Web Japan > NIPPONIA No.30 > Special Feature*
NIPPONIA No.30 September 15, 2004

Special Feature*
Life Is an Art in Kyoto— 4
Living and
Working Without Stress
Ishikawa Miyoko
Kiyomizu ware painter
The lines go on each container one by one, guided by Ishikawa's hands. The pieces here have been fired once, and will soon be fired again with a glaze.

In this lane, you might expect to see peddlers calling out, selling things like vegetables or tofu. It is so narrow that a car can barely get through without scraping against the many long, wooden, two-story buildings on both sides. In one of these buildings is the home and atelier of Ishikawa Miyoko, painter of Kiyomizu ceramic ware.
She says she does not have to lock up when she goes out for a while. One of the neighbors is sure to see her and ask where she is off to. And when she comes home someone is sure to call out "O-kaeri"("Glad to see you're back!").
"When I was younger, I felt uncomfortable associating with the neighbors this way, but now I find it's a pleasure to look out for one another, being close without being overly close. If something were to happen, we know that we'd be there for each other. In Kyoto, interacting with people this way seems to be the norm. So it's a great place to live."
The small brush in Ishikawa's hand keeps moving as she talks. She is drawing a small geometrical pattern on a cup that has been fired just once so far.
She says she draws only komon patterns (see photos). "I've always liked antiques, and years ago I began collecting porcelain, but only pieces with a komon design. My love for them kept growing, and I ended up doing this kind of work! I heard that a kiln owner was looking for a painter, and I rushed over right away and told him I'd work for free for a year. I was a complete novice at the time."
There are two types of Kiyomizu ceramics: porcelain and earthenware. Both types are thrown by hand on the potter's wheel, and both are decorated by hand as well. An artisan is involved in only one step of the process. Ishikawa's job—she has been doing it for 30 years now—is to decorate the ware with a paintbrush. Today, she is so well known she can only accept jobs from clients who ask specifically for her.
The work is meticulous. "I like walking in the mountains, and drawing komon patterns is a little like that—one step at a time, one brushstroke at a time, until the summit. I guess that's why I like my job."
So why does Kiyomizu ware appeal to her so much? She smiles and says, "I suppose it's because each piece is unique in its own way, and because we artisans can live the way we please."

Left: Examples of Kiyomizu ware decorated by Ishikawa Miyoko: a cup and saucer, and two cups for drinking green tea.
Right: Ishikawa uses a fine brush to draw elaborate patterns.If you look closely you will see that some lines are a little thicker than others—one of the charms of hand-painted ceramics.


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