ceremony pottery based the aesthetics of the Enshū School and as passed down by his father, Miraku Kamei XIV (1931-2014), who was especially famous for his chaire. However, Miraku Kamei XV, who inherited his name in 2001, continues to aggressively expand his repertoire beyond chaire to include chawan, mizusashi, hanaire, and kouro (incense burners).
The tea ceremony referred to as wabi-cha was developed in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) by Juko Murata, a tea master and a monk. During the subsequent Momoyama Period, a new sense of beauty started to emerge, promoted by tea masters Sen no Rikyū and Oribe Furuta. Practitioners began to adopt the aesthetic of wabi-sabi, which is loosely defined as finding beauty in transience and imperfection, deficiency, deformation, and asymmetry. Tenshin (Kakuzo) Okakura (1863-1913), who was employed by the Department of Asian Arts at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, referred to this sense of beauty as a “beauty of imperfection” within his book, The Book of Tea.
Kobori Enshū, feudal lord and tea ceremony master, learned sadou (tea ceremony) from Oribe Furuta. At the beginning of the Edo Period (1603-1868), he developed the concept kirei-sabi, which is defined as the elegant, graceful, and sophisticated beauty found in sabi (imperfection). This differs from Oribe’s open-minded and free-spirited wabi-sabi.
Only within the last 100 years have Japanese potters started to perform all of the phases of the creative process. Many potters, such as Arita Ware in Kyushu, continue to employ many craftsmen who work in the studio while they oversee the production as art directors. However, the Miraku Kamei XV completes every step of the process himself, from wedging, to throwing, glazing, and firing. Kamei, while well aware of the Enshū style of traditional sophistication, embraces this modern approach to creating pottery.
There are three significant characteristics in Kamei's pieces: glaze, shape, and lightness. The first characteristic refers to the various patterns produced by the glaze. He relies on seven glazes, including amber, white, and blue, which flow beautifully down along the surface and ridge of the pieces, forming elegant patterns. However, they can also alter the texture. During the firing process, it creates natural, flower-like patterns which generate a graceful appearance.
The second characteristic is his simple, classic shape. Miraku Kamei XV tends to make his works relatively simple and symmetrical, relying on glaze to produce a rich finish for the piece. Most of his tea bowls are round and pleasant to hold. He trims pieces not to emphasize the edge but rather to enhance its elegant line. It is this carefully thought-out aesthetic that people respond to so positively.
The third characteristic of his pieces is their weight. His tea ceremony pottery visually invokes an impression of lightness. People are also often amazed by their weightlessness when they hold a piece in their hands. This facet of his work provides people with a tactile gentleness as well as a visual elegance.
One of the main aspects of Japanese pottery is that the tactile element is equally as important as the visual appeal. Since tea ceremony requires participants to actively engage with a piece, it is a good opportunity for them to appreciate pottery with their five senses. In my opinion, everyone should experience Miraku Kamei’s world with both their eyes and their hands.
Kazuko Todate is a critic of art and craft as well as a member of the International Academy of Ceramics.