TSUJI SEIMEI 

Born in Setagaya, Tokyo, Tsuji Seimei (1927-2008) was interested in antiques under the influence of his father. It was his father's collection that inspired him to produce ceramics. After learning the basics of ceramics with a potter, he started his career as a ceramic artist as early as at the age of fourteen, putting up a sign saying "Tsuji Ceramics Laboratory" at home. In those years when he produced white porcelain, temmoku and blue-and-white porcelain, Tsuji was so courageous that he repeatedly visited renowned ceramic artists Tomimoto Kenkichi and Itaya Hazan with his own works to ask for their advice.

After building Seimei Kiln, a noborigama (climbing kiln), in Tama district of Tokyo in 1955, Tsuji heard from Eastern-ceramics researcher Koyama Fujio about the Rokkoyo (six ancient kilns) that had kept
nated by Shigaraki ware. While based in the Kanto Region in Eastern Japan, he decided to focus on yakishime ware using clay from Shigaraki town in the western region. Around that time, the ceramic artist came across Yamaguchi Yusuke's book titled Japanese Way of Perfecting Beauty from which he learned akaru sabi (bright loneliness), the aesthetic sense peculiar to Shigaraki ware that guided his activities thereafter. In the phrase akaru sabi Tsuji sensed "the beauty of transparency filled with the positive energy of dawn, yet adrift in the subdued beauty of sabi."

Because Tsuji's studio with a noborigama fueled by firewood was near the midtown area unlike other kilns, many artists visited there including painters and writers in addition to ceramic artists. Some of them, including Sam Francis and Yamaguchi Takeo, tried to produce their works at Tsuji's studio. Tsuji visited kiln sites all over Japan, made friends with ceramic artists there, actively broadened his style, and energetically continued production until his death in 2008.

"Certainly I cannot judge, but as will emerge from history, art is always preserved in the world despite natural disasters and wars, because masterpieces have a soul and a strength. It is a miracle. For me, a ship is not just a form, just as I do not see in human beings only the external aspect; I must also grasp its essence, their personality. For me it is important that there is an inside and an outside.If I have to go further, I should use religion to get more help. "Tsuji Seimei, 1983 *

Not many potters have the sensitivity to listen to the "voice of sound and furnace", which requires many years of experience and eventually leads to mastery. Tsuji Seimei had it!

Many legends surround him, the great old master of Shigaraki ceramics. Thus the son of an antiquarian is said to have "perceived secrets of old ceramics"

Tsuji Seimei began his career as a potter at the age of ten, already at thirteen at the "Tsuji Ceramic Research Institute" in Setagaya he learned as a teenager from great old masters such as Itaya Hazan, Tomimoto Kenkichi and Hamada Shoji. In 1955 he built with his wife Tsuji Kyô, one of the first multi-chamber kilns (noborigama) on a slope of the Tama hills of Tokyo.

Tsuji Seimei mainly burned Shigaraki ceramics, which he considered the purest form of Japanese ceramics. His main focus was on classical tea cups (chanoyu), which he also studied. He had rejected a certain lifestyle for years and never used a Tsuji electric oven, all his life he worked on a simple 'Te-rokuro' Japanese style hand-wheel, and with a wooden stick he always refused certain aids technicians. Doing this, he said, would have meant reducing and making the rhythm of his soul fall apart.


Based in western Tokyo for most of his life, ceramic artist Seimei Tsuji (1927-2008) trained under Kenkichi Tomimoto, Hazan Itaya and other giants of modern Japanese pottery, eventually specialising in the art of yakishime (high-fired, unglazed stoneware). It was in this field that Tsuji left a lasting contribution, constructing his very own aesthetic - one distinguished by asymmetric forms and earthy colours. Known as akaru sabi, it is the focus of this extensive retrospective, which consists of around 150 of Tsuji's finest works, including calligraphy and items from his private collection. Looking back at the wide-ranging creative influences of an avant-garde master, it also incorporates pieces from ancient Peru and works produced by Western-style painter Takeo Yamaguchi, American ceramic sculptor Peter Voulkos and artists at Tsuji's studio.

"I will focus on tea utensils from now on," Tsuji vows. "The world of cha-no-yu is so deep and spiritual that I have only scratched the surface. I'm not interested in the superficial way that tea is served today."
Known for being a heavy sake drinker, he was once dubbed the "yokozuna sake-guzzler of the east" (the late Bizen potter Ken Fujiwara was his counterpart in the west). Now, though, it's the frothy tea that he enjoys.
In Taiyo magazine's series "Nihon no Kokoro (The Spirit of Japan)," an issue was solely devoted to Tsuji; the only other ceramist ever to have the same honor was Rosanjin. In it he poses with his own chawan and some antique ones. Tsuji's antique collection served as an inspiration in his work over a 50-year period. In 1987, he transformed an old farmhouse in Nagano Prefecture to store the 2,000-piece collection. Then, in 1990, disaster struck: The whole building burned to the ground, with the treasured collection in it. It took years for Tsuji to recover his inward strength. Yet, the inner world of the chawan is a source of inspiration and sinew for Tsuji and he continues the keep the te-rokuro spinning in the shadows of Tokyo.

