Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉) was born on January 2, 1908. He dreamed of being a painter and went alone to Kyoto to study working in the Kiyomizu ware studio. He intensely studied both pottery painting and ceramics at large. During World War II he was forced into hard work and struggled for many years being quite ill. Beginning around 1961 in order to plant some of his bonsai, he began making pots to occupy his time. We are so glad he did as he has created some of the greatest bonsai pots ever made. His skills were so excellent in painting pots that his pots became very sought after as can be seen even today with his small pots demanding $5,000 and up. Two of his masterpieces are Hiroshige Ando’s “Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido” and “Choju-Giga.”
The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō (東海道五十三次, Tōkaidō Gojūsan-tsugi?) is a series of ukiyo-e woodcut prints created by Utagawa Hiroshige after his first travel along the Tōkaidō in 1832. This road, linking the shōgun’s capital, Edo, to the imperial one, Kyōto, is the main artery of old Japan.
Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重?, 1797 – October 12, 1858) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, and one of the last great artists in that tradition. He was also referred to as Andō Hiroshige (安藤広重) (an irregular combination of family name and art name) and by the art name of Ichiyūsai Hiroshige (一幽斎廣重).
Many of Yusen’s pots have elaborate painting of village scenes. When you purchase his pots you are not only buying a bonsai pot but often you are buying four paintings as well.
Yusen is also very famous for his Choju-Giga painting which often appeared on his pots. Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga (鳥獣人物戯画, lit. “Animal-person Caricatures”), commonly shortened to Chōjū-giga (鳥獣戯画?, lit. “Animal Caricatures”) is a famous set of four picture scrolls, or emakimono, belonging to Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan. The Chōjū-giga scrolls are also referred to as Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans in English. Some think that Toba Sōjō created the scrolls, however it is hard to verify this. The reading direction of Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga can still be seen in modern manga and novels in Japan. Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is also credited as the oldest work of manga. The scrolls are now entrusted to the Kyoto National Museum and Tokyo National Museum.
So let’s explore five on Yusen’s pots in today’s post.
As with most of Yusen pot’s it comes with a kiro-bako to store the pot and to keep it safe. If you visit our prior post on the Ueno Park Green Club you will see several of his pots displayed behind a glass case and retailing for $5-8,000 U.S. This pot shows his use of color in his painting of a dragon. Let’s take a closer look.
This isn’t the most complex painting that I have seen on his pots, but just observe the detail that has been painted even on the feet and how it harmonizes with the overall pot design.
We love interesting designs in pots and this qualifies in that it is six sided. In this design Yusen is using both paintings and patterns to tell a story. I think this bears repeating. Yusen, as a painter first and then a bonsai potter, seems to most often be telling a story with his pots. This is one of the reasons we believe his pots are so treasured. Not only are they artistically crafted in clay then he paints his story using the pot as his medium much like other painters use canvas.
In the first photo, we see a small water craft wherein the next painting we two huts up on the hillside. We should mention that many of Yusen’s pots are red paintings. This is very difficult as many red painted pots in the kiln turned into black painted pots. Red is one of the dyes on ceramics that if not properly heated and let to cool will turn from vibrant red into black and therefore ruining the value of the pot.
We look at this design and think – what would be placed in this pot? A tree? Maybe, but how about a few lovely tall orchids that look like egrets with the base in a vivid green moss. Here is an example of that orchid.
We have a number of these in our greenhouse and they are quite beautiful (12-15inches) with the vibrant white figure of what appears to be a flying white egret. We think this would go nicely with this Yusen pot.
Here is a very good example of a Yusen pot with four different paintings. Imagine how long it must have taken to hand draw each scene and just using the white of the pot to balance against a complex scene where the painter is only using light-to-dark shades of this red to paint his story. We will just let his brush tell the rest of the story on this pot.
Well like us, you are likely thinking that this is as close as I will ever come to owning or seeing one of Yusen’s pots. We agree as the cost of Yusen’s pots are past the budget of most collectors. It is however, why we encourage each of you to head to Kokufu-ten and to visit the Green Club in Ueno Park so that you can see these pots in person and if you dare – hold one in your hand and marvel at their beauty.
Well if one is good then two must be twice as good to own. Here is a pair of pots matched only in beauty and size as each pot tells a different story – perhaps they continue to tell the same story – one painted in red and the other in blue.
Perhaps one of our readers from Japan could be so kind and translate for us what is being said on each of these pots.
We hope this brief retrospective on Yusen’s pots give you an appreciation for the absolute talent he had as a painter. How lucky we are that he decided to take up bonsai and make pots not only for himself but for others to share as well. We really encourage you to pick up the book on his pots as well as Kouzan’s. You can find more about this book on this blog post – just click away.
Yusen Artist Mark
There are different marks by Yusen but one that is so prevalent that this is the one we are going to show found on three different pots; one of which the pot wasn’t shown on this post to keep the length of the article from growing too long.
This is an excellent example of his artist mark. There is one other potter whose mark is quite similar but the difference is that Yusen’s always is drawn in two columns as shown in the above photograph.
We hope you are enjoying this series on famous bonsai pot makers from Japan. We realize how difficult it is to find good information on many of these potters and when you do often the cost of the books are steep – we have a rare antique Chinese and Japanese pot book that retails for over $700 U.S. – therefore we hope that our blog will introduce you to many of these potters and will ignite your passion in using high quality pots with your trees and accents pots.
Let us end with we realize that most of us will never own pots of this quality as they are simply out of the reach of our budgets; however, that should not stop each of us from buying the very best pot we can afford to accompany our trees and accents. We learned a very early lesson in collecting pots – we would prefer to buy one good pot rather than 10 inexpensive ones. Wouldn’t you prefer to own one outstanding $500 pot rather than 10 just-so-good ones? Frankly, our trees and accent plants grow just fine in clay pots and sometimes even in wooden ones. We tend to save our money and stretch a bit in order to buy an excellent pot that we can appreciate in our home and then once a year in our club bonsai exhibit. We hope you will start this practice as well and experience the joy we have in owning high quality works of art.
P.S. Just last month we put this into practice by selling 20 of our Bunzan pots (lovely ones at that) in order to purchase a Tofukjui pot. We loved the Bunzan’s but we treasure the Tofukuji. 🙂