Shiro Tsujimura is the creator of Japan’s most beautiful tea bowls. I didnt know what I was in for, I didnt know we were going to his house, much less, having lunch prepared by the man himself.
And this became one of the most powerful meals I have in my life.
We sat down and chatted. We were in his house in Nara, this he built from materials in the forest. He said, “the only thing i bought were the glass for the windows.”
There was a fireplace, he boiled water from. When it was time for lunch, he added a grill, and toasted the wagyu, then sliced off the top parts, dipped in a sauce and served our plates.
His wife was preparing food in the kitchen , we could hear the sounds of oils popping on the pan, but so gently.
She brought out food and more food, softly. Gently.
There was always a smile, on their faces, even in the midst of preparing food. We spoke, I have too many questions I need him to address, I didnt have time to listen to the translation on his answers, I fired.
I didnt understand what he said, but i seemed to know and I had to cry.
We ate from the bowls derived from his creative processes. These bowls, when they came out of the kiln, would be placed on the ground in the hills he lived in.
These pieces would receive rain, wind, sun, dust, scattered on the hills.
Letting an act of man ferment in the nature’s elements and allowing nature to nurture man’s work.
He says, “I don’t really like the term of “art”…When other people look at it, it’s art to them, but… To me, it’s part of my life, and everything is the same. If you look at the writing on the wall, I think it is a buddhist thinking, it means literally “not knowing”.
“When the monk asked me what will happen after death, I replied that I don’t know, and I really don’t know. So what will you do when you die? I really don’t know. What I know is I only want to do things that I like during the time when I’m alive. So when you die, whether it’s the end or whether there’s heaven after that, there are religions with answers to that. But actually, it really matters down to what you can do during the time when you are alive. I really like this idea of ignorance is bliss. “
We spoke about beauty, and what this means to him.
“Beauty is a very difficult concept. Dirty things can also be beautiful, for example, when people look at this, they might think it looks dirty, but I think it is beautiful. I think different people have different concepts of beauty, because it depends on each individual. A bowl that can be looked at for hours for its beauty, that’s what I hope to make. Something fascinating is this space inside the bowl, something that exists in the bowl.”
We spoke about perfection or rather, the imperfection of it.
“Perfection is a little different. Perfection is more of a concept by imperialism and China, which depends on a degree of likeness. But for Japan and Korea, the beauty of imperfection is what we aspire to achieve. This might be unique to the Japanese, but this concept of imperfection has always existed in Korean pottery, and the Japanese thought well of it, which is why we brought in the pottery. I’m not sure how the modern Koreans think now, but during that time, they had this concept of imperfection, and they used the bowls for tea drinking. For pottery making, Japanese people have always seek for the beauty of imperfection, and not perfection.
There are also perfect products, but to me, I don’t really like them.”
And what is important in life?
“The important thing, is to do something that you like. It is not listening to someone, but continuing to believe in what you want to do. Of course, I would like to make something that people would like to use. It is not so much of a message, but I would like people to enjoy using the bowl, with the same feelings that I have.”
He was into painting, but a temple stay changed his path completely.
“I was at the temple for the purpose of meditating. About 3 years. I was meditating, and they had this kind of bowl which they ate with, such as ramen. The monk commented that meditation is similar to the process of bowl-making. I then began to have interest in making the bowl, and it slowly developed into my interest in pottery. The process of bowl-making is similar to meditation, with your thoughts free.
Spiritually, they are similar. Whether mediation or making a bowl or two, it takes the same spirit and mind to do it.”
The bowl is a representation of space and the mind, and I find the tea bowl very interesting. Till Now, I m still making them. It’s not really the art form, but a form of lifestyle. I want to continue making tea bowls.
When you finished making a bowl, you start to think of making a better one, so you end up with making thousands of them. So it is actually wanting to make a bowl at a time, and then making another, and another…
For him, the most enjoyable time… is forming the shape at the potter’s wheel…
He says, “The difficult part about Japanese pottery is, if you get better in your skills, your product will become boring. So you do not try to perfect your skills, but try to create what you want. I think this is difficult, because it is not something that you can work hard for.
You cannot neglect your own feeling and just focus on making a perfect product. Following your feelings, your skills will also improve.”
The advice is awesome for anyone into craft and creation.
He has about 7 little workshops on his little hill stead. Each is devoted to a different art form.
His son followed his path, remarkably, without being “taught” by the man himself.
According to Kai Tsujimura, “My dad is not the type to teach a certain thing. Of course I started making pottery because of my dad’s great influence but all along, the pieces were used normally at home…So when we had our meals, we used these bowls and those plates as per normal…My father’s pottery pieces were in our actual lives.. If not for that, I don’t think i would have started making pottery. “
And when I asked the elder Tsujimura, he said, “the most important thing i have taught my son? No I haven’t. If there is one thing, that is to just “make it”. Make as many as necessary. It is not necessary to think of other matters. If there is something that he wants to make, just make it.”