Kanjiro Kawai – A Kyoto Sanctuary in Demanding Times
Kawai Kanjiro is one of the leading contemporary potters in Japan, whose works are prominently displayed in the Folk Art Museum of Tokyo and annually exhibited with high prices at the Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo and Osaka. His works are notable for the unconventional shapes and designs as well as the philosophy he puts in creating them – he believes in what he calls 'ordered poverty'.
Essentially, ordered poverty is appreciating and making the most out of what one has; it is embracing hardships and finding beauty in them; it is understanding and respecting simplicity in all its quietness; it is also living in harmony with one’s surroundings.
Walking by the small street where his house-turned-museum is situated, this philosophy is evident in the nondescript exterior of his house; it has a dark-toned wall and a singular wooden door with the museum name written on its glass. Upon entering, there is a narrow hallway to walk through and you will see lockers where you can put your belongings before going to the counter where the family who run the museum will give you tickets after you pay the entrance fee. On my visit, the lady told me to take as much time as I please and I was free to walk around on my own.
Since this place is not flocked by people at one time, you will easily sense the peacefulness and security as you divert your attention to the surroundings. The garden in the middle of the house is not as big as the ones you will see in Kyoto temples, but it can still evoke the same feeling of calmness with the carefully tended plants, quaint ceramic statues, and wooden pathways that indicate a space well-lived.
Most of the furniture in his house were either designed and carved by Kawai himself, or were received from common people of the countryside. The wooden pieces of furniture are dark in color, and you are allowed to touch and sit on his furniture with care and feel their sturdiness and comfortability, as if you are living in the house yourself.
His ceramics are displayed in glass cases or incorporated in the interior design. Ultimately, he had put no particular meaning behind his every work, allowing his pottery to take various shapes and forms. As for the seeming lack of functionality to some, he simply believed that someday someone will find a use for them. His lenient approach in creating demonstrates a confident reliance on the uncertainty of nature. Much like nature, his view characteristically extends to mankind in that there are constantly new forms of us waiting to be discovered and embraced. In a book titled We Do Not Work Alone, he said, "There are new shapes on all sides of us. We have only to reach out to find them."
In this museum, and closely aligned to the ordered poverty, everything is appreciated and nothing is wasted. All of his creations whether broken, unused, or perhaps awry are still included and presented - the giant kiln, discarded pots, beautiful writings, among others - creating a place that is accepting of what is.
Similar to the many facets of nature, Kawai was not afraid to venture out of being a potter; he also extended his creations to other fields, one of which is writing and calligraphy. He wrote poems and prose, as well as shared his ideas on life many of which are laid out among his other ceramic works, and some are also collated into different books for sale at the counter.
Near the sample of his writings is a notebook where you can leave a message. Flipping through the messages left by previous visitors, one can feel the ease that permeates among those who have been here.
In these troubling and anxiety-inducing times, it is worthy to practice rest and acceptance. Kawai’s place embodies that - it is a calming haven that will leave you not only at peace, but inspired to face the unpredictable.
Kawai Kanjiro’s House
Address: 〒605-0875 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Kanei-cho, Gojozaka 569
Hours: Sundays to Saturdays 10 AM to 5 PM, closed on Mondays
Entrance Fee: Adults – 900 yen; High school/university student – 500 yen; Elementary and junior high school students – 300 yen; Annual pass – 3,000 yen