How the Japanese learned to make handles

How the Japanese learned to make handles

Japanese pots, bowls and teacups rarely had handles until the modern age. There were some exceptions for ceremonial objects, but when handles were added they were mostly made of coils and therefore weak and quite fragile.

The European style pulled handle was unknown until it was introduced by British potter Bernard Leach on his second visit to Japan in 1934. Leach and Hamada Shoji had established the Leach pottery in St Ives, Cornwall in 1920. During this period they explored various pottery techniques known in Europe, including slip-trailing and the pulling of handles. Such pulled handles had been used on jugs and pitchers in Europe at least since the Middle Ages.

Bernard Leach in Onda (1954)
By Sakamoto Takumi (2000s)
By Sakamoto Shigeki (1970s)

In the 1930s, traditional Japanese potters, especially those in rural settings, were looking for ways to modernize and produce more objects for daily household uses. The pulled handle was demonstrated by Leach in pottery villages around Japan during his 1934-35 visit and then again in the 1950s. These handles were stronger, more stylish, and fit well with domestic demand for pitchers, teacups and coffee mugs.

 

During Leach’s visit to the pottery making village of Onda in 1954 he taught the potters this technique. They caught on quickly and continue to make European style pitchers and jugs to this day.  Leach objected to this copying – but the potters saw this as learning from a foreign expert and regarded the Onda pitchers as a tribute to Leach.

Marty Gross, Toronto, Canada, May 2021

Pitchers and other ceramics in Onda