Singlehanded determination and resurrection of the 200-year old Ani Ceramic tradition: Makoto Yahata
The little-known Ani Ceramic tradition in the wild, forested countryside of Akita Prefecture in northern Japan has a curious connection with the area’s 700-year mining history. From the 18th century, the tradition grew through producing ceramic items for the local metallurgical industry as well as everyday items for the inhabitants, but decline in mining resulted in its extinction by the early 20th century.
Mr Makoto Yahata trained under a Kiyomizu-yaki ceramicist in Kyōto, before returning to his native Ani area. Discovering a source of suitable pottery clay in 1971, he opened the Genkyū-gama studio at his home in January 1972 and resurrected the 200-year-old Ani Ceramic tradition. Since then, he has been prolific in creating a variety of practical everyday items with a distinctly solid style that is both durable and beautiful. Mr Yahata firmly believes that ceramics should reflect the natural environment where they are created. As such, he uses only locally sourced clay, and glazes derived from local minerals that give many of his works rich and lustrous dark tones—strangely evocative of the dense forests that mantle the hillsides around his studio. He works entirely alone, without any assistance from others; each piece typically takes a month to create.
Reborn after being extinct for much of the 20th century, Ani-yaki has gained place as one of the renowned craft traditions of Akita Prefecture. Now in his mid-70s, Mr Yahata continues to be driven by his passion to keep the cultural heritage of his local area alive. As the sole artisan carrying on the tradition and with no successors in sight, however, the future seems uncertain—particularly given that Akita Prefecture is the worst affected region in Japan in terms of ageing and depopulation. Blessed with stunning natural beauty and a fascinating culture, we hope that the younger generation discovers the attraction of living in Akita Prefecture and helps in continuing its traditions into the future.
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