Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto Celebrates Japanese Pottery and Preserves Tradition

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Pottery techniques that were used for centuries are still used by contemporary Japanese artisans today. You get a sense of eternity with them. Left, Shino style by Higuchi Masayuki; second from left, an Iga vase by Furutani Michio; second from right, Tsujimura Kai, Shigaraki style vase; right a Bizen vase by Fujiwara Ken.

I still have the feeling of the ceramic cup that held my water. The way this small work of art’s round and slightly rough shape felt on my fingers and hand. The beauty of its grey color mottled with a light yellow and slight wabi-sabi imperfection made by Nara Artisan Tsujimura Yui. I can remember the energy the vessel radiated that with every sip I took from it, how made me feel awake and alive in this amazing present moment of my life here in Japan.

A plethora of sake cups, all one-of-a-kind and hand-made by Japanese artisans.

A plethora of sake cups, all one-of-a-kind and hand-made by Japanese artisans.

If you are looking for the soul of Japan, look to its ceramics. From sake vessels to tea ceremony ceramics to ikebana vases to art sculpture, Japan lives and breathes mindful artisan and meaning through this beautiful ceramics art form called Yakimono. And one man is devoted to promoting and protecting this art created by approximately 60 Japanese artisans of more than 40 traditional styles across Japan. 

Robert Yellin in his Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto.

Robert Yellin in his Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto.

I visited World-Renowned Japanese Pottery Expert and Art Dealer Robert Yellin’s Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto last week. Yakimono means fired thing. It’s an important term that encompasses the entire ceramic culture of Japan, he writes on his websites that are replete with the history, tradition and splendid art of Japanese ceramics. Take a virtual tour of his gallery here! Yellin also sells artisans’ work online. 

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Another fabulous piece, a goblet by Osaka Artisan Tomita Mikiko.

Yellin wrote about Japanese ceramics for 10 years for the Japan Times. I’m still poring through his prolific writings on his website that include his amazing repository of culture, history and brilliance. It’s a must read for amazing detail into the work, history as well as amazing deposit of knowledge of Japanese culture, far beyond what I can explain here! Be sure to have a look!

An important work by Akiyama Yo, Sharin–Wheel-T-175–Akiyama. Akiyama (b.1953) is widely considered to be one of the greatest conceptual ceramic artists living today,

An important work by Akiyama Yo, Sharin–Wheel-T-175–Akiyama. Akiyama (b.1953) is widely considered to be one of the greatest conceptual ceramic artists living today,

I have just begun to devour all of its amazing information. Yellin still writes for numerous publications, not to mention lecturing worldwide, including at Yale University Art Museum. His book, Ode To Japanese Pottery, highlights sake cups and flasks by approximately 100 modern and contemporary potters.

Beautiful garden and entry of the Sukiya Japanese traditional style house.

Beautiful garden and entry of the Sukiya Japanese traditional style house.

Visiting and spending time with Yellin at the gallery is a peaceful and philosophical journey in itself. The gallery, which represents living and deceased Japanese Yakimono artisans alike and their one-of a kind ceramics, is a work of art too.

Nestled up convoluted stone steps near Kyoto’s famed Ginkaku-ji Temple, or Silver Palace, and the beginning of the Philosopher’s Path, the gallery is in a historic refined and elegant architecture of a Sukiya-style house, which uses natural wood materials and is based on the tea house aesthetics.

The beautiful Sukiya-style house that is the Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto .

The beautiful Sukiya-style house that is the Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto .

Originally from New Jersey, Yellin was 9 when his family moved to Hollywood, Florida. Yellin moved to Japan in 1984 for the aesthetics he was curious, including poetry, another one of Japan’s famous arts. Poetry is how I met him too, as he performed some of his poetry at the Writers in Kyoto annual Poetry Reading I MCd on June 24.

Yellin among the 40 different types of Japanese ceramic styes he represents at the gallery.

Yellin among the 40 different types of Japanese ceramic styes he represents at the gallery.

“The same techniques and elements found in traditional Japanese pottery centuries ago are still being applied here,” Yellin explained – being made with water, air, clay and fire. In a sense you get a glimpse of eternity because this same process from hundreds of years ago are being used today in each piece. It wakes me up to the now just to hold one of these pieces, each having their own energy and unique form as well as the essence of the artisan who made it.

More amazing sake cups and a vase.

More amazing sake cups and a vase. Takeuchi  Shingo from Seto made the vase.

That deep sense of connectivity is felt with the pieces Yakimono is a central figure in Japanese folk art, Mingei, meaning “folk arts” or “arts of the people.” The Japanese folk art movement relates the purpose of Japanese functional art – art that is used and created by regular people to enrich their everyday life.  Something I first learned about when I visited the Japan Folk Museum in Osaka.  It’s not about a millionaire celebrity artist. It’s about real people, real art, real purpose and utility.

