Intangible Treasures

Tangible goods are things we can touch, that have form or shape. Intangible objects are things we cannot grasp physically, such as knowledge or special techniques passed down from artist to artist. Japan was the first country to enact laws to protect Important Intangible Cultural Property, starting in 1950, with the intention to preserve important traditions like theater, dance, and ceramic art techniques that might otherwise be lost. Early on, newspapers coined the term, “Living National Treasure,” for the designation. However, it is not an award, but rather a distinction that comes with great responsibility. In the Morikami Museum Collection, we have works representing several Important Intangible Cultural Property (IICP) recipients, as well as their descendants, students, and contemporaries.


Hamada Shōji (1894-1978) was one of the first potters to receive the designation in 1955. He was responsible for preserving the Mashiko ware style, named after the town where it was first produced. Once he settled in Mashiko and created his own studio compound around 1926, he and others like Kawai Kanjirō (1890-1966) and Yanagi Sōetsu (1889-1961) founded the influential Mingei movement, which sought to elevate the role of the humble artisans of everyday handmade objects to a level equal with fine artists.

glazed stoneware sake bottle and cup

In Hamada’s own words, “I found the path in Kyoto, began my journey in England, studied in Okinawa, and developed in Mashiko.”

Sake bottle and cup

By Hamada Shōji (1894-1978)

Showa period, ca. 1960-1977

Glazed stoneware

Bottle 5.5”h and cup 2.875”h

Gift of Josephine Aiko Onodera and Misha & June Rudolph


glazed square bottle

This square bottle made by combining slabs of clay is a frequent shape used by Hamada.

Square bottle

By Hamada Shōji (1894-1978)

Shōwa period, ca. 1965

Stoneware with iron glaze

9.5”h x 4”w

Museum Purchase funded by Members of the Wisdom Ring,


Fujiwara & Nakazato

Fujiwara Kei (1899-1993) and Nakazato (Muan) Tarōemon XII (1895-1985) were recipients of the title in 1970 and 1976, respectively. Fujiwara went to Tokyo aspiring to be a poet, but after falling ill, he found himself studying Bizen wares back in his hometown. Nakazato, on the other hand, helped to revive the Karatsu ware tradition – known for iron underglaze decoration introduced from the Korean peninsula in the 15th century. The Nakazato family has an unbroken lineage of 14 generations.

clay sake bottle and cup

clay sake bottle bottom with engraving

Bizen wares like this one are usually quite rough in texture and unglazed to highlight the natural clay body.

Sake bottle and cup

Attributed to Fujiwara Kei (1899-1993)

Shōwa period, ca. 1970s

Stoneware with ash glaze

Bottle 4.5”h and cup 2.5”h

Gift of S. Jerry Hirschberg


stoneware tea bowl

bottom of stoneware tea bowl with iron underglaze

Nakazato ‘signed’ this work by painting three dots in a triangle pattern on the body with his fingers, and indenting three more dots on the base with a tool.

Tea bowl,

By Nakazato (Muan) Tarōemon XII (1895-1985)

Shōwa period, ca. 1965-1980

Stoneware with iron underglaze,

3”h x 4.75”w

Gift of Dr. Daphne Rosensweig


Tamura & Imaizumi

In 1986, Tamura Kōichi (1918-1987) became an IICP for his preservation of tetsu-e, or pictorial underglaze decorations in iron oxide glaze. Items with underglaze go into the kiln once. Imaizumi Imaemon XIII (1926-2001) joined the ranks of IICP in 1989. He preserves iro-e jiki, or the colored overglaze enamel technique on porcelain (clay with a high portion of the mineral kaolin fired at very high temperatures). Overglazed objects go into the kiln plain; they are decorated, and then fired again at lower temperatures.

stoneware vase with iron underglaze decoration

Tamura painted the persimmons on this vase with an iron oxide underglaze.


By Tamura Kōichi (1918-1987)

Shōwa period, ca. 1970-1980

Stoneware with underglaze iron decoration

7”h x 3.375”diam

Gift of Japan Foreign Ministry


porcelain plate with cobalt blue underglaze and overglaze enamel decoration

porcelain plate bottom with cobalt blue underglaze and overglaze enamel decoration

On hard smooth porcelain, artists generally sign their works in glaze as seen here.


By Imaizumi Imaemon XIII (1926-2001)

Heisei period, ca. 1990-1998

Porcelain with cobalt blue underglaze and overglaze enamel decoration

1.25”h x 7”diam

Gift of Nancy Goerler


Shimaoka & Tokuda

Shimaoka Tatsuzō (1919-2007) was a student of Hamada Shōji. He received his designation in 1996, but the method he preserves called, jōmon, meaning “rope mark” is more than 10,000 years old. The technique creates repetitive patterns by pressing cords into soft clay. Tokuda Yasokichi III (1933-2009) was recognized in 1997 for Saiyū type Kutani wares, which feature brightly colored glazes over porcelain. Yasokichi III perfected the glazing techniques that his grandfather and father worked so hard to revive. Today, his daughter is carrying on the family lineage.

stoneware vase with iron oxide and cobalt underglaze decoration

This vase is decorated with rope markings and then a slip (clay mixed with water to make it a liquid) fills in the cracks to create the green and white design. Other glazes are painted on to make the dark shapes on the body and foot.


