27 June 2023
Buyer's Travelog: Gifu, the Birthplace of Mino Ware
The other day, I accompanied Musubi Kiln's founder Mototsugu-san and the buyer Umehara-san on a business trip to Gifu. The purpose of the trip was to have a business meeting with Hibino Ceramic, a company to which we are indebted, and to develop new products.
I would like to report on how and what the two, who regularly discover attractive traditional crafts from all over Japan, are thinking about when making their selections. For me, a new assistant who joined Musubi Kiln only 10 days ago, this was the first time to have a chance to talk with them.
The cities of Tajimi, Enashi, Nakatsugawa, Toki, and Mizunami in Gifu Prefecture are known as the Tono district and are a major production center of Mino ware, one of Japan's most representative pottery products. As we got off the highway, I saw roadside signs leading to kilns and ceramic companies in the tranquil landscape, which made me realize that I had finally arrived in the production area.
Before the business meeting with Hibino Ceramic, we visited "Oribe Hills" in Toki City. This is a commercial complex where Mino Ceramic wholesale trading companies are gathered in one place. Because it has the image of a logistics warehouse, individual visitors may feel a little uncomfortable entering, but some companies have galleries attached, and there is a roadside station "Shino Oribe" next to Oribe Hills, which makes it easy for users who want to see Mino ware in one place to buy. The station is named after a type of Mino ware, "Shino ware" and "Oribe ware."
- Mino Ware Hub
- Narrowed Perspective and New Horizons
- Serendipitous Encounter
- Discussing Original Items
- The Significance of Encounters
Mom of a high school boy.
In her everyday life, she enjoys choosing tableware that makes her dishes more palatable, adding an extra touch to their dining table. She also refreshes her mind by concentrating on one of her hobbies, "Kintsugi" gold repair.
Mino Ware Hub
The image is from the official website of Oribe Hills.
At Oribe Hills, a work by Hitori Wada caught my eye. The colorful red paintings and the comical expressions on the figures caught me off guard and made me smile.
Mototsugu-san and Umehara-san's eyes were glued to a large wine cooler featuring the Wind God and Thunder God.
After asking the staff at the trading company about the shop, they learned that Hitori Wada was originally an artist of Sometsuke (blue and white porcelain). Later, she started to paint Aka-e (Red color paintings) and studied painting further at an art college in Kyoto when she could spare some time from her job due to COVID-19. We thought that she had already established her individuality in the style of Sometsuke and Aka-e, but we were fascinated to hear her story about her eagerness to learn more. We inquired about the pace of her pottery production and product lineup so that we can do business with her in the future.
Narrowed Perspective and New Horizons
After leaving Oribe Hills, we visited some galleries. And then, we went to the Mino ware corner of the roadside station.
The history of Mino ware is old, and it is said to have existed since the Heian period (c.794-1185). Later, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (c.1573-1603), Sen no Rikyu and Furuta Oribe developed Oribe ware, Shino ware, and other iconic vessels representing Japan.
On the other hand, since it is also a production center of tableware for daily use, the store offers a wide range of products from reasonably priced items to those made by artists and potters who produce traditional vessels such as Oribe and Shino, which are well worth seeing.
Usually, roadside stations tend to mainly sell food such as vegetables and products of the area, but here, about 70% of the store is a Mino ware corner.
Looking at the various vessels here is also a way to find out what kind of things the two of them are interested in. I felt that they were following their intuition and honestly selecting what is not in the current lineup of Musubi Kiln, what they want to expand, what customers seem to like, and what they themselves like. Seeing their unanimous opinions of what they liked and what they didn't like made me wish I could have "Musubi Kiln's eyes" as soon as possible.
From my previous work experience as a buyer of Japanese souvenirs to be sold at airports, I tend to search for things that foreign customers would enjoy, hoping to find them. I would look for something sparkling, something with an easily recognizable motif, something made of bright porcelain that is easy to care for rather than austere clay, etc. However, when I did so, I would only judge in one direction. However, if you do this, you will be biased in only one direction, and you will not be able to include your original opinion. I decided to make the most of my experience, but to make my choice without preconceived notions.
