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Handmade Culture

Raku Potters, Patrons, and Tea Practitioners in Japan

Morgan Pitelka

Publication Year: 2005

Handmade Culture is the first comprehensive and cohesive study in any language to examine Raku, one of Japan’s most famous arts and a pottery technique practiced around the world. More than a history of ceramics, this innovative work considers four centuries of cultural invention and reinvention during times of both political stasis and socioeconomic upheaval. It combines scholarly erudition with an accessible story through its lively and lucid prose and its generous illustrations. The author’s own experiences as the son of a professional potter and a historian inform his unique interdisciplinary approach, manifested particularly in his sensitivity to both technical ceramic issues and theoretical historical concerns. Handmade Culture makes ample use of archaeological evidence, heirloom ceramics, tea diaries, letters, woodblock prints, and gazetteers and other publications to narrate the compelling history of Raku, a fresh approach that sheds light not only on an important traditional art from Japan, but on the study of cultural history itself.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

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Note to Readers

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pp. vii

In this book, I have followed the standard conventions of academic, English language publications on Japan. I list Japanese personal names in the traditional form, with the family name followed by the given name; in the case of the Raku lineage of potters, I attempt to use historical rather than posthumous names. Thus, I refer...

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pp. ix-xii

I first delved into the subject matter of this book — the connection between tea and ceramics — while traveling in Japan as a Watson Fellow in 1994 – 1995. As a lifelong amateur potter and the son of a professional potter (Vince Pitelka) and a historian (Linda Pitelka), I hoped to study how families passed on the trade of ceramics and how individuals envisioned the history of their family...

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pp. 1-12

In 1997 the fifteenth-generation head of the Raku house organized a traveling international exhibition devoted to the history of his family’s ceramics, titled “Raku: A Dynasty of Japanese Ceramists.” The displayed pots, mostly consisting of the roughly shaped, simply glazed tea bowls that characterize the tradition, were dramatically lit to highlight contrasts in texture and slight variations...

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1.The Global and the Local in the Origins of the Raku Technique

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pp. 13-40

Discussion of Raku ceramics inevitably begins with Chōjirō, the putative inventor of the Raku ceramic technique and the first generation of the lineage. As is often the case with the apotheosized founders of traditions, few details are known about this inhabitant of late medieval Japan. Most sources are either unreliable or were written long after his death. Ceramics attributed...

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2. Anomie and Innovation in Kyoto: Ceramic Professionals, Amateurs, and Consumers

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pp. 41-67

The first half of the seventeenth century was a bittersweet period for Kyoto elites, a diaphanous moment of anomie amidst a growing storm of regulation. After a century of conflict that greatly disrupted the lives of city residents, Kyoto’s landscape had been successfully rebuilt by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537 – 1598). Markets were thriving and the population was increasing, but the...

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3. Inventing Early Modern Identity: The Birth of the Raku House [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 69-87

The cultural renaissance in Kyoto, fueled by the discontent of local elites whose political influence was severely curtailed when the center of political activity relocated to Edo, faded over the second half of the seventeenth century. Nostalgia proved to be a sustaining cultural force for only so long. When the fourth shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna, took office in 1651, it was clear that the rule...

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4. Institutionalization of the Iemoto Gaze: Tea, Raku, and the Iemoto System

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pp. 89-109

A hierarchical and familial system of social organization came to dominate many of the arts practiced throughout the Japanese archipelago in the eighteenth century. Tea schools, painting ateliers, performing-arts troupes, and numerous other associations adopted this mode of organization, known in the scholarly literature as the iemoto system. The term literally means “origin of...

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5. Reproduction and Appropriation in the Nationwide Dispersal of the Raku Technique

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pp. 111-131

By the early eighteenth century, the close patronage of the three Sen schools had brought the Raku workshop a new level of economic security and social standing. As the population of Sen school tea practitioners gradually increased, demand for Raku ceramics must have grown as well. However, Raku ceramics were by definition made on a small scale, and the Raku workshop did not...

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6. Inventing Modern Identity: The Collapse of Warrior Patronage, the Rise of Individualism and Nationalism

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pp. 133-159

Members of the warrior status group

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Epilogue: Authenticity and Connoisseurship

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pp. 161-165

On March 8 of 1944, Seinyū, the thirteenth-generation head of the Raku workshop and the most prolific author of Raku-related texts in the history of the tradition, died of a sudden illness.¹ His eldest son, a graduate of the sculpture department of the Tokyo Academy of Art (now known as Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music), was fighting abroad in the Japanese Imperial...


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pp. 167-209


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pp. 211-229


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pp. 231-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862749
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824828851

Publication Year: 2005