Robert Yellin's Japanese Pottery Blog

Greetings from Kyoto, We've just moved our gallery into a magnificent old Sukiya style home located very near the Silver Pavilion; a stunning area and setting for the inspired ceramic art we share with the world. Please visit us if ever in Kyoto or online at and

Thursday, March 30, 2006

One of the Greats/Urakami Zenji

About this time last year when I visited Bizen to select works from Masamune, I had to drive by the house of Urakami Zenji. As the taxi passed the gate, there was Urakami-sensei sitting on his stone wall just gazing at the sky; I waved to him and it was like being in a slow motion movie as he smiled and waved back. Urakami Zenji---what a great name--has always been one of my favorite Bizen artists. He stuided with the last great Meiji born masters and himself was also a fantastic figure-sculpture ceramic artist as well as throwing serene Tea wares. In my beginning collecting days, all I wanted to do was meet him and and acquire a guinomi. So, about 18 years ago I just walked up to his door and rang the bell---something a Japanese would almost certainly never do. His wife gave me the once over twice and really didn't know what to make of me, this scruffy gaijin abruptly asking to see the great Zenji! I was eventually shown around and was able to acquire what I had come for, yet not directly from Urakami, only through a man I met by coincidence--Goto-san--who was a big Urakami collector and was very curious about this most unusual visitor. One work of Urakami's I'm still looking for is seen in a photo here, a smiling Hotei viewing the moon; it's a work I dream about. Urakami studied with the great Bizen sculptor-potter Nishimura Shunko(1886-1953) and has had a very successful career being named an Okayama Prefectural Intangible Cultural Property in 1973. His large wall-reliefs are well-known to any Bizen fan, as two shishi grace the train station as well as other places in Japan. His blue-Bizen is mysterious and I shall never forget drinking sake from one of his blue-Bizen guinomi, my midnight cup. Just today, I read that Urakami Zenji, born in 1914, had passed away last week from pure old age. It's not likely Bizen will ever see another like him.


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