Kawai Kanjiro voor zijn kiln in Kyoto, foto genomen van een foto in het Kawai Kanjiro’s House in Kyoto.

‘Kawai was influenced by things’, schrijft Shoji Hamada over Kawai Kanjiro, ‘he was an appreciator of things, yet they continue their own independant existence. Books, Kawai’s works, as well as collected objects were carefully arranged and kept spotless. Love towards and from articles helped create an unique atmosphere of busyness, which prevailed throughout his place, and you could not tell his studio from his drawing room or display room. It was the same when he was a youth living in a boarding house. There he neatly displayed his books and works, though without shelves; the room served as his studio as well.

Apparently Kawai was fully satisfied and pleased with things he received, rather than taking things from others and putting them to practical use. Probably not a few people who visited Kawai’s learned how to love things.

I have known few artists who incorporate what impresses them into their own work more promptly and with greater enthusiasm and aptitude than Kawai did. For instance, he asked someone to copy a Korean inkstone for him, but he could not wait until it was completed, and started making it himself, using the clay he was familiar with. In two or three months, using different techniques, he came out with more than one hundred inkstones, including a few dozen different types.

Constant changes in techniques and form to create new works invlove technical difficulties, but Kawai seemed to enjoy such challenge in the same way as enjoying sports. He met each challenge with renewed enthusiasm.

A change of clothing is not always followed by internal change. Constant effort to improve the outside does not always help improve the content. An artist who starts his career at the age of forty or fifty has no alternative but to do what he wants in the way suited for him.

Any person who is good at receiving things like Kawai should activily digest and turn those things he has received into his own work. I wish Kawai had explored a way for individual artists that may be called the modern tariki-do – the Way of Receiving a Power from Without. It is pitiful to see many artists today wearing out their nerves by becoming too sensitive to minute differences. There is too much fearful chasing of the unusual or quaint in people’s striving to say something ‘individual’. I strongly hope for the great broad way of crafts where an artist achieves his work instinctivily and receives – then returns what he likes.’ *

Kawai Kanjiro legt in gesprek met Yoshiko Uchida heel duidelijk uit wat zijn verhouding tot de dingen is:

‘He looked around the room’ schrijft Yoshiko Uchida, ‘and pointed to a vase recently made by Claude Laloux. ‘This is not only Laloux-san’s vase,’ he said, ‘It is also yours. It is also mine. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Isn’t that a fine thing?’ And he laughed jubilantly at the wonder of the thought. ‘It’s the same with people,’ he added, ‘We are all one. I am you, the you that only I can see.’

For Kawai-san, all things and people are an expression of the self. ‘If you buy something, you have bought yourself,’ he says. ‘If that something is worthless, it is still yourself.’

‘But Kawai-san,’ a friend once said to him, ‘if all things are an expression of the self, what about God or Buddha?’ Kawai-san smiled and pointed to himself. ‘Buddha is me. I am Buddha.’ It is as simple as that for him.

Zen buddhist thought seems to have influenced his thinking to a certain extent, but Kawai-san does not like to place himself under such categories as ‘Christian’ or ‘Buddhist’. Such phrases are used too glibly and mean too little. Kawai-san is not one to fit himself into fixed patterns or molds. For him, there is no specific god or buddha to worship. It is enough for him to know that there is a force bigger than himself; that he and this force are one, and that through this force he is able to work and create things of beauty in this world. He sometimes gives this force the name of ‘the unknown self’. ‘This unknown self,’ he says, ‘is revealed through the work of the hands and the body, and is that unconcious element in every man that prods him on to new achievements.’

‘Anyone can make beautiful things,’ says Kawai-san. ‘The capacity for expression and creation is in everyone, but not all of us realize this. We work and produce in spite of ourselves. The unknown self drives us on always.’

‘It is ultimately faith that lies at the bottom of all my work,’ he says to me one day. ‘We do not work alone. Man can make a bowl of clay. He can make it round and smooth, but until it is fired it cannot be used. Man can lay the fire and light the flame,’ he added, ‘But still it is the fire itself that really completes the bowl. And that fire is something bigger and more wonderful than any man.’ **

* In: Hamada. Potter, Bernard Leach, Tokyo/New York/San Francisco, zonder jaar, blz. 108-109

** In: We Do Not Work Alone. The Thoughts of Kanjiro Kawai, Yoshiko Uchida. Kyoto, 3de druk, 2017, blz. 13-14