Dec 222015

The Passing of a Great Master

Hosai Matsubayashi

Master Ceramic artist of Asahiyaki

1 Hosai Matsubayashi © Adam Marelli

This month we mourn the loss of a great man.  Fifteenth generation ceramic master Hosai Matsubayashi has passed away.  His son Yusuke informed me a few weeks ago.  It is a great loss and I hope that we can all pass our condolences along to his family and honor the legacy he left behind.  If you would like to leave a note at the bottom, it would be most kind of you.  After one week’s time, I will forward them on to Yusuke and his family.

2 Hosai Matsubayashi © Adam Marelli

In 2014, I visited Asahiyaki’s home base in Uji with the Kyoto Workshop participants.  When I said this would be a once in a lifetime visit, I don’t think any of us fully understood.  Yusuke was away in Singapore, opening a new private bar with some of the members of Japan Handmade.  His father was kind enough to welcome the group and spend a good four hours taking us through the history of their family and what it means to make ceramics for over 400 years.

3 Hosai Matsubayashi © Adam Marelli

We were ushered into a tatami mat-tea room and served matcha while Hosai explained some of the highlights of the workshop and answered everyone’s questions.  The full extent of the conversation might take ten pages of text, but one highlight that stood out was that the clay they use was harvested by Hosai’s great grandfather in the 1800’s.  Yes, the clay they are using came from the bed of the Uji river before the Industrial Revolution ever hit Japan.  The level of foresight needed to collect enough clay for 6 future generations is mind boggling.

4 Hosai Matsubayashi © Adam Marelli

Hosai was the 15th generation of the Matsubayashi clan, Yusuke the 16th generation.  They have been making ceramics, specifically for the tea ceremony, almost since its inception by Sen No Rikyu in the 1600’s.  It is a rather incomprehensible number, especially when I consider that I don’t own an Apple product that’s lasted ten years.  And even more impressive is that the operation has run consistently, without disruption, the entire time.  All the while, they have refined, experimented, and expanded the aesthetic we now know as Wabi-Sabi.

5 Hosai Matsubayashi © Adam Marelli

6 Hosai Matsubayashi © Adam Marelli

But contrary to the impression one might receive from a 400 year old family run operation, Hosai spoke to us at length about his approach to keeping tradition alive.  When I asked him about the recent collaborations that his son Yusuke had done for the international markets (Asahiyaki for Japan-Handmade), he said, “It is important for Yusuke to find his own path. I see the DNA of Asahiyaki in all he does…but it must be done in his voice.”

7 Hosai Matsubayashi © Adam Marelli

The balance of past, present, and future is not something every craftsman masters.  Some fall victim to shrinking markets, family infighting, or the trappings of obscurity.  But at Asahiyaki, Hosai continued their work and training so that even in his passing the tradition will continue to thrive.

8 Hosai Matsubayashi © Adam Marelli

Hosai Mastubayashi and Adam Marelli © Dirk Heyman

Hosai Mastubayashi and Adam Marelli © Dirk Heyman

Personal Note

As a photographer who spends most of his time with master craftsmen, I guess I should not be shocked when one of them passes away.  But Hosai is my first loss.  He was the first craftsman I knew who slipped from this world to the next.  It was a tremendous honor to spend time with him and feel his presence.  We often talk about legacy and how tradition passes from one generation to the next, but when it happens…it becomes clear whether a craftsman has really succeeded.

The combination of Hosai’s philosophy, historical awareness, masterful design, and forward thinking attitude certainly insured him a place in history.  It is not just what we make, but how and why we make it that matters.  I cannot think of a better embodiment than Hosai.

With our greatest respects to the Matsubayashi family and everyone at Asahiyaki.

Kindly-Adam Marelli



  15 Responses to “The Passing of a Great Master: Hosai Matsubayashi”

  1. It’s sad when the old die, the feeling of loss. My sympathies to the family.
    With his death, Adam, the importance of your work grows. Thank you for being there and sharing it with us.

    • Terry,

      Thank you for your condolences…as I said, it was an honor to spend time with him and see him at work. But the family keeps on and that is great to know.


  2. Sorry to hear this. Condolences to his family and may they continue making pottery for another 16 generations and more. I hope to see and use their work one day.

  3. How you and his family will treasure these photos now! Very special that your work and his overlapped.

  4. My condolences to thae Matsubayashi family. May his art, craftsmenship and ceramic tradition live on for many more generations.

  5. Dear Adam,

    Please pass my deepest respect and condolences to the family. But I also want to express my gratitude to the family for the opportunity given to us in 2014 to meet Matsubayashi-san. I remember fondly the warm welcome, but also the quiet but persistent passion I could see and feel: it was just there. This made the experience very, very special.


  6. Thank you everyone for your notes…I know it means a lot to the family!

    Hope that you are all having a great holiday season.


  7. Bamboo bends with the winds of time. The rock is worn smooth. With every loss there is a remnant. The artistry lives on. We mourn the passing and celebrate the life.

  8. Respect and awe!


  9. Just found your blog Adam,

    Really touching post, my condolences.

    I admire many photographer for what you said “It is not just what we make, but how and why we make it that matters”.

    One of my favourites is Michio Hoshino, wrote an article about him published in The Juneau Empire

    Regards from Barcelona,
    David F.

    • Thank you David,

      Glad that the article struck a chord and thank you for sharing the link.

      And please enjoy the food for me in Barcelona. I have not been back in years.


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