Beyond the Light of the Sun and the Moon
by Dick Lehman
21 May, 1999
Although I have been here in Shigaraki for several weeks now, I have
not yet grown accustomed to the idea of a community "wake-up" call:
the Town Hall speakers loudly sounding "Edelweiss" each morning at 7
a.m. And without even cracking an eye, I am sure, even in my sleepiness
this day, that I am likely one of the last to rise in this small, industrious
community. Perhaps the tune's true function is wasted on me: perhaps
it is really a call to the first tea break of the day, instead of a
wake-up alarm with no snooze button, as I have experienced it.
Attempting to drift back into my dreams was unfruitful as the other
morning sounds of this magical valley began to assail me: the trio of
barking neighbor dogs, the rhythmic four-cadence cawing
of a large Asian cousin of the North American Crow. But it was the Nightingale
(having apparently forgotten what the first part of her name implied),
offering her repetitive early morning Oh Ohayoo....Oh
Ohayoo, which must have pried open my sleepy but preoccupied
subconscious...a subconscious which, of late, had been all-consumed
with learning more Japanese vocabulary each day: Ohayoo Gozaimasu....Ohayoo......
Good Morning. Good morning indeed. How could
I have slept so late on such an important morning as this?
Leaning up on one elbow, I slid aside the rice paper shutter and had
my first glimpse of the soft light on this crisp breezy morning. The
opened shutter brought in the wafting fishy-wet smells from the clay-banked
rice paddies below, and ushered in upon me what had been only white
noise in the background of my dreams: the enormous din, the chorus
of croaking, from the rice paddy frogs, which only weeks ago had been
clouds of black tail-whipping polliwogs....their polyphony now drowning
out the resonations of all but the noisiest of the road traffic in the
The early morning transit offers a glimpse of Shigarakis economy:
stubby-nosed delivery trucks, open-bed dispatch trucks, clay-spattered
dump trucks, trucks with cranes, utility vehicles, buses, refrigerated
transfer trucks (perhaps delivering the as-required four-hour-fresh
sashimi from the seaports just hours away). In addition, motorcycles,
scooters, mini vans, SUVs, (and my favorite: the foreshortened, squashed-looking
mini-min van which resembles a rice cake on wheels), all whisked past
my view, following the dot-to-dot of utility poles which
parallel the course of the road and small river, and define the meandering
contour of the Shigaraki Valley. For twenty minutes in either direction
they drive to reach the now-expanded Shigaraki city limits...a still-loosely-assembled
and rambling town which now encompasses what had originally been 18
ancient independent villages stretched along this bounteous river valley.
Do any of these passers-by know, I wonder, of the unfolding events
of this day?
Across the valley a quieter scene emerges: yellow-capped, backpacked
elementary students head in one direction, marching past the homes of
their neighbors and friends...down successive levels of residential
streets which descend the slopes on the opposite face of the valley...each
home a patchwork of blankets and futons, hanging out of the windows
and from the balconies and railings and roofs taking advantage
of the early morning breeze to air out the night things.
Traveling in the other direction are white-hatted, black-uniformed
junior high school girls, all riding their basketted bicycles to school.
They seem to converge at the far end of town, coasting their rides down
residential routes, past tiers of tile-and tin-roofed homes which form
an escalating, tightly-woven matrix into the sides of the thickly-forested
hills hills which seem to completely enclose the valley.
And among all this, bamboo groves dot the landscape, meandering along
the rice fields below, and dotting their way up the hills, past the
homes and gardens, until they disappear, waving fluttering and bowing
to the soft breeze, into the forested slopes above the valley.
Shigaraki literally luxuriant forest
an appropriate name for these mountains full of tall razor-straight
cedars and hefty red pines and the contorted bodies of the most-massive
And below all this lush beauty, an ever constant staple for both the
eyes and the palate, the rice fields stretch out for as far as one can
see. In the mirrored shimmer of the newly-planted paddies I can see
reflections of all the activity on the other side of the valley. But
this is a short-lived double vision: a myopia which will disappear
within a few weeks as the voraciously growing rice plants block out
the paddies reflection at a pace inversely proportional to the
declining din of the frogs (much, it would seem, to the delight of the
cranes who dine on this annual delectable amphibial smorgasbord).
But what is the importance of this day which brings me to this place
at this very moment? Of course, it has something to do with clay. Shigaraki,
for the last 700 years has been a center of stoneware pottery-making. Heralded
as one of the six old kiln sites in Japan, Shigaraki was,
originally, an ancient lake bed.
During the Pliocene epoch of the Cenozoic era, Lake Biwa, Japans
largest freshwater inland lake, extended to cover an enormous area,
enveloping for some nine million years the site where Shigaraki stands
today. These developmental events....these
millions of years of sediment and particulants settling to the bottom
of Lake Biwa (on top of Shigaraki, as it were)...were
geologys gift to Shigaraki. This epoch produced an inimitable
and high quality clay, which at a later point in time, the earths
forces lifted to form the hills and mountains of clay deposits which
now surround the Shigaraki Valley, and which have sealed forever Shigarakis
place in world ceramics.