On that day, the "Aragami kiln Kato Tokimitsu" exhibition was being held at the most conspicuous place at the entrance of the store. The green glaze of Oribe ware and a humorous ceramic character named Tokkuri Tokkun, which was based on the motif of a "Tokkuri" sake carafe, caught my eye.
There I found a stoneware charcoal grill. The grill has a round base made of stoneware with holes for skewers, and a cylindrical net in the center, into which charcoal is placed.
The skewers are inserted a few centimeters away from the net, and since the skewers are roasted rather than grilled, they do not stick to the net and lose their shape. Oil falls to the bottom of the grill, so there is no smoke. And above all, the oil is removed from the skewers so that the skewers are cooked to perfection. Mototsugu-san was attracted by the revolutionary product and the character of Tokkun, and decided to visit the artist. Half an hour later, we visited the kiln and listened to the fascinating and entertaining story of the artist.
Kojin kiln is located in a place called Oroshi-cho. Since the kiln was originally active in the production of tokkuri, a character named "Tokkuri Tokkun" was created, and Tokkun dolls are placed in various places along the paths of the kilns in the town. The dolls are placed throughout the paths of the kilns in the town.
At the far end of the alley is the Kojin kiln with two magnificent chimneys towering over the kiln. Mr. Kato, the owner of the kiln, stopped working and graciously welcomed us on our sudden visit.
He told us how he had come this far and told us the story of the charcoal grill's birth. The ceramic grill was born out of a casual conversation about how nice it would be to have something like this when grilling fish at camp with friends. From there, the ceramic grill was refined and eventually won the highest award at the Tokyo Gift Show. Looking at the variety of tokkuri-tokkun, we can see that he was full of creativity and curiosity, "making what he wanted to make" and "making from the realization that it would be nice to have something like this" at that time.
He also took a favorable view of our business, cross-border e-commerce, and I felt as if we had taken the first step that if we proceeded well, one day this product would cross the sea to our customers, and that we would be the ones to do it. For me, it was the first new business meeting of negotiating with a new kiln that I visited myself.
Drying vessels lined up in the workshop. The garden in front of the workbench was dazzlingly green, glowing beautifully in the bright sunlight. Our conversation never ceased, as we occasionally shared photos from our iPads.
Discussing Original Items
After leaving Kojin kiln, we went to Hibino Ceramic, the only supplier of Mino ware, which Musubi Kiln has a large lineup of.
The purpose of this visit was to discuss the development of a uniquely crafted Donburi rice bowl. We wanted to develop an authentic Donburi bowl at this time because several types of existing rice bowls are going to be discontinued. Mr. Hibino earnestly answered each of our questions about how we could realistically realize what we wanted to do.
After much discussion, we decided to strike a balance between mass production and hand glazing, since the price would go up if we made everything by hand.
Since we usually communicate only by e-mail, it was a valuable opportunity for us to talk face to face. Since we had a full lineup of products available, we were able to talk about them while looking at the actual items. Umehara-san pressed the shutter of her camera more often.
Coincidentally, the plate I chose for lunch at the office the day I joined the company was a red plate made by Hibino Ceramic. I was personally delighted to meet Mr. Hibino, the designer of those plates, partly because I realized their beauty and ease of use.
The Significance of Encounters
Thus ended my first business trip. On the way there and back, we talked about what Mototsugu-san and Umehara-san were thinking, what I was thinking, and so on.
Above all, I felt that sometimes it is necessary to spend time not only on scheduled business trips but also on "encounters," as if we were on a treasure hunt. Whether by chance or by fate, the new pieces found by a sure aesthetic eye will eventually be delivered to our valued customers through the filter of Musubi Kiln.
We are still looking for a new encounter somewhere today.