Sourcing Trip to Japan 4- Expensive Taste

Kitamura Gazen Incense Burner

My quest continued in Kyoto and I was desperate to find interior accessories which complement the existing collection.  It can not be a one-off creation, either.  Also, I realised the sourcing trip has to take place for the first few days on my arrival.  I somehow lose a Western eye as I stay longer.  If I buy clothes towards the end of my stay, they sometimes don’t get worn here for the same reason.  

Kiyomizuyaki pottery or Kiyomizu ware is probably the best known cultural heritage in Kyoto along with Yuzen dyeing and Nishijin Ori weaving.  It means pottery from Kyoto and it covers a wide range of styles unlike one from other regions. Potters used to occupy an area near the world-famous Kiyomuzu dera Temple, from which the name came, but the majority of workshops have moved to the east of the city where I found the most amazing potter, Mr Kitamura. 

His style was distinctive with extremely intricate painting in cobalt blue which is called sometsuke.  They are beautiful to look at but they complement any food to serve.  Even though I was supposed to be looking for “accessory items” which are at a reasonable cost, my eyes were drawn to some of his large pieces.  I fell in love with one piece in particular: a bowl on a stand painted in gold combined with lilies in blue.  It was just over two million yen – approximately just over £150,000.  His incense burners were also exquisite.  An incense burner can sometimes be found alone under a scroll of ink painting or calligraphy at a focal point of a reception room.  It has to have a presence despite the size and his works should definitely be categorized as art.       


Gold lily bowl by Gazen Kitamura

Mr Kitamura, however, calls himself “a chawan maker”.  A chawan literally means “tea bowl” which is used in a tea ceremony as well as in everyday life in Japan to serve sticky rice.  He makes bowls and plates for everyday use while his inspiration takes him to create magnificent pieces.  He was proud of his works but he recognised himself as a craftsman making an everyday item.  I did not agree, as I believed there should be a clear distinction between his works and mass- produced bowls which cost a couple of pounds in the market.  HMRC and WTO, however, obviously do not agree with me.  They are indeed categorised as ‘everyday items’ to which a standard duty and VAT is applied if I were to import them while washi paper and wooden panels have zero rate duty.  I find it unfair and frustrating.   I could not take up his works as a collection because most of his luxurious bowls and plates are one-off items which can cost me a few thousands pounds per piece.  

Celadon Vases by Gazen Kitamura



Kuniko Thompson

Kuniko Thompson

Founder of Biden Designs established in 2008. She is passionate about creating beautiful interiors working with designers, architects and Japanese craftsmen.

Related Posts