Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum in Kyoto

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I have wanted to visit Japanese potter, Kawai Kanjiro‘s former house – now his Memorial Museum for a long time. Yet for some reason, I never made it until this trip… it was a timely visit as the museum was like a quiet sanctuary compared to hassle and bustle in the centre of the city.

Born 1890, Kawai Kanjiro was a prominent figure in Mingei (Japanese folk art) movement founded by Japanese philosopher, Yanagi Soetsu, in the 1920s and 30s, as well as the studio pottery movements led by Bernard Leach. According to Yanagi, everyday and utilitarian objects made by the anonymous craftsmen are ‘beyond beauty and ugliness’. They are inexpensive and functional ware made for ordinary people, rather than ornaments to be placed on shelves as decorations.

Kawai acquainted and collaborated with British potter, Bernard Leach (who founded Leach Pottery with another well-known Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada) throughout his life, hence he often combined English with Japanese elements together to create pottery pieces that are asymmetrical.



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Luckily, Kawai‘s beautiful wooden farm house seems to be under the tourists’ radar, so I was able to wander and absorb the subdued and tranquil setting. Designed by Kawai and built by his brother in 1937, the house had been left untouched since his death in 1966. It is not hard to see the influence of Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of wabi sabi (the aesthetics often associated with ‘imperfection’) at this house, in particular when he talks of ’emptiness’ in the his essay titles “We Do Not Work Alone”:

“When you become so absorbed in your work that beauty flows naturally then your work truly becomes a work of art… Everything that is, is not. Everything is, yet at the same time, nothing is. I myself am the emptiest of all.”





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One of the most impressive sights at the house is his huge kiln at the back, which has been well preserved. Beside pottery, Kawai also did wood carving, furniture design, metal casting and calligraphy, and these works can be seen around the house/museum. I found the museum and his work utterly inspiring, and I think it is possible to imagine the kind of person he was from his craft, designs and writings. The aesthetics of this house is so sublime and understated that it would take some time to grasp it, and you may need to return again to appreciate it fully.



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Burmese crafts: The art of carving

burmese wood carving

burmese carving

burmese wood carving

burmese wood carving  burmese carving

burmese carving


Carving has endured a long history in Myanmar. Exquisite wood carvings can still seen at some ancient monasteries and pagodas. Teak is commonly used as it is a native species in the rain forests of South East Asia.

In Mandalay, we visited a wood carving workshop where we saw artisans carving large teak panels featuring the Buddha and other ornamental symbols related to Buddhism.

Yet not far from the wood carving workshop lies an entire road of marble carving workshops. This road is called Kyauk Sitt Thin (which literally means ‘Stone Carving Road’). It turns out that Mandalay is particularly well known for its marble stone sculptures.


burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving

marble carving

burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving  burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving

Marble carving workshops in Mandalay


The Burmese word for marble is ‘Sagyin’, which also is the name of a village about 21 miles to the north of Mandalay. The village is located near Sagyin Hill, a mountain range consists of 7 hills with large quantities of marble. And not far from the hills is Mogok, which is known as the Valley of Rubies.

The marble from Sagyin Hill varies in colour from pure white to bluish grey. Traditionally, stone carving used to be carved solely by hand using chisels, but now power tools are being used instead. The once handcrafted trade has now become a mass production industry that exports globally.

We saw many young apprentices (who don’t get paid in their first year of learning) working there without masks, which is quite alarming. And oddly, most of the Buddha statues we saw along the road look almost identical (with some variations in sizes), so no particular workshop stood out for us.


burmese sculptures

burmese sculptures

burmese sculptures

burmese sculptures

burmese sculptures

The making of bronze statues at a workshop in Mandalay


After seeing marble carving, we then proceeded to another nearby bronze statue workshop. A traditional lost-wax-method is used to produce these statues. First, a clay-based mold is made, then it is covered with a thin layer of wax, which enables the carving process to take place. Afterwards, a second clay frame is molded around the wax statue. Molten bronze is then poured in between the two molds, melting the wax and filling the gap. When the clay mold is cooled and removed, the bronze statue inside becomes a replica of the original wax statue. The statue is then polished by hand or power tools to make it look smooth and shiny.


burmese carving

burmese puppets

burmese puppets  burmese puppets

burmese coconut carving

The art of carving can be seen everywhere including traditional carved puppets and even coconuts!


To be contined…