By Shimaoka Tatsuzō (1919-2007)

Shōwa period, ca. 1970-1980

Stoneware with iron oxide and cobalt underglaze decoration

9.5”h x 7”diam

Gift of Japan Foreign Ministry


glazed stoneware jug with pressed cord patterns

This jug used for pouring sake has a bamboo handle.


By Shimaoka Tatsuzō (1919-2007)

Shōwa period, ca. 1970s

Glazed stoneware with pressed cord patterns

8.75”h x 4.75”diam

Museum Purchase


glazed stoneware dish with pressed cord patterns

Not only ropes but also other implements–such as a small tube–can be used to press circular patterns into unfired clay.

Square dish

By Shimaoka Tatsuzō (1919-2007)

Shōwa period, ca. 1970s

Glazed stoneware with pressed cord patterns

2.5”h x 11”w x 11”d

Museum Purchase funded by Friends of the Museum


glazed stoneware vase with pressed cord patterns

Notice the form of this vase is the same as the one produced by his teacher (image 2) Hamada Shōji.

Square vase

By Shimaoka Tatsuzō (1919-2007)

Shōwa period, ca. 1970s

Glazed stoneware with pressed cord patterns

7.25”h x 3.5”w

Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Hayslip


glazed porcelain vase

Because porcelain requires very high temperatures for firing, only certain glazes – like cobalt blue – can survive the process, which limits the possible color pallet.

Long-necked vase

By Tokuda Yasokichi III (1933-2009)

Late Shōwa period, 1984

Glazed porcelain

10.5”h x 5”diam

Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Michael Marcus


glazed porcelain vase

glazed porcelain vase neck

Both Shimaoka’s and Tokuda’s works demonstrate the shift to a larger scale (more for show and less for function) that started in the 1990s.

Globular vase

By Tokuda Yasokichi III (1933-2009)

Early Heisei period, 1993

Glazed porcelain

9”h x 7.5”diam

Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Ron Ward



Shimizu Yasutaka (b. 1947) is another artist in the Morikami Collection. He is the son of Shimizu Uichi (1926-2004) who received the IICP designation in 1985. Yasutaka’s work highlights thick, heavily textured glazes – a feature of the family studio. The technique they preserve is the decorative technique, tetsu gusuri, or iron overglaze.

earthenware tea bowl with ‘oil spot’ iron overglaze

earthenware tea bowl bottom with ‘oil spot’ iron overglaze

This tea bowl features the yuteki, or “oil spot,” decoration, which is very difficult to achieve.

Tea bowl

By Shimizu Yasutaka (b. 1947)

Heisei period, ca. 1994-1998

Earthenware with ‘oil spot’ iron overglaze

6.5”h x 4.75”diam

Museum Purchase


glazed stoneware vase front

glazed stoneware vase back

Although Yasutaka carries on the family traditions and is a likely candidate for nomination to the Important Intangible Cultural Property, it is not a hereditary title so there is no guarantee he will receive it.

Large vase

By Shimizu Yasutaka (b. 1947)

Heisei period, 1999

Glazed stoneware

12.5”h x 9.25”w

Gift in honor of Tom Gregersen



All of the recipients of the IICP exhibit with the Nihon Dentō Kōgei Ten (Japan Traditional Craft Exhibit). The other major group for ceramicists is the Nihon Bijustu Tenrankai (Japan Fine Arts Exhibition), or ‘Nitten.’  Ohi Chōzaemon XI (b. 1958) comes from a long line of award winning potters. Ohi visited the Morikami Museum in January of 2019 and donated two of his beautiful tea bowls.

porcelain footed tea bowl with tri-color glaze

To sign this work the artist added a disc of clay with his seal in raised relief.

Footed tea bowl

By Ohi Chōzaemon XI (b. 1958)

Heisei period, 2018

Porcelain with tri-color glaze

4.25”h x 6.25”diam

Gift of the Artist


glazed earthenware tea bowl

The Ohi family’s distinctive ameyu, or amber glaze, creates a warm luster, which perfectly compliments the bright green of the powdered tea used in tea ceremonies.

Tea bowl

By Ohi Chōzaemon XI (b. 1958)

Heisei period, 2018

Glazed earthenware

3.5”h x 4.75”w

Gift of the Artist


We are fortunate to have a broad representation of fine Japanese ceramic artists in the Morikami Collection, as well as other works by IIICP recipients in lacquer ware, papermaking, and textile stencil dying. The treasure is the experience you get from viewing these amazingly beautiful and functional works of art.

Funded in part by PNC Art Alive,  The Japan Foundation, New York / Center for Global Partnership and the Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation.  

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