Japanese Ceramic that is 350 years old.

Bizen Tea Jar from the Momoyama Period (late 1600s.)

“Any work of art belongs to everyone, because it is whatever each person sees in it,” said Kawai Kanjirō, a potter and key figure in the Mingei movement Yellin introduced me to and showing me his some interesting books.  “It is the same with people. We are all one. I am you. The you that only I can see.”

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Shigaraki uzukumaru- jar by Tsujimura Shiro. Small Bizen sake flasks, Harada Shuroku. Box below is of a farmer pulling a radish by Ikeda Shugo. Two glistening vases are a style of Tenmoku by Furutani Noriyuki.

Kanjirō worked with natural glazes and innovative forms, and was also a poet and refused the designation of Living National Treasure in 1955, the first year it was designated, preferring to be an artist in search of beauty rather than one heaped with accolades.  “When you become so absorbed in your work that beauty flows naturally then your work truly becomes a work of art,” said Kanjirō.

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Assorted Yunomi tea cups and more ceramics for coffee or beer too!

“Everything that is, is not. Everything is, yet at the same time, nothing is. I myself am the emptiest of all,”Kanjirō said. Deep thoughts to ponder while holding a gorgeous cup that will bring me a lifetime of memories and enjoyment, such that I had visiting Yellin and his gallery. I’m so glad I visited and even found a great birthday gift for my hubby, who used to do pottery himself. Prices range for a few thousand ¥ to a few million of ¥. The difference, Yellin explained, in that older living artisans’ work is more valuable. As elders, they are honored and experienced in the craft.

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren, one of the amazing books at Yellin's gallery.

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren, one of the amazing books at Yellin’s gallery.

And each finished product took countless hours of intensive labor, skill and dedication to the craft to make. Very valuable indeed! what a great philosophy. Something rare in a global-monoculture of factory reproductions. Only one more reason why I love Japan so much. Plus it’s a small price to pay for such a beautiful object that will give you years of enjoyment! And save your sanity and the world, too!

Yellin writes in his book, Yanagi Sōetsu, the founder of the Japan Crafts Movement, wrote in his classic book, The Unknown Craftsman, “On reflection, one must conclude that in bringing cheap and useful goods to the average household, industrialism has been of service to mankind – but at the cost of the heart, of warmth, friendliness and beauty.”

And I would like to add to these words, “at the expense of nature and the precious resources of this glorious yet fragile home we all share, Earth.” If we use objects in our daily lives that move the heart and help us transcend our daily routine and thinking, we may be able to uplift our spirits to a plane that will incorporating caring for the Earth as part of existence. And nothing seems to be more appropriate than using pottery, which brings together earth, air, fire and water – the special elements that give us life.

Steps up to the gallery, located near Kyoto's famed Ginkaku-ji Temple, or Silver Pavillion.

Steps up to the gallery, located near Kyoto’s famed Ginkaku-ji Temple, or Silver Pavillion.

The Community House and Information Center in Kobe in association with the Kobe Women’s Club is also hosting a tour of the gallery September 11 that you won’t want to miss. Do pay a visit! If the taxi driver has a hard time finding it, just give Yellin a call and hand him the driver the phone to direct him! Because you won’t want to miss this wonderful experience and beautiful art!

As I was leaving, Yellin gave me some issues of Sake Today and The Japan Beer Times. He also recommended I visit one of his favorite temples, the nearby Honnen-ji Buddhist Temple that is a mere 12-minute walk from the gallery along the Philosopher’s Path.

Flowers in the fountain of the Honen-ji Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

Flowers in the fountain of the Honen-ji Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

The heat and cicadas buzzing accompanied me to this beautiful spot, of which along the route I found Kisaki, a fabulous traditional Japanese restaurant that served vegan and vegetarian options. The delicious chilled tofu, tempura and pickled veggies and tea was just the recharge before being stunned by this temple’s silent splendor.

I recommend it too!

Chilled tofu at Japanese Restaurant along way to Honen-ji Buddhist Temple. Vegan and vegetarian options!

Chilled tofu at Japanese Restaurant along way to Honen-ji Buddhist Temple. Vegan and vegetarian options!

Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto

Website

Web Gallery

Tel/Fax:

Japan Domestic 075-708-5581
Int’l (81) 75-708-5581
Fax Japan Domestic: 075-708-5393
Fax Int’l: (81) 75-708-5393

Address:

Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery
Ginkakuji-mae-cho 39
Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu
Japan 606-8407

Download a map for directions here.

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