Not a competitor, business spy or journalist; just a curious dilettante...
Bought my first yakishime kyusu decades back on business trips to Japan. Never made it to Tokoname village to learn and shop, but have been slowly accumulating this pottery ever since. Erasmus: “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” What he said may apply, for cha-otaku, to teaware and tea.
Regional/industry web sites and travel reports suggest that Tokoname ceramics in general are thriving. But the artisanal side of the business is a bit more obscure. Prominent web storefronts like Artistic Nippon and Tokoname.org each offer the work of only a dozen or so top craftsmen, even though the "stamp" page of the latter company lists ca. 200 maker's marks. So I'm curious about the current state of play. In particular:
- How many people/companies in Tokoname are making kyusu? How many master-potters/families are producing such wares, vs. directing less-skilled or apprentice craftsmen in their own shops or in larger factories? How much of the output is true yakishime - baked in closed, wood-fired kilns, vs. electric or gas furnaces?
- How is the health of the artisanal business - will these high-quality kyusu continue to be available in the West? What is the total annual volume of the higher-end wares?
- Some of these pots seem expensive to an average tea-drinker: $100~$300 or even more. Still, assuming that retailers take about half, can these skilled craftsmen make a good living making only the high-quality kyusu? YouTube videos show how quickly an expert can throw all the pieces of a pot, but there is still all the finish work, firing etc.
- Where are high-quality kyusu sold? Articles and some vendor comments suggest that much or most are going to China, and soon perhaps Russia.
- Tastes and designs evolve with time - e.g., shiboridashi and houhin seem much easier to get now than just 10-20 years ago. But classic tight-fired finishes seem to be giving way to more dramatic/complicated designs with fancy color, texture and clay decoration. Will simple shapes and finishes continue to be made in any volume?
People have mentioned Tokoname industry reports, but nothing readily available in English or on-line. Can anyone here please point to web resources, in any language (thanks, Google Translate!) that might answer some of these questions? Or perhaps share personal knowledge?
Appreciation in advance for any insight. I do hope that this honorable trade continues for at least another thousand years or so.