I woke up long before the sun rose on Monday, the week after my business trip to the United States. In the dark, ambiguous midnight or early morning, I left in time for the flight to Fukuoka.
There have been almost no business trips or trips since the pandemic. Although my body did not follow the irregular life rhythm for the first time in a long time, I had expectations and excitement to inspire it.
I've only seen the actual work made by the workshop I'm visiting today, and only one piece.
Even though there were almost no contacts, I felt something attracted and looked for contacts. When I found him, I asked him for the possibility of purchasing for the store. Then I was able to talk with him for a short time at the Zoom meeting. He was very calm, soft-mannered, and politely explained the work. His work seen on SNS has a very rich expression, is powerful, and is delicate. Instead of looking through the screen, I was really looking forward to picking up the real thing and seeing the beautiful work.
The workshop is located near Mt. Aso in Kumamoto, surrounded by mountains.
I was planning to go to Okayama the next day, so I decided to move based in Fukuoka. I rented a car from Fukuoka Airport and started a two and a half hour excursion.
I hadn't had breakfast yet, so I stopped by the Udon Noodle restaurant on the way. The soft Udon noodles are gentle on the empty stomach, and the thin soup stock is delicious and I felt it permeated my body.
The designated place where I arrived while being deceived by the navigation system of the rental car was surrounded by abundant nature. Rather, it was so rich that it was unclear where the private land was and where it wasn't, and I was a little confused as to where to stop the car. When I parked the car next to what seemed to be the workshop and walked toward the entrance, there was a person who welcomed me with a smile. Mr. Yamashita.
For a short while, he welcomed me and introduced me to Mr. Yamashita's wife, and immediately started moving to get the lunch we had promised. I was so late because I got lost.
Before arriving, I felt tired from unfamiliar driving and getting up early, but after meeting Mr. and Mrs. Yamashita, the tiredness melted into the calm atmosphere of the two.
I was able to talk about various things while having lunch together. The first thing that surprised me was when he said he does not do sales actively by himself. He waits someone finds him. I was surprised, but at same time I understood the reason why people who make such wonderful works were not sought after. According to Mr. Yamashita, it seems that he entrusts the fact that he can meet if there's fate. Mr. Yamashita's way of thinking is fully reflected in his work. His pottery begins with fetching the clay. Take clay from his garden or nearby mountains. The ash from the grass cut in the garden and the volcanic ash from Mt. Aso are used for his glaze. He even said he's working hard to collect ashes when Mt. Aso erupted. I could imagine that the neighbors were in a hurry to escape, but Mr. Yamashita working hard to collect ashes, and I could not stop laughing.
After lunch, we returned to the workshop to see his work. What he said about his concept is "to embody the benefits of nature." I could see what it means from his works. Each of the works have a different textures, and it seems that the works themselves decide what they want be. Mr. Yamashita's concept, which cherishes fate and tries to express nature as it is, is consistent and I was very attracted to his sense of values.
While showing me the workshop, I was able to hear the reason why he decided to start making pottery. It dates back more than 20 years. It was when he was in London when he was traveling the world. While helping a friend who opened a flea market, he was selling accessories made with beads he found in Thailand, which he had visited before London. One day at a flea market, a woman stopped and talked to him with an interest in the product. "Is this made in Japan? he was asked and answered "No". Then she said "Why? Aren't you Japanese?" . The incident changed his mind. It gave him an opportunity to rethink what he was doing, and from there he immediately returned to Japan and strengthened his desire to pursue the path of manufacturing.
After returning to Japan, he encountered pottery while traveling from Toyama to Kyoto (about 180 miles) by walk, searching for traditional Japanese culture. During the trip, a woman he met on a hitchhiking was a potter, and after listening to various stories, he came across the world of pottery he was looking for.
After that, the days of visiting various kilns in Kyushu continued, and he became a disciple of Koishiwara ware.
In Koishiwara, he learned the basics of making vessels from clay, and then became independent and opened the Asobo kiln.
After independence, from the idea of "making a vessel full of energy born from this earth", he started by searching for clay as a raw material and arrived at the current style of sticking to materials native to Aso.
"I hope that the people who pick it up will feel the blessings and power of the volcano." Mr. Yamashita said.
When the sun started to set, I left Yamashita's workshop and was driving on the way back to Fukuoka.
Recommended by Mr. Yamashita, I decided to return from a different road than the one I came from, and went up the mountain road for a long time. There is a place like an observatory, so I decided to stop the car and look at the scenery.
Mr. Yamashita explores nature, finds various things, and incorporates them into his work. If he feels something organic in the shape of the stone that caught his eye, he sits in front of the stone and creating an object that imitates the stone. Or, when he found a soil that he liked, he cut it while maintaining its shape and made a ceramic plate that was baked as it was. That's how he interacts with nature. He said he's doing treasure hunt everyday.
The view of Aso from the observatory is magnificent. It's too magnificent and I don't (and maybe won't) have words to express yet.
However, Mr. Yamashita's works, which has a strong presence and both wildness and delicacy coexist, are made with his endless passion for seriously expressing this nature.