The Deeply Forged Friendship between Mashiko and St. Ives

March 30, 2020

Mashiko Town, located in Tochigi Prefecture, isn’t just one of the of Japan’s most famous regions for Japanese ceramics—it also played a significant role in supporting and continuing what would become the Leach Pottery movement in the U.K.

Around 100 years ago, influential ceramic artist Shoji Hamada met another potter living and working in Japan by the name of Bernard Leach, and finding that they shared mutual visions about their art, together they set sail for England in 1920. Their journey led them to the St. Ives Handcraft Guild, where the support of local philanthropists allowed them to begin building their own kiln for firing ceramics.

Although the two friends only spent a few years together due to the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 that would beckon Hamada back to Japan to attend to his family, the two men continued walking the artistic paths their friendship had forged, with both Leach and Hamada rising to notable fame.

While Leach remained in St. Ives and opened up a pottery school, Hamada eventually relocated to Mashiko. There he began building his legacy as one of Japan’s leading potters of a folk art movement that would gain both domestic and worldwide attention. Leach’s school was also a success, and he continued to visit Japan in subsequent years. As time went on, both of their influential work would play a significant role toward furthering pottery and cultural developments in both regions.

In 2012, Mashiko and St. Ives were officially recognized as friendship towns, where even today the current generation of residents continue the spirit of Hamada and Leach’s friendship and endeavor to further the deep connection between both regions through junior high school exchanges and so on, in addition to ceramics-related art.

As Mashiko and St. Ives welcome the 100th anniversary of Hamada and Leach’s friendship, visitors are encouraged to come and learn more about their incredible story as told by “THE STORY OF ST. IVES AND MASHIKO TOWN—Beyond East and West—” exhibition taking place between May 25–June 27 (Mashiko Town Hall) and June 28–November 8 (Mashiko Roadside Station).

Other related events include a special exhibit at the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art titled “Hamada and Leach’s Two Paths from England,” which will run simultaneously from June 28–November 8. At this exhibit you can see works displayed from around 65 leading potters from Mashiko and St. Ives that have carried on the tradition of Hamada and Leach began.

In addition, from June 28–December 13, visitors are encouraged to check out the “Leach and Hamada” ceramics exhibit put on by the Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan Museum. This exhibit reflects on the directions both potters took while working in England and Japan, and along with pieces of their work, handicrafts from around the world that Hamada kept in his personal collection will also be displayed.

Both museum events will have postcards available for guests to purchase and the first 300 visitors that attend both exhibitions are eligible to receive a slipware ceramic-style brooch.

Event Schedule

May 25–June 27 | June 28–November 8

Mashiko Town Junior High Overseas Exchange Program: Special Exhibit

  • “THE STORY OF ST IVES AND MASHIKO TOWNS—Beyond East and West—Mashiko x St. Ives 100-year Festival—Crossing the Sea of Friendship—”

June 28–November 8

  • Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art: Special Exhibit “Hamada and Leach’s Two Paths from England”

June 28–December 13

  • Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan Museum: Related Exhibit “Leach and Hamada” Exhibition

June 27–August 3

  • Margaret Frith & David Frith Exhibition

September 5–November 8

  • Artists Inspired by Hamada Exhibition

July 2, August 5, September 2, and October 7 (four-date event)

  • Pottery Seeds—Learning about Pottery Clay—

June 28–November 8

  • “Mashiko’s Cafe Tour Mashiko x St. Ives Ver.”

June 28–November 8

  • “Following Shoji Hamada’s Footprints Through Food”

July 30 & October 8 (two-date event)

  • “Let’s Make Mashiko Paasuchii (Pasty)!”

September 26–27 two-day event

“Made in Mashiko Fes 2020”

  • September 26–27
    • Pop-up shop “fennica” and ”Gallery St. Ives”
  • September 26
    • Workshop “Open Workshop by Leach Pottery Artists”
    • Study session “Leach and Hamada’s Pottery”
  • September 27
    • Study session “Leach and Hamada’s 60-year Correspondence”
    • Pottery lesson “Slipware-Making Experience at Hamada’s Factory”

This article is written in cooperation with Mashiko Town Hall.

Tourism and Commerce Section, Town Promotion Department
Mashiko Town Hall
2030 Mashiko, Mashiko-machi, Haga-gun, Tochigi Prefecture, 321-4293, Japan

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