Paul Lorimer

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Paul Lorimer

    Main guest

    Born in New Zealand, Paul Lorimer began to study pottery at the age of 19, which was also when he first encountered Japanese pottery in a book owned by his teacher. Captivated by the asymmetrical shapes of this traditional craft, he came to Japan in 1977 to study Bizen ware in Okayama Prefecture. Three years later he moved to Okinawa, where he has produced a varied body of work, but with a particular focus on reviving the centuries-old practice of aging awamori sake in traditional ceramic pots.

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November 3, 2016

Japanophiles: Paul Lorimer

*You will leave the NHK website.

Japan’s rich and varied pottery tradition dates back to the earliest cultures that settled and spread across this island chain.

Indeed, the Neolithic Jomon people who flourished from around 12,000–300 BC take their very name ("jo" for cord, and "mon" for marked) from 19th-century scholars' analysis of their ceramics, which frequently feature patterns made by impressing rope into the soft clay before it was fired.

Many in the West, though, hold an image of Japanese pottery (and Asian ceramics in general) that is perhaps most clearly characterized by the delicate porcelain and intricate, patterned glazes of Arita and Kutani ware.

Initially exported by Dutch traders operating out of Nagasaki in the 17th century, such exquisite works helped to feed the orientalism that burgeoned in Western society in the 1800s and beyond.

But much of Japan’s most widely used traditional pottery is altogether more rustic in feel.

From the earthy utilitarianism and often seemingly rather slapdash coloration of Seto ware vessels; through to the unpretentious understatement of Karatsu ware crockery; and the robust pots of the Shigaraki ware tradition that also gives us the tanuki raccoon-dog statuettes that are a fixture at the entrance of many shops and eateries, there are dozens of indigenous styles that, while produced with great care and focus, display little in the way of airs and graces.

This is perhaps epitomized by the asymmetrical lines of schools such as Bizen and Iga ware, the latter of which also features ostensibly rough-and-ready glazes. Be sure not to let first impressions fool you, though. Though they may look oddly formed, these pieces are actually produced with a steely concentration to rival the explosive artistry of any traditional Japanese calligrapher.

Almost 40 years ago, discovering a book on these traditions was what first instilled a taste for Japanese ceramics in New Zealand-born potter Paul Lorimer. 

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Lorimer is devoted to reviving the almost-lost tradition of awamori urns.

After having learned pottery in New Zealand, he traveled to Okayama Prefecture in 1977 to study the tasteful, unglazed minimalism of Bizen ware. It was, however, a chance encounter with a 300-year-old pot on a visit to Okinawa that convinced Lorimer to relocate to the islands in 1980 and dedicate much of his time to reviving the local tradition of aging awamori sake in earthenware pots.

Awamori, a famously strong local spirit acquires a much mellower taste and smoother mouthfeel when stored in ceramic pots. This practice goes back centuries, and even forms the focus of customs such as filling a pot with sake upon a birth in the family, to be opened for a celebratory toast when the child reaches adulthood or marriage.

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Awamori acquires a pleasingly mellow flavor when aged in ceramic pots.

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Peter braces himself for the taste test. 

Unfortunately, in addition to its devastating human toll, the vicious fighting in Okinawa at the end of World War II also laid waste to the islands’ tradition of aging awamori. Countless antique pots were lost or destroyed.

In the postwar years, a slew of poor-quality mass-produced vessels also served to erode confidence; pots leaked or failed to improve the flavor of the spirit within.

With the aim of reviving the awamori-aging tradition, Paul Lorimer has devoted himself to his craft and to studying historic local pottery techniques for well over 30 years.

He digs and processes his own local clay, and even built his own kiln to painstakingly fire his works, which also include various practical and decorative pieces unrelated to awamori.

But it is the awamori pots that are his true passion. His fervent hope that people will rediscover and embrace this fascinating tradition is well worth raising a toast to.

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Lorimer even personally digs his own local clay, travelling all over Okinawa to investigate promising deposits.

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The temperature inside the kiln must be carefully regulated.

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Lorimer lives in a traditional Okinawan home.

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Regular tasting sessions are part of his bid to revive this practice.

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A selection of pots for aging awamori.

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Paul Lorimer explains his craft to Peter Barakan.


 



*You will leave the NHK website.