Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Effect of the Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami on Ceramics in Japan

This post is dedicated to the victims of the Sendai earthquake and Tsunami.  It is without images but does contain links to many images and other web related sites.

My family is keenly aware of earthquakes.  As a young child my father survived the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 (7.9-8.25).  More than 3000 people were lost.  Dad remembers running out of his home then turning around and watching his home collapse.  When he spoke of this on a recording I made of him while he was in his 70’s he reached down to rub his leg and said, ”I can still feel that shaking in my legs.”  My brother, who was a professor working near Kobe, Japan survived the Great Hanshin earthquake or Kobe earthquake in 1995 (7.3).  6433 people lost their lives and it lasted for 20 seconds.  An armoire fell and hit my brother on his head while he slept.  He survived but still suffers from the incident.  I fortunately have never experienced an earthquake or at least one I felt. 
This is a devastating time in Japan’s history.  Everyone can feel greatly saddened at Japan’s loss in lives and property.  Can you imagine an 8.9 earthquake that lasted for two minutes and created a tsunami that caused 7 ft waves along the western coast of the United States and down the coast of South America?  There have been ‘aftershocks’ from this earthquake nearly the size of the Kobe earthquake of 1995.  The power of this earthquake and tsunami is beyond measure or full comprehension.  We have no idea of the death toll from the Sendai earthquake and tsunami.  We do know that Sendai is a city of about 1 million people and it was greatly damaged.  We also know that about 10,000 people are reportedly unaccounted for in the Japanese port town of Minamisanriku in quake-hit Miyagi prefecture.   In addition, two high-speed bullet trains were missing alongside a cruise ship carrying 100 passengers that was swept away when the wave hit. One of the trains was reported to be carrying 400 passengers.  Sadly the number of lost lives will be enormous.
The people of Japan will feel the effect of this earthquake and the tsunami beyond the life expectancy of anyone who actually experienced it.
The loss of property is unimportant.  A single life cannot be measured against any amount of ‘property’.  But for those of us in ceramics, the effect these events have had or will have on ceramics in Japan may still be of interest, even if it is merely a diversion from the great sadness we feel from the loss of lives. 
Miyagi prefecture where the city of Sendai is located is not known for their chawan but is well known for folk pottery.  Kirikomi-yaki and Tsutsumi-yaki are from the Miyagi prefecture.  The Miyagi prefecture has several ceramic related museums.  They include:

A two hundred piece collection of Jomon earthenware forms the core of this museum. Amassed by poet Sakon Sou, the museum is housed in a specially renovated 'kura' or an old Japanese warehouse.

TOHOKU Modern Pottery and Porcelain Museum
Tohoku Modern Pottery and Porcelain Museum was established in 1987 in order to preserve the folk ceramic culture in the region. The collection includes folk pottery and porcelain of Tohoku region made during Edo, Meiji and Taisho period are mainly shown. Kirikomi-yaki and Tsutsumi-yaki of Miyagi prefecture, Aizu-Hongo-yaki, Obori-Soma-yaki, Soma-Koma-yaki of Fukushima prefecture, Hirashimizu-yaki of Yamagata prefecture and Shiroiwa-yaki of Akita prefecture are on display.  A true folk art museum
(Examples of this work are difficult to find on the the English web, If you have links to these on Japanese web sites, I would appreciate that information )

The Marusu Museum
The Marusu Museum was established in 1950 to house the collection of Suda family in the region. The collection includes earthenware, Sue-style wareT'ang three-colored potteryKyo-yakiImari-yakiKutani-yakiSeto-yakiMino-yaki, Shigaraki-yakiIga-yakiBanko-yaki,  Aizu-yaki and other ceramic ware are on display.
(This is the museum for tea ware including many chawan.)

The Akamon Museum located in Sendai
The Akamon Museum was established in 1982. The collection includes brush paintings, western paintings pottery and porcelain, swords, armors, helmets of samurai, sculptures as well as literature related to the local clan family in the region are mainly on display.

Thank you for some of this information

The earthquake affected many ceramic artists and art groups.  We have no idea how many.  However at last report Kelly Cox, an American ceramic artist traveling in Japan, is still missing.  Her wedding is planned for April.  I hope that she will post a comment on this site saying that she is well.  If you know Kelly and she is well, please have her post a comment on this blog.  I have great hope for Kelly’s survival since NewsCore recently posted the following statement. “The US has accounted for ‘most all’ of Americans known to be in Japan after the country was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami Friday”. ( Since this post I heard third-hand that Kelly survived and had her wedding! Congratulations!)
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota was conducting a tour to Japan for their members and staff.  All are safe.
Columbus State University in Georgia had a small group of ceramic students studying ceramics in Japan.  All are safe.  
Ian MacDougall a Canadian living in Japan since 1984 commented, “The earthquake smashed one of my wife’s nicest pieces of pottery, but that’s the worst it did to us.”CBC.  Multiply that comment by the thousands of others that also lost their “nicest pieces of pottery”.
Euan Craig, an Australian potter living and working in Mashiko, Japan, felt the effects of this quake and wrote about it in his blog.  They are safe but the kiln is damaged and they have no insurance because it was leased to someone without insurance.  I'm sure they could use some help.
We now know that Mashiko, Japan was greatly damages,  It has been reported that nearly all kilns in Mashiko suffered some damage and many pots were broken.   Koichiro Isaka has posted damage to Hamada's kilns on his Facebook page.  Look on his "wall".  There was considerable damage to Hamada's Reference Museum containing some of his best work.  Many pieces were lost.  I worked with Hamada Shoji in 1963 so I feel that loss very deeply. 
Ken Matsuzaki has established a relief fund for the Mashiko Potter Foundation.  Currently that fund only receives money by bank transfer which costs $45 USD to the bank if transferred internationally from the United States.  I'll contact Ken to see if there is another way to contribute and post that here if he answers.  In the meantime if you don't mind the bank getting that much, contact me, prove you are a ceramic artist and I'll send you that bank swift code etc.  I am sure you can find it other places.  As you probably already know, when you have that type of bank information, someone can take out as easily as put in.  I have suggested to Ken that he use PayPal or a credit card system.  
Jan at Jane Street Clayworks has an interesting post on the disaster with several quotes and their links related to ceramics.
I can’t get my head around a post on tea bowls right now but think we all could make a small difference in the situation in Japan if we each donated the profit from just one ceramic item.  How about the profit from a day's work?
I’m sure you have your favorite places to make donations to relief efforts like this.  My favorite places to donate are:
Those funds won't help the potters but there is great need and each of these organizations does great work in areas that need disaster relief.  Japan has given the ceramic world so much.  Perhaps it is time we give a little back.
The Leach Pottery in St Ives England has established a relief fund for the potters in Mashiko, Japan.  Contact Julia if you would like to make a special donation there.   
Be sure to avoid unknown or little known relief agencies and private individuals no matter who they say they are.  I'm sure the St. Ives pottery  and Ken Matsuzaki are fine.  
Also avoid those who say they are posting images from the disaster and ask you to log on.  There may be unwanted cookies attached.
Now we can only pray for the victims of this disaster and for all of Japan.
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  1. The damage and destruction from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan looks massive from the images I’ve seen on television and the Internet! I hope the United States and other countries make substantial contributions to the relief efforts there.

  2. Greetings from Bangkok. For myself, it is almost unimaginable what it was like to experience an 8.9 quake, then followed by a tsunami. I have been in many quakes, the biggest being S.F. in '89, a 7.1 temblor that lasted only 15 seconds. My knees were shaking afterwards as the awesome power of the earth revealed itself in the twinkle of an eye.
    I live amongst many Japanese expats. I see them in the elevator, the street, in shops. You can see the concern on their faces, the fear of the unknown. This is a massive blow for Japan that will ripple outwards and affect everything in some way. We are all part of this world and every other one that may exist. Nothing is separate. All things reside in Oneness. Let us drink our tea in silence, breathing the breath of all life.

  3. To Steve,
    Of course the United States and other countries will help but at critical and disastrous times like this it is millions of individuals stepping forward to do our part with millions of tiny, small, medium or even large donations that combined will make the critical difference in the lives of the survivors. Only through the concerted efforts of everyone helping will we begin to see true progress in the effort to alleviate the suffering. It will take much more than what governments can do to help. The other day the Chinese Red Cross gave the equivalent of $150,000 USD to the Japanese Red Cross. That is a lot of money but in reality it is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to want is truly needed. We live on one world and in that sense we are one people. The Japanese are not “those other people” they are us.

  4. To Ho Go
    As you say, “Nothing is separate. All things reside in Oneness. Let us drink our tea in silence, breathing the breath of all life.”

    When the world begins to understand that we are truly One we may find a day when we can sit with anyone in the world and simply enjoy a cup or bowl of tea in true peace.

  5. Thank you Cho for helping me to know more about how Japanese potters have been affected...I am a potter who for years has held Japanese pottery and culture in the highest regard. I lived and studied in Osaka years ago, and I even met Euan Craig at a workshop in Tokyo about 3 years ago...what a lovely man and wonderful potter. I am still reeling from all this...again, thank you.

  6. Thank you Marianne. But this tiny post does not begin to scratch the surface of the loss either in lives or ceramic work. A well known potter whose wife’s parents live in Tokyo told me that his wife’s parent’s building shook so much that they lost all of their pottery and glassware. Thankfully they were not hurt. That must have happened to millions of people. Our feelings of relief when we hear that, “they were not hurt”, underscores the fact that the loss of ceramic work really is not important. It is the ongoing struggle of the living that will exist for years to come in Japan. What a tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.