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Haruka Matsuo and Kigata Banko Yaki by KUMOStudio Liyun Wang

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

Artist Haruka Matsuo was born in Tokyo and grew up in Mie Ken(三重県) in Japan with two artist parents. As the ninth-generation successor to the traditional Japanese craft “Kigata Banko Yaki (木型萬古焼)”, Haruka gained an MA in sculpture from Kyoto University of the Arts and a BA in textile from Royal Academy of Art in Amsterdam. She currently lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Mie Ken at the foot of Suzuka Mountain, where Haruka grew up, produces a special kind of green tea—the Gyokuro tea(玉露茶). It is of the top level for Japanese green tea ceremony. 

Gyokuro tea

Gyokuro tea is cultivated in a very special way. One month before harvest, the tea farmers will cover the tea plantation to reduce sun exposure. This special touch makes the leaves very gentle and soft. After certain procedures like drying and kneading, the new leaves become Gyokuro tea. In order to keep its natural sweet and aura and prevent bitterness, the Gyokuko tea can only be brewed with certain low-temperature water from 40-60 degrees Celsius. 

tea farmers are covering the trees to prepare the Gyokuro tea

Alongside the famous Gyokuro tea, is the equally famous Kigata Banko Yaki. This craft which uses a special puzzled wooden mold to make teapots was invented 190 years ago by a Japanese craft artist Yusetsu Mori(1808-1882). Yuesetsu applied the puzzled wooden mold technique to teapot-making for green tea ceremony. The technique was once used to make Japanese paper bamboo lamps.

In Kigata Banko Yaki, a piece of thinly-pressed high-quality clay is wrapped around the wooden mold, with a layer of Japanese special Kakishibu paper (柿渋紙, made from persimmon juice).

Kakishibu paper

After the teapot takes shape, the wooden mold can be cleverly deconstructed from the inside and removed from within.

removing the molds

This unique technique allows the Kigata Banko teapots to be very thin, light, and perfectly suitable for drinking green tea such as Gyokuro tea. Moreover, the texture of handcraft is perfectly reserved so that every teapot set is one and only. 

Kigata Bango Yaki is very thin and light (Haruka's work)

Before going to the Kyoto University of the Arts for study, Haruka went to visit Seigatsu Iriyama(1922-2001) with her father. This official Japanese traditional craftsman was the 8th generation successor of Kigata Banko Yaki. Haruka was then 18 years old and deeply moved by this technique. Back then the Kigata Banko Yaki was a secret skill and circulated exclusively among a handful of local craftsmen. As it happened, half a year before her visit, Iriyama’s studio caught fire and most of the precious wooden molds were burnt. Later on, Iriyama took Haruka as his pupil and passed his skills to her to resume this line of craft. She continued studying with Iriyama while attending Kyoto University. Her BA paper wasConservation of Japanese Traditional Technique “Kigata Banko Yaki."

She then inherited the wooden molds—some of which are up to 120 years old.

After obtaining a master's degree in sculpture from Kyoto University of the Arts, Haruka continued to study art history in Germany and the Netherlands. In 2004 she graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam.

Today, her works have won awards from the Dutch Visual Culture Foundation, the Pola Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion Foundation, the Japanese Saida Tea Culture Foundation, etc., and have been collected and exhibited by institutes such as the Japanese Paramita Museum and the Dutch Princess National Ceramic Art Museum. 

the work collected by Japan Museum Sieboldhuis in the Netherlands

*Japan Museum Sieboldhuis oringianally deplayed items that were collected b Philipp Franz von Siebold(1796-1866). Now it also functions as a Japanese culture museum. 

In 2012, she also held a lecture and workshop at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

Haruka is third from right

As the 9th generation successor of the Kigata Banko Yaki, Haruka strives to protect and continue this special technique, and make it seen and known to the world. In addition to the typical patterns of Japanese style teapots, Haruka also adds the creative elements into this traditional craft, such as working with Dutch embroidery artists to imprinting cloth patterns on the teapots.  

Every Kigata Banko tea set that Haruka makes comes with a specially made paulownia box. In Japan, the same boxes are used to protect precious Kimonos from moisture and insects. Each box will be uniquely inscribed with Haruka Matsuo’s signature and seal. 

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