Tsuji Seimei
Tsuji Seimei

"Soft and gentle skin that adapt perfectly to the hand, a deep tasteful shades & stunning works with  harmony "

Manuel Jensa 

Tsuji Seimei

1927 Born in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

1941 he founded a ceramic workshop with his sister Teruko Koji

1955 Established a ceramic workshop in Minamitama-gun.

1963 The "Green Plate Board Plate" celebrated at the White House.

1965 The Shigaraki Nature Museum is held at the Indiana University Art Museum.

1973 The tea bowl is held in the Ceramics Museum of Faenza.

He became a honored citizen of Tokyo in 2006.

2008 He died at the age of 81.

In the hilly part of the city of Tama, he creates and does Iga and Karatsu jobs, focusing on Zen natural works with Shigaraki soil. His works are often aimed at describing the expression of the sense of beauty that we can enclose in a word "Enlightened"

In this work there is a glimpse of withering in brightness, incredibly tasteful that is unimaginably produced around the Tokyo area.

A KEEN EAR FOR THE VOICE OF THE CLAYBy ROBERT YELLINfor The Japan Times, April 10, 1999

"Japanese ceramists often talk of the materials they use as having spirits and souls. A kiln, for instance, has its own kami, and the clay has a voice that if listened to carefully will reveal a shape that has lain dormant for centuries. It is up to the potter to communicate with these elements and create pottery that is not merely a form, but an entity that shares a place in our homes and hearts. Not many potters have the sensitivity to "listen" carefully to the voice of the clay or the kiln; that takes years of experience, and only a few ever do.

Tsuji Seimei (b. 1927) has. This living legend of the Japanese ceramic world is having a long overdue exhibition in Tokyo (his last one was in 1982) at Shinjuku Isetan's eighth floor museum until April 13, 1999; "Sixty Years of Potting" is the theme."

Tsuji started his clay journey quite young -- he first turned a te-rokuro (hand-turned potter's wheel) at the age of 10. His father was an antique collector and Tsuji was handling antique pots and listening to their secrets from early childhood (he says he could tell a good antique from a bad one when he was 5).

When he was 13 he formed the Tsuji Ceramic Research Institute in Setagaya, working there during the day and attending junior high classes at night. As a teenager, he worked with porcelain and visited masters such as Itaya Hazan,Tomimoto Kenkichi and Hamada Shoji to get their opinions about his work.

Itaya told him, "This is a very modern form, something I haven't seen before. Take out some of the lines here and it will be much better." Tomimoto gave similar advice. I'm not sure what modern forms they were referring to, though, because so much of Tsuji's work is traditional.

Tsuji fires mostly Shigaraki-yaki (he thinks it's the purest form of Japanese pottery) and Karatsu at his kiln Renkoji in Tama-shi -- yes, that's right, he's based in Tokyo. Shigaraki is the name of a small town in Shiga Prefecture and of the pottery made from the precious clay taken from its hills; Tsuji uses Shigaraki clay and his style is known as "Tokyo-Shigaraki."

In 1955 he built one of the first noborigama (climbing kilns) in Tokyo to fire the unglazed, high-fired stoneware. In the early days his neighbors thought that a conflagration had broken out when Tsuji fired his noborigama and some even called the fire department. Luckily, the hoses never extinguished the kiln fire, although there were a few close calls.

Tsuji says that it's the warmth of the gritty Shigaraki clay and the "twilight" colors of the fired works that attract him to it. His work enraptures the senses like a sunset sky, and all in natural simplicity. His chawan (tea bowls) are not fancy looking in their basic shapes. It's the masterful throwing and the rhythm (particularly the rhythm) that make them special.

"I use a te-rokuro which I rotate with a stick to give my work the rhythm of my soul," he comments. "With an electric wheel all is too precise and mechanized."

I have seen some Tsuji chawan, vases, and tokkuri (sake flasks) that I can only describe as symphonies in clay; the rhythm is the same.

Tsuji has also essayed Shigaraki objets including cans (complete with half-opened lids), large boxes, Chaplin-like bowler hats and walking canes, and spiral- or wavy-lined impressed platters.

Still, it's the basic forms that Tsuji has worked with most: chaire (tea caddies), tokkuri and guinomi (sake flasks and cups), leaf-shaped plates, and hachi(serving bowls). For Tsuji, the basics are all important.

"Pottery uses the five elements that give this planet life: clay, water, fire, wind and sky, along with the potter's hand working in harmony," he says. "Thus beauty is born."

Tsuji refers to his Shigaraki as having a feeling of akarui (light) sabi, which contrasts with the dark and lonely feeling usually associated with this crucial term in tea aesthetics. He has studied cha-no-yu for years and has a wonderful chashitsu (tea house) in his garden.

"I will focus on tea utensils from now on," Tsuji vows. "The world of cha-no-yu is so deep and spiritual that I have only scratched the surface. I'm not interested in the superficial way that tea is served today."