The enormity of Shigarakis ceramic reputation was known to me
long before I drove into this town several weeks ago. However not even
its unrivaled status prepared me for the immeasurable amount of ceramic
activity in the region. My first cursory count of clay galleries, and
studios, and stores and factories just as I passed through town
on Route 307 revealed more than 100 ceramics businesses. And
without ever leaving my car, without entering even one of these establishments,
I saw pots which numbered in the millions: pinnacles of pots neatly
palletted outside factories, bunches of bins of tumble-stacked pots
in front of shops, gaggles of galleries with pots galloping out their
doors and into the parking lots. And all this without saddling up a
single side street, without meandering into even one museum, and without
pursuing, like the Christmas Wise Men of old, a single plume of smoke
to a far-away hillside anagama.
The immediate view from my bedroom window reveals six large clay galleries.
Among the amazing bevy of ceramic forms, both ancient and new, stands
the Tanuki, the cast-clay raccoon of good fortune,
with its upraised paw, welcoming all Shigarakis visitors.
These prodigious creatures bank the edges of parking lots, in ascending
sizes, like bleachered fans at a sporting event: Tanuki from two centimeters
in size to four meters in height. Thousands...tens of thousands of Tanuki
waving good fortune and good luck.
Out of the corner of my eye I catch a movement. From the wave of Tanuki
paws, to the waving of wings: I count 26 white cranes flying straight
toward me and over the house. Maybe this is another sign of good luck
on this important day.
Today we unload Karl Beamers 10-day anagama firing a firing
which took place at the invitation of and in the studio of Mr. Shiho
Kanzaki. At first glance this may seem an inauspicious event, especially
in a place like Shigaraki. One might safely assume that scarcely a day
has passed within the last 700 years without several kilns in
Shigaraki being unloaded, loaded, fired and cooled. Given the history
of this site, a single additional unloading may seem a singularly
unspectacular event, by Shigaraki standards. What might make this
day so anticipated and so remarkable?
What might be most remarkable about this day are the unusual and unimaginable
events which have preceded it: nearly 10 years ago the City Administrator
of Bloomsburg, PA, USA, Mr. Gerald Depo, contacted a Japanese computer
systems consultant about possible leads for developing Sister
City connections between Bloomsburg and a Japanese city.
Further negotiations led the Bloomsburg administrator to make a trip
to Shigaraki to explore this relationship with local officials there.
The original plans for the visit called for Depo to be hosted by Shigaraki
Master Potter, Mr. Shiho Kanzaki. In addition to being a prominent potter,
Mr. Kanzaki was a pioneer in computer networking systems, having established
Biwa Net many years before.
Unanticipated conflicts of schedules forced Mr. Kanzaki to be in Tokyo
for an exhibition during the entire duration of Depos stay in
Shigaraki. And Depo left Japan without ever having met Mr. Kanzaki...but
not without having fortuitously collected several of Kanzakis
books and catalogs.
Back in Bloomsburg, the books and catalogs somehow found their way
to local professor, Karl Beamer, ceramics instructor at Bloomsburg State
University. Beamer later admitted to being totally captivated by the
images of Kanzakis work. These were the kinds of works Id
been envisioning for 20 years, but didnt know how to achieve.
In short order, and without ever having actually met Mr. Kanzaki, Beamer
and Bloomsburg University extended an invitation to Kanzaki to come
to BSU as a visiting artist and lecturer.
Kanzaki countered with an invitation to Depo, Beamer and the Chair
of the Bloomsburg Art Department: Before I come to America, please
come to my town, to my home and studio. Come see my works and experience
my life style. Then we can decide.
The three Americans agreed. Again fate intervened to nearly sabotage
the visit: two days before the Americans arrival, a tragic train
wreck caused 48 deaths in Shigaraki. All the formal visits between the
American delegation and the town officials and dignitaries needed to
be canceled in light of the more-pressing needs of the Shigaraki community.
So the group of three were limited to some local sightseeing and many
hours at the Kanzaki household.
However, Beamers time with Kanzaki and his works had more than
convinced him to reissue the invitation for Kanzaki to come to the University
as a visiting artist. And in spite of the local tragedy in Shigaraki
(or perhaps in part because of it), Mr. Depo was ready to attempt to
finalize the Sister City relationship with Shigaraki.
In late 1991 Kanzaki made the anticipated visit to Bloomsburg. But
an unfortunate sequence of intercultural misunderstandings and a series
of mis-translations all-but derailed the experience for Kanzaki. He
left bewildered and confused and feeling misunderstood. Many times
I tried to say, All my works I am making according to my spirit,
which is according to Buddha and my life philosophy. But the translator
could neither understand nor translate. So I did not have the chance
to tell them my true story.
So confusing was the Bloomsburg exchange that when, months later, Mr.
Kanzaki received an invitation from Beamer to come build an anagama
kiln in Pennsylvania, Kanzaki held back (in spite of his secretly-held,
life-long wish to build one of his specially-designed anagama kilns
in the United States).
A year passed and again Bloomsburg issued an invitation for Kanzaki
to visit and to consider building a kiln in Pennsylvania. Still holding
the invitation at arms length, Kanzaki simply said, I have
an exhibition in Munich. I am very busy.
To Kanzakis astonishment, Mr. Depo responded by saying, I
will be there (in Munich).
During his visit with Mr. Kanzaki in Munich, Mr. Depo conveyed this
message: If you want to return to Bloomsburg, everybody is welcoming
Following the Munich exhibition, Mr. Kanzaki and his wife, Keiko, returned
to Japan via Bloomsburg. This time the foibles of intercultural exchange
were kept at bay. Both Beamer and Kanzaki reminisce that during this
1992 visit they both came to recognize that each others hearts
and spirits were warm....
Plans were quickly hatched for a 1993 anagama kiln-building project
in Bloomsburg, on the property of Karl and Ginny Beamer.
Karls and Shihos Dream Kiln was built and fired
by Kanzaki, Beamer and two of Kanzakis assistants during the summer
of 1993. The long stay at the Beamers house cemented a sense of
friendship and mutual respect between Beamer and Kanzaki. Karl
and Ginnys hospitality came from their heart and spirit. They
provided us everything, Kanzaki reports. As I told Karl
all my thoughts and spirit and philosophy, I discovered that we have
similar thoughts...a similar understanding of nature and the universe.
These unlikely and circuitous series of events were but the tip of
the iceberg which eventually led Karl Beamer to be in Shigaraki on this
important day in May, 1999. At Kanzakis invitation Karl has spent
from March through May preparing two firings worth of work in
Mr. Kanzakis studio, and twice firing Kanzakis Shigaraki
anagama. These months together were yet another opportunity for Kanzaki
to continue to pass along more of the Shigaraki tradition to Beamer. Today
is the unloading of the second firing, in preparation for two exhibitions
which are to follow: one in Shigaraki and another in the ancient ceramics
city of Tamba. A friend of both Kanzaki and Beamer, I was invited to
join in and witness these wonderful events.
For his part, Beamer reflected upon the unlikely sequence of events
leading to this important day: All the events in our lives, no
matter how angelic or tragic, are gifts of great opportunities for learning
and self-improvement. Our relationship (Kanzakis and mine) is
based simply on faith. I believe he has always given more than he has
Beamer continued, Yet our relationship is not without extreme
energy: we are two rockheads (hardheads) from opposite sides
of the planet; two people so completely different and yet so absolutely
How can it be that I couldnt even explain my own frustrations
in realizing the undefinable sense of aesthetics I was looking for,
Beamer asked? I envisioned something like this twenty years ago,
but didnt know what it was. Now I am confident of self realization:
not satisfied...but excited. I am content in working and need to be
exhausted in satisfaction.
I always believed, said Beamer, in the power of
the universe...now I really believe! Kanzakis sense of life has
given me a better comprehension of what is important, and what is trivial. I
am an improved artist, teacher, and person...BEYOND VALUE. Kanzaki,
his family, and his friends ARE part of the Beamer family. Simply put,
hes taken me beyond the light of the sun and the moon. In the
future I see this anagama taking me beyond the light of the sun and
Kanzaki adds, Now in Karls works, he no longer worries
about the future, or strictly about form or surface. Instead he is making
works only according to his mind and heart and spirit. His works are
getting full of his heart and spirit.
I think Karl does not use techniques in the traditional
way. His technique is following his mind and soul. These are the most
And, oh yes, the 26 white cranes must have been a good omen: for the
unloading of Beamers firing (10 days with red pine wood fuel)
revealed works which were his very best...works which took Beamer, perhaps
like the flying cranes, through the sky and out beyond the light of
the sun and the moon.
Dick Lehman is a full-time studio potter and writer located
in Goshen, Indiana, and a frequent contributor to a variety of international
ceramics publications. At Mr. Kanzakis invitation, Lehman joined
Karl Beamer in exhibiting at both the Shigaraki and the Tamba exhibitions.
This article is reprinted with expressed permission from
the November 2000 issue of Ceramics Monthly Magazine, PO Box 6102, Westerville
OH 43086-6102, USA; www.ceramicsmonthly.org
© Dick Lehman, 1999. All Rights Reserved.
 Thanks to Louise Allison Cort for
helpful geological information in her fine text, SHIGARAKI, POTTERS