三谷龍二 Ryuji Mitani is a wood craftsman, author, owner of the 10cm gallery located at Matsumoto (Nagano Prefecture, Japan) and founder of the Crafts Fair Matsumoto. Mr. Mitani’s handcrafted wood utensils made for everyday use and his influence in the development of 生活工芸 Seikatsu Kogei (seikatsu translates to living and kogei is craft) in Japan had made him very famous both within and outside Japan. His books and interviews, which were published in Japanese, Chinese and English communicate his thoughts about the beauty of crafts attracting fans from around the world.
My first knowledge of Mr. Mitani was from reading Chinese translations of his interviews, magazine articles as well as his books. I was drawn to the simple elegance of his woodwork, the beautiful wood grains and the carving techniques applied to creating a rippled surface. I finally had the opportunity to see and feel his work when I made my first visit to Toronto’s Mjölk located at the Junction in 2016. I bought Mr. Mitani’s iconic plum blossom plate made from walnut and lacquer, which was carried over from his June 2014 exhibition at Mjölk. I continue to enjoy the plate which makes up a part of my travelling tea kit.
I was very fortunate and happy to meet Mr. Mitani and attend his tea gathering at the日本生活器物展 Living Crafts Beside Life exhibition held in Taipei in November 2018. In fact, I did not know that the fee I paid for the event actually included Mr. Mitani’s session until a few minutes before it began! When I took the last remaining seat at the table where Mr. Mitani was about to begin to prepare and serve tea, I was still in disbelief.
Unlike the other three hosting artists for this tea gathering event, Mr. Mitani was very experienced in planning and executing every detail of the sitting from arranging the table setting to the selection of flower, theme and sweets. The tea utensils used were all made by Mr. Mitani with the exception of the teapot, which was not his area of expertise. That being said, Mr. Mitani took the effort of using soil from the garden of his Matsumoto home to create the clay teacups used to serve tea for his guests. I was deeply touched by Mr. Mitani’s sincerity as a host and his thoughtfulness towards his guests - a true reflection of the omotenashi spirit of Japanese hospitality.
While I appreciated the red/fully oxidized tea that was prepared and served by Mr. Mitani, I realized something unusual about the finish applied to the clay teacup. Through the help of an interpreter, Mr. Mitani replied to my query that lacquer, which was used for his woodwork, was applied to the teacups. Uncommon as a finish for teacups, lacquer introduced a natural sheen and did not seem to interfere with the smell and taste of the tea that came into contact with it.
At the center of the table was a piece of paper with Mr. Mitani’s writing of 舟 (which means small boat) on it. The paper was secured to the table with an antique wood carving of a small boat which Mr. Mitani bought from a vintage store. On the side of the small boat was a writing of 志願成就 which means wishing for the realization of one’s aspiration. Mr. Mitani explained that the centerpiece symbolized the efforts he and other participating artists made to travel from Japan to Taiwan with the desire to demonstrate the sophistication and comprehensiveness of Japanese crafts made for everyday living. Judging from the sales of Mr. Mitani’s work alone, it was clearly a successful endeavour as they almost sold out of his works after the open ceremony of the exhibition!