Known for being a heavy sake drinker, he was once dubbed the "yokozuna sake-guzzler of the east" (the late Bizen potter Ken Fujiwara was his counterpart in the west). Now, though, it's the frothy tea that he enjoys.

In Taiyo magazine's series "Nihon no Kokoro (The Spirit of Japan)," an issue was solely devoted to Tsuji; the only other ceramist ever to have the same honor was Rosanjin. In it he poses with his own chawan and some antique ones. Tsuji's antique collection served as an inspiration in his work over a 50-year period. In 1987, he transformed an old farmhouse in Nagano Prefecture to store the 2,000-piece collection. Then, in 1990, disaster struck: The whole building burned to the ground, with the treasured collection in it. It took years for Tsuji to recover his strength.

But recover he has, and this exhibition is a celebration of his resilience and his life, so extraordinary and full of the rhythms of the universe and clay.

Tsuji Seimei also seeks to bring out the beauty of clay, in his case, the beauty of Shigaraki clay. Tsuji started his clay journey quite young: He first turned a te-rokuro (hand-turned potter's wheel) at the age of 10. His father was an antique collector and Tsuji was handling antique pots and listening to their secrets from early childhood (he says he could tell a good antique from a bad one when he was 5).
When he was 13 he formed the Tsuji Ceramic Research Institute in Setagaya, working there during the day and attending junior high classes at night. As a teenager, he worked with porcelain and visited masters such as Itaya Hazan, Tomimoto Kenkichi and Hamada Shoji to get their opinions about his work.
Itaya told him, "This is a very modern form, something I haven't seen before. Take out some of the lines here and it will be much better." Tomimoto gave similar advice. I'm not sure what modern forms they were referring to, though, because so much of Tsuji's work is traditional.
Tsuji fires mostly Shigaraki-yaki (he thinks it's the purest form of Japanese pottery) and Karatsu at his kiln Renkoji in Tama-shi -- yes, that's right, he's based in Tokyo. Shigaraki is the name of a small town in Shiga Prefecture and of the pottery made from the precious clay taken from its hills; Tsuji uses Shigaraki clay and his style is known as "Tokyo-Shigaraki."
In 1955 he built one of the first noborigama (climbing kilns) in Tokyo to fire the unglazed, high-fired stoneware. In the early days his neighbors thought that a conflagration had broken out when Tsuji fired his noborigama and some even called the fire department. Luckily, the hoses never extinguished the kiln fire, although there were a few close calls. Wood for the kiln was carted in by horse.
Tsuji says that it's the warmth of the gritty Shigaraki clay and the "twilight" colors of the fired works that attract him to it. His work enraptures the senses like a sunset sky, and all in natural simplicity. His chawan (tea bowls) are not fancy looking in their basic shapes. It's the masterful throwing and the rhythm (particularly the rhythm) that make them special.
"I use a te-rokuro which I rotate with a stick to give my work the rhythm of my soul," he comments. "With an electric wheel all is too precise and mechanized."
I have seen some Tsuji chawan, vases, and tokkuri (sake flasks) that I can only describe as symphonies in clay; the rhythm is the same. Tsuji has also essayed Shigaraki objets including cans (complete with half-opened lids), large boxes, Chaplin-like bowler hats and walking canes, and spiral- or wavy-lined impressed platters.
Still, it's the basic forms that Tsuji has worked with most: chaire (tea caddies), tokkuri and guinomi (sake cups), leaf-shaped plates, and hachi (serving bowls). For Tsuji, the basics are all important.
"Pottery uses the five elements that give this planet life: clay, water, fire, wind and sky, along with the potter's hand working in harmony," he says. "Thus beauty is born."
Tsuji refers to his Shigaraki as having a feeling of akarui (light) sabi, which contrasts with the dark and lonely feeling usually associated with this crucial term in tea aesthetics. He has studied cha-no-yu for years and has a wonderful chashitsu (tea house) in his garden

The Japan Times: April 10, 1999 
(C) All rights reserved

Tsuji Seimei was one of the greatest ceramic artists in all of Japanese history! He started potting as a teenager and continued firing up until last year. His works embodied all the good in Japanese ceramic art and spirit. A few articles I wrote can about Tsuji can be read at www.e-yakimono.net
I met him many times---yet only visited his home once--and he was always gracious and warm; we once went to Mishima's famous Zen Temple Ryutakuji together with his wife and also wonderful potter Kyo to view the annual hanging of the scrolls. Afterwards we had lunch at Mishima's also famous unagi restaurant Sakuraya. In his day Tsuji was a heavy sake drinker--known as the 'Yokozuna of the East' (Fujiwara Ken was the Yokozuna of the West, Tsuji's shuki are the best!) and thus it's no surprise that he passed away on April 15th from liver cancer at the age of 81. What more to say; a lone wolf potter, who had a deep-profound understanding and appreciation of Japanese art from all of history, is gone. Long Live Tsuji's spirit and his timeless art!  

by Robert Yellin