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

Friday, January 05, 2007

Reviving Rosanjin!

I usually don't read any newspapers, most are simply filled with ads, and not much I *need* to know anyway. Yet my wife gets two newspapers and I simply can't understand why; of course my three kids check out the only 'useful' thing in the paper, the TV listings, much to my chagrin. (Yet I was always there in their formative years to shout back at the ads and such when the box was on! Still do...) Anyway, with nothing to do one recent morning I flipped through the Yomiuri and lo and behold Kitaoji Rosanjin(1883-1959) was staring back at me! An advertisment for Rosanjin, quite interesting to say the least, and so I read on. It was a 'Rosanjin of The Month' club with a call to 'revive the supreme bliss' of Rosanjin's 'beauty' and 'culinary' world. A key word in the ad was utsushi and a key also to understnading Japanese culture, in part. Utsushi is basically a copy, or according to Richard Wilson in 'The Potter's Brush-The Kenzan Style in Japanese Ceramics' (Any of Wilson's books are highly recommended), 'a copy with a difference.' Many potters--or many artists for that matter--take hints from the past and either subtly or blatantly incorporate them into their own works. What's ironic here is that there is no mention that Rosanjin's utsushi are utsushi of other potters--namely Ogata Kenzan--and past 'ol grand styles, such as Kaneshige Toyo's Bizen. No one who orders really would care about that anyway I imagine, they just want Rosanjin! So, the full page ad--sponsored by a Tokyo Art gallery--shows the six potters hired by the gallery (pictured in the lower left of the full-page ad) to re-create Rosanjin's world, all for 19,800 yen a month. Wait though! If you had ordered within the first three days of the ad you could have gotten the whole package for 7,000 yen less. Oh boy. To my eyes the works lack depth, lack character, lack appeal, althogh a few of the potters are good in their own right, such as Iwatsuki Takemitsu for Ki-Seto. One of Rosanjin's apprentices Hirano Masaaki (see 'The Art of Rosanjin' by Sidney Cardozo and Hirano) produced the project and that is supposed to give it integrity (although the first thing the ad proclaims on the top right is the project commemorates fifty years since Rosanjin's passing; huh....1959 to now, how many years is that?). Ok, minor point of no concern, as of all 20th century potters Rosanjin is by far the most popular as evidenced by the always-seems-to-be-somewhere museum retrospective or gallery offerings. Needless to say the man was a genius, and one whose name still captures the imagination of a nation; toll-free number anyone?


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