Seiko Presage × Matsumoto Koshiro Exclusive Interview
Beauty and artistry in step with Japanese tradition
vol.1 Arita Porcelain Dial - A gentle curve shaped by the artistry of blaze
Kabuki and Arita porcelain meet: The Seiko Presage watch collection brings a tradition-respecting actor and a seasoned craftsman together. The actor is Matsumoto Koshiro, who is amazed and thrilled by the aesthetic beauty of those watches in which various forms of master craftsmanship are condensed. As a kabuki actor, Matsumoto earnestly endeavors to let as many people as possible at home and abroad feel the charm of the traditional Japanese theatrical performance. As such, he has no doubt found that kabuki and the watch manufacturing process, also aimed to deliver the Japanese sense of beauty to the world, have a shared goal. This is the first in a series of interviews Matsumoto has had with Japanese master artisans who are upholding traditional craftsmanship expertise. The first article covers the Arita porcelain dial model, which features a gentle curve unique to porcelain.
Arita porcelain, a specialty of Arita, a town in Saga Prefecture, western Japan, and its vicinities, was launched by Kanagae Sanbee (also known as Yi Sam-pyeong) in the early 17th century — the early part of the Edo period. Arita porcelain began to be exported to Europe in the middle of the 17th century as “Imari porcelain” because Imari in the area was used as the port of origin. In Europe, the imported porcelain works were highly prized as “Imari” especially by royal families and nobilities. At around the same time, kabuki became extremely popular in the imperial capital of Kyoto. This means that both kabuki and Arita porcelain have a 400-plus-year history. Matsumoto appears to have been impressed by the coincidence of history when having the watch dial made of Arita porcelain in his hand.
The dial reflects the elegant beauty of the moon dancing on the water
Matsumoto Koshiro: This white dial looks translucent and glossy. I feel a sense of graciousness from it. I understand that with a metal dial, it may be difficult to create a gentle appearance to such an extent.
Hiroyuki Hashiguchi: That is right. I believe that I have been able to generate the very quality unique to Arita porcelain. I gave this porcelain dial an image of “suigetsu” (the moon on the water), the poetical style favored by Japanese nobilities in the Heian period (794-1192). They are said to have observed the moon not directly but by the sway on the surface of the water.
Matsumoto: I suppose that, unlike creating a typical artwork, you had to work under restraints and difficulties to produce a high-precision industrial part.
Hashiguchi: Exactly. The first thing I had to do was to high-fire the base of what would eventually become the dial at 1,300 degrees Celsius. The next step was to apply glazes and fire it again at about 1,100 degrees. Finally, I made a hole on the porcelain for the watch hands and gave a finishing fire to it. In each firing phase, the porcelain would contract in size very delicately. On the other hand, I had to produce a dial that required precision in units of 10 microns. Moreover, I needed to go through the same firing process many times to produce identical dials in large amounts. As I had had no experience of working that way, it was literally an endless process of trial and error.
Matsumoto: So, you had to not only realize the beauty of artistry, but also meet the criteria for industrial products for daily use.
Matsumoto Koshiro, wearing a Seiko Presage watch, comments: “Once I wear this watch, it spontaneously gives me peace of mind.”
Hashiguchi: As for durability, I had to ensure that my products would pass the stern proprietary criteria set by Seiko. They would not accept anything that “looks beautiful, yet is prone to breaking only after being used just for a while.” Therefore, I sought cooperation from the Saga Ceramics Research Laboratory to use its high-precision molds and developed ceramic materials for porcelain on my own.
Matsumoto: (Listens attentively to the craftsman who is willing to explore new possibilities while upholding the tradition of Arita porcelain. He gives a deep nod to the ceramic artisan.)
Seeking innovation to preserve and hand down tradition
Matsumoto: You have overcome such a high hurdle by adopting state-of-the-art technology while continuously enhancing your craftsmanship. My father, Hakuo Matsumoto, always says, “Kabuki actors are artisans.” He means that each kabuki actor should be an “artisan” who preserves and hands down tradition to future generations, rather than being an “artist” who showcases his individuality. As such, when performing as (12th-centry warrior-monk) Musashibo Benkei in the classic play “Kanjincho” (Donation List), I do not think that I should try to perform the character in my own style. Instead, I always endeavor to convey the charm of the art of kabuki that has been inherited generation after generation.
Hashiguchi: My job is similar to yours. In porcelain production, each finished product is subtly different, depending on the size of clay particles, amounts of water used for mixing clay and weather. Usually, such a difference is regarded as a taste unique to it. This time, I had to find a solution to consistently express the singularity of Arita porcelain on each watch dial that requires a level of high precision and high accuracy. In that sense, this project has expanded the potential of the porcelain industry.
Matsumoto: As a kabuki actor, I feel encouraged by what you just told me. In addition to classic kabuki plays, I have been actively staging Shakespