An interview with Hitoshi Morimoto

When I visited Morimoto at his studio in Okayama, I could feel the beauty of his life in the wild flowers arranged here and there and the hospitality with tea. Morimoto is a potter attracting attention from abroad as an artist who breathes new life into traditional Bizen Pottery with his excellent sense of form, dignity and lightness. We asked him about his story so far.

Morimoto says that he has been good at drawing since he was a child. When he entered high school, he started helping his father, a potter, fire the kiln and began to think about becoming a potter in the future. He went to an art college in Tokyo and studied sculpture, but he was not a very serious student. His college life was a moratorium period where he enjoyed his student life while working part-time at a sushi restaurant and an Italian restaurant. After graduation, he apprenticed himself to Mino potter Seiya Toyoba at the behest of his father.          

'That's where my life started,' he said. 'Up until then, I hadn't really thought about anything, and I don't think I ever consciously did anything on my own. If I hadn't become an apprentice, I would probably have become a useless second generation of a potter.'

His life changed drastically from his first day as an apprentice. His works there consisted of walking the master’s dog, cleaning, chopping wood, tending to the garden... He couldn't even touch a potter's wheel for two years.

‘I watched my seniors preparing the soil for the master to use, and gradually learned the work, but I couldn't do anything and was constantly scolded. I didn't even know why they were scolding me. My seniors told me that I didn't understand anything. I was taught from the very beginning how to eat, how to speak, and how to clean. It was like training for a Zen monk.’

When I asked him how the master taught him about pottery, he said

‘It's like making me feel it through the life. Everything in our lives is connected to pottery. But I didn't understand that at the time, and I wondered why I was being forced to do all this unrelated work.’

Even after three years as an apprentice, he was unable to abandon his self-centered way of thinking. Unable to understand his master’s true intentions, Morimoto was sent home because he had no chance of growing if he stayed here any longer.

'I was so frustrated. I went back to my parents' house to help my father with his work, but I was in agony every day. I really felt like I hadn't accomplished anything. About half a year after that, I happened to visit my master in Okayama for his exhibition. He was very aware of my situation and told me to come back if I still had the will to do so. I really feel that saved my life.'

'When I returned to my teacher, there was a change in me. For the first time, I felt a strong determination to live by pottery, and at the same time, I felt that I didn't care about myself and wanted to serve my master. When that happened, my view of the world changed. People often say, "Put yourself in the other person's shoes," and I was able to feel the depth of that phrase. When I came not to consider myself and the master became my standard, I could understand what he is thinking now, what he is going to do next, and what he want me to do. Then I could act ahead of his time, and things started to go much more smoothly. After one year of this, the master told me to go back home. But this time, the reason he told me so was that I was able to feel a part of the life of a potter. So I left his house and started my own career.'

'So I went home and started working, but for a while I was so influenced by my master that I often clashed with my father. At that time, I wanted to make something like my master's work, so I made only such things. Of course, I didn't have the skills to do that, so they were just for atmosphere. But I realized that was not good enough. I had to think deeply about what I wanted to express with Bizen pottery and what I wanted to make with the clay. That's how I came to be conscious of my own work. Through trial and error, I gradually began to see things, and it was around the age of 40 that I began to think that I had developed a style of my own.  I had been bewildered for a long time, but I felt refreshed. Now I can look at my master's works objectively, and I can understand my father's good points.’

‘When I look back, I realize that my master and my father were very important to me. The biggest thing I learned from my master was that daily life is the center of everything. If our daily life collapses, we will never be able to make anything good, and if we live like this, we will be able to make things like this. At the same time, I believe that we have to be connected to society as long as we are alive, so I am very concerned about what is going on in the world, and I think a lot about how I should relate to society, rather than just making vessels.’

‘I’m a perverse person, so when I was told that Bizen Pottery was like this, I had a strong desire to destroy that image, especially in the beginning. However, I feel that many people overseas look at my work in a neutral way. The world is a big place, and as I became more conscious of showing my work overseas, more people started to pay attention to it. That's simply fun, isn't it? I make my works with an unfounded confidence that there are people all over the world who will find them interesting.’

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