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The essence of Japanese ceramics

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TEA WARE used for tea ceremonies — BRONTË H. LACSAMANA

NATURAL aesthetics are celebrated in Japanese culture. In ceramics, high-fire techniques result in unglazed wares that show how the goal of ceramic pieces is not to be as polished as possible, but instead are valued for their functionality in everyday life. Today, it is an art all over the world, encompassing new and unconventional expressions that have made it a contemporary, in addition to a functional, art form.

Scholars estimate that, in Japan, utilitarian earthenware date back to the pre-feudal Heian period, as early as the year 794.

Currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila (The M) is the exhibit “Yakishime: Earth Metamorphosis” — an initiative of the Japan Foundation Manila — which tackles the history, evolution, and examples of Japanese ceramic ware known as yakishime.

The exhibition occupies the museum’s North Gallery on the second floor and is ongoing until July 31.

“Yaki or yaku means fire or burn, and shime or shimeru means heightened or combined. I’d like you to recall and imagine the time when the artists of ancient times sat on the soil and stared at the fire that burned their works,” Ben Suzuki, director of the Japan Foundation in Manila, said at the exhibit’s launch on July 3.

On view at the gallery are pots, bowls, and jars from before the 12th century, and tea ware from the Momoyama period in the 16th century. Some pieces, however, are only represented by photographs due to the original pieces being too fragile for international transport.

The exhibition also includes new and unconventional expressions of yakishime by noted Japanese ceramicists Takashi Ikura, Kyoko Tokumaru, and Makiko Hattori.

Filipino ceramic artist Jezzel Wee, who studied in Japan for three years and now teaches at the University of the Philippines, told BusinessWorld that yakishime makes use of very painstaking techniques.

“Even the angle by which you place [the clay item] over the fire affects how the texture on its surface will turn out,” she said while leading a tour around the exhibition. “You can control the quality of the piece through the thickness of the clay and the intensity of the fire.”

She pointed out the various textures that contemporary ceramicists can create in their works, highlighting how ceramic ware can range from simple and functional for serving food and making tea, to experimental and creative as objet d’arts.

For National Commission of Culture and the Arts chair Victorino Manalo, yakishime doesn’t just reflect a distinct Japanese sensibility and aesthetic — it is also something Filipinos can learn from.

“It teaches about finding the universal in small, seemingly ordinary things. Perhaps it is time we examine our own unglazed pottery which we dismiss as the humble palayok. If we look through the lens of the Japanese, we may find more beauty in it,” said Mr. Manalo at the launch.

The exhibit has toured the world since 2016, featuring objects that span the chronicles of yakishime. After its run at The M, the exhibit will move to Iloilo in August, where it will be hosted by the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA).

The Philippine leg of the international tour is supported by the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines and features hands-on workshops and special events to be announced on the Japan Foundation Manila’s social media pages.

“Yakishime: Earth Metamorphosis”runs until July 31 at The M in Bonifacio Global City. Admission is free to the public. — Brontë H. Lacsamana

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