奈良県高市郡明日香村 陶芸家 タナカシゲオAsuka Village, Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture
Shigeo Tanaka, Ceramicist
The Asuka region, around Asuka Village in Nara Prefecture’s Takaichi District, has been the subject of many poems in the Manyoshu anthology. Since the Kofun period (1300-1700 years ago), the region has been known as Asuka. It is said that the place name asuka (which can be written as 飛鳥 or 明日香) came from asuka (安宿), a safe refuge for the people who came to Japan as marebito (visiting deities) bringing new technology and knowledge. Additionally, the pillow word of 安宿 “flying bird (飛ぶ鳥)” also started to be called as asuka. It is a place that retains the vestiges of its ancient history, richly nurtured by the blessings of nature and the wisdom of humans. There is an air of sanctity that reminds us that the deities still live here.
Ceramicist Shigeo Tanaka moved to Asuka Village 15 years ago. He lives in a large Japanese house, which is about 280 years old, holding a connection to nature. “When we first came, the house was not in a liveable state: full of crumbling roof tiles, layers of dust and gaps everywhere,” says Shigeo. He lived in an annex with his wife Sachiko, their son and daughter, and 3 cats, and restored the house with the help of friends and acquaintances. He has revived the house by gradually awakening it from its long sleep. The basement bathroom has been revitalised by filling in the gaps in the masonry walls, and plastering the ceiling to prevent dampness from rising. A large old well on an earthen floor in the house has been reclaimed, and a straw-bale (*) studio has been constructed from the ground up. While fixing up the places that are still untouched, he cooks and eats what he harvests in the fields with the wood he procures himself, chopping wood for the kiln he built himself and firing ceramics in it…… A life of working all day long, immersed in nature and making things with his own hands. It may be stoic and hard work for the frail modern human, but it seems to be a rich, free and fundamental way of life, where all daily activities are born from a dialogue with nature. The delicate and refined beauty of the forms, the softness of the lines drawn by hand, the dynamism of the fire, earth and water, and the empty space to let nature complete the finishing touches. While holding the solemnity to be worshipped to the deities, there is also the warmth that makes us want to use his ceramics daily: it is as if the fire is lit when serving simple food and decorating with wildflowers. Shigeo’s vessels reflect what the life here nurtures.
The ceramicist who, by chance or necessity, came to the land of Asuka, where the foundations of this country were laid, and is living a life that returns to the origins of the relationship between humans and nature. His state echoes that of marebito, who, while holding highly refined skills, never forget to respect the nature that brought them abundance, receiving what falls from the sky and the forms that come from the earth. In the deep green of the misty mountain valleys, breathing in the smell of water, soil and plants, and surrounded by the humid and tranquil air, we spent a rich time thinking about Asuka-kyo, the ancient capital of Japan in the Asuka period.
*A building made by piling blocks of compressed straw and covering with earth or plaster to make it fireproof and durable.
Photography by Tomoko Hayashi
Text by Tomomi Takezoe
Translation :Naoko Mabon (WAGON)
タナカシゲオ Shigeo Tanaka