5 September 2018

Visiting artists in Japan - volume 3: Shinpei Mawatari

Beautiful hibi-kohiki bowl by Shinpai Mawatari, with our harvested beens

Our final destination was Hokkaido, the North Island of Japan. 

It was in the middle of unusual typhoon approaching that made us worry about the flight, but fortunately it had eased off and we managed to visit Shinpei Mawatari and his family, in Yoichi, Hokkaido. 

I first came across with his work via Instagram feed of a well known pottery shop Utsuwa Chidori in Tokyo. Among many potters work they present, Shinpei’s original “hibi-kohiki” (“crackled” kohiki) ware stood out far from others to my eyes. Its simplicity, the warmth of its texture and tones, variety of shapes and sizes. 

To someone who loves food (both cooking and serving), it is undoubtably a pure joy to see his work. Certainly it was to me (whether I’m good at cooking or not is another matter!) and I have been thoroughly enjoying his Instagram images, which often combined with lovely food with all their homegrown vegetables.

Sinpei at his studio

The scale of their allotment is huge. The dynamic of it was rather unreal to me. An ideal life style, one might think, yet the hardship in Northern country like Hokkaido with meters of snows piled for a long winter that he shares in his feed has actually made me feel so intrigued to seek more about his potter’s life all together. 

I enjoyed seeing his fatherhood from his little girl appearing now and again, and also in his wife’s Instagram feed too. I began to communicate with them both ever since. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to visit them? I asked my husband. It’s Hokkaido. It’s a long way just to visit a day. But we felt strongly right about this. So we have send an email to him. 

His response was so so genuine, and even more so, they offered us to stay. We were worried if that is going to be too much, being too rude. After all, it was the first time we’d meet. But we really liked Shinpei’s response saying that “I would like to follow my instinct. I believe that good will come.” How lovely is that! We of course loved his answer so went ahead to follow our gut feeling too.

Shinpei and his wife kindly came to pick us up from Otaru station. On route to their home, we saw many mountains as well as coast lines. I was rather surprised to see so many mountains as I always imagined the flat fields in Hokkaido. With such beautiful sights passing by, we headed to his house, surrounded by a huge land he owns with his allotment and his studio within.

Shipei harvesting fresh vegetables form their huge allotment 

Shinpei grew up in Hokkaido. He is slightly younger than me, but he has fifteen years of career as a professional potter. He recalls the beginning of his potter’s life, some struggles and changes he made. Having mentioned about how scary for me to have gone full time, he tells me that he would have been the same if he took a long journey till late. He was young and naive, just went for it without knowing much, he says gently. 

What he creates today is truly beautiful with his established experience, and yet doesn’t have 'snobby' 'sharp' look or any sorts, but the gentleness to welcome people who hold his tableware. 

His unique kohiki style has yellow ochre like tones and crackled surface texture, which I love. Each piece are slightly different depending on firing, which makes more exciting for us to choose own favourite. 

He also creates white version of these, as well as some hakeme (brush decorated slip) and ash glazed pieces, which he uses the resources from a local orchard. At outside his studio, there are natural spring water running that fills numbers of buckets to filter the ashes. 

spring water supply used for washing ashes
Shinpei’s ash glazed ware

The evening we stayed was so heartwarming. His wife served us a wonderful feast on his tableware, with all the vegetables freshly harvested by Shinpei that day. Even my daughter who can be a quite fussy on eating, did enjoyed freshly picked tomatoes, which were so so sweet. 

Selections of beautiful tableware at their home

Personally I was also very fond of his wife’s style in the kitchen, from the selection of items to how she stores and displays them. She used to run a food related shop, so no wonder she has a good taste.

Sabrina enjoys freshly picked tomato

Another wonderful aspect of this visit was that Sabrina got to play with their daughter, who is happened to be the same age. She absolutely loved the company, enjoyed the every minutes of it, laughing and giggling, and at some point, they were totally hysterical! It was so lovely to see them two together and has certainly made our trip extra special.

Thank you so much Shinpei's family for your hospitality and such a wonderful memory. 

Shinpei’s Instagram can be viewed here.