Shoji Hamada (1894 – 1978) Japanese National Treasure

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Shoji Hamada

Shoji Hamada (1894 – 1978) was a Japanese potter born in Tokyo.

Between 1913-16, he studied ceramics at the Technical College, Tokyo, under Kanjiro Kawai. Between 1916-20, he researched ceramics in Kyoto. He was particularly interested in the profound traditions of Japanese ceramics and pottery as practised by ordinary Japanese people for centuries.

A knowledgeable chemist, he became known for necessary experimentation, notably in ancient Korean and Chinese glazes. In 1919, he met Bernard Leach in his workshop, Abiko, and decided to accompany him back to England, beginning a 60-year association. Together, they built the first English 3-chamber kiln.

Shoji Hamada an Artisan

Between 1920-23, he shared a studio with Leach, St. Ives, Cornwall. In 1924, he returned to Japan and set up a studio in Mashiko, a traditional village of artisans north of Tokyo, where he specialized in simple plates. Hamada viewed himself as an artisan and felt little need to sign his work or draw attention to himself. As an artisan, he regarded themselves as links in a chain, as part of a tradition, and their primary aim was to continue that tradition.

Hamada used traditional enamel colours: grass-green from copper, amber from iron, and a particular cinnabar red – on glazed stoneware. He said jokingly that enamels should be ground for three years.

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Hamada’s work was characterized by the great liberty he took with shapes and the spontaneity of his decorations. In the 1910s and 1920s, he developed the idea of Mingei (‘popular art’) created by philosopher Soetsu Yanagi, a friend of Leach. He made simple forms, including unusual sake bottles inspired by models of Okinawa, teapots, vases and plates in the moulded or turned grey ware of Mashiko. 

His work shown at 1962 ‘Gres d’aujourd’hui, d’ici et d’ailleurs’ exhibition, Chateau de Ratilly (France), and 1962 ‘Maitres potiers contemporains,’ Paris Musee des Arts Decoratifs. In 1955, he was officially appointed a living national treasure in Japan. 

The collaboration between Hamada and Leach not only cemented their own careers but also had a lasting impact on the world of ceramics. They were instrumental in the popularisation of the Mingei (folk craft) movement, emphasizing the importance of simplicity and function in pottery. Their friendship was a testament to the power of cross-cultural collaboration, enriching their art and leaving a lasting legacy that is studied and admired to this day.

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10 Jun 2000, 271 – The Guardian at

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King.

Lowry, D. (2011). Moving Toward Stillness: Lessons in Daily Life from the Martial Ways of Japan. Japan: Tuttle Publishing.

Peterson, S., Peterson, J. (2003). The Craft and Art of Clay: A Complete Potter’s Handbook. United Kingdom: Laurence King.

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