Kazan Long Interview
Kazan × Japan Marche
Arita porcelain has been the popular “it” item in Europe since the 1700’s ever since its export from Japan to Europe; nobles frantically collected Arita porcelain and influenced the development of European porcelain. Japan Marche knew this was one and only chance to visit an Arita porcelain kiln to learn about the company, Kazan, and see the craftsmanship first hand which creates Traditional Japanese Craft designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry!
A staff from Japan Marche took the first plane at 6:15 AM from to Hakata, then a train to Arita. Arriving at Arita, the staff expected commotion but surprised by such a peaceful, countryside train station. The town is running its own schedule; no sightseers around nor big commotion of trucks carrying Arita porcelain to other prefectures. The town of Arita was nothing that the staff expected.
Although Kazan is the company name producing Arita porcelain , their kiln name is Manemon Kiln, named after the founder. Arriving at 11AM, a one-on-one session with Mr. Daisuke Yamamoto started as he kindly drove the Japan Marche staff through the main street of Arita. Here is the interview with Mr. Daisuke Yamamoto, also known as the 11th Manemon Yamamoto.
Japan Marche: Your business card says “Daisuke Yamamoto”. Why do you not write that you are the 11th Manemon? It sounds very attractive to us consumers.
Yamamoto: Well, people do give me friendly advice that my business card should say “the 11th Manemon Yamamoto” as my name… I can understand why they say this and I appreciate their advice, but the truth is, I am a very simple person. It will feel awkward to me and may sound as though I am boasting. I do not need to be called the 11th Manemon, although my ancestors and also my father used the name Manemon. We are producing what is in demand by the market. Our history is not selling the products. It is people now who are working that endeavor to let our kiln going.
Japan Marche: There are so many stores on the main street.
Yamamoto: Yes, there are, even though it may be hard to believe that this is the “main street” of the town for those who came from busier places of Japan... In this town, the percentage of people engaged in Arita porcelain industry is about 90%. Of the 90%, one third is kiln, the producers of porcelain, and two thirds are distributors. Historically and quite naturally, many of those who cannot produce porcelain became distributors. However, some number of people in this industry are also farmers. During their cropping season, it is difficult to have them come working exclusively for us every day because farming is also an important industry. Many are irreplaceable craftsman so I cannot request so strongly for fear of them drifting apart from our kiln. The truth is, though, farming and porcelain industry have been in Arita a very long time that there are generations of connections with each farming family and kiln.
Japan Marche: Because of the 400-year history of Arita porcelain, this town is dependent on Arita porcelain industry then?
Yamamoto:Arita porcelain is the main industry here but there were only 5 kilns during my grandfather’s generation producing porcelain tableware. Arita porcelain here mainly produced hibachi brazier until then. Later, Arita porcelain producers came up with tableware which would be more in demand since hibachi brazier was no longer needed in modern housing environment.
Japan Marche: There is also a stone mountain in town?
Yamamoto:There used to be an operating stone mountain in town, a famous one called Izumi-yama. I can still remember the sound of dynamite blasts as they tore down the inside of the mountain to excavate for fine porcelain stone. That was when I was still a child when the porcelain stone was from this area. Now, most of the porcelain stone is from Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture. As you can see from bits of stone on the ground, the stone here was white but the walls of the mountain is now yellow and gray, not fit for fine porcelain.
Japan Marche: What is your vision for your Arita porcelain and kiln?
Yamamoto:Commodity tableware is what is being produced more and more, whereas artwork Arita porcelain piece is becoming rarer, unfortunately. Balance of commodity tableware and artwork piece is a constant struggle to keep the kiln going because commodity tableware allows us to produce decent amounts so that our kiln is paid. On the other hand, artwork craftsmanship is prestigious and what has been succeeded in our kiln since hundreds of years ago. The number of people at our kiln has reduced drastically during the last several decades, but because our kiln is still able to employ in-house craftsman for each process, our kiln is able to maintain our position. These craftsman and their craftsmanship is the strength of our kiln. At the end of the day, kiln history of 200 years or 400-or-so history of Arita porcelain is not what is important to me; what is important is that our kiln craftsman are able to be satisfied and proud of the pieces they produce. My mission is to let craftsman work on artwork pieces to maintain their technique. Our kiln has a book of original color glaze recipe which has been succeeded only by each Manemon. This is another strength of our kiln, but what good would it do if our craftsman cannot be provided the right kind of work to show off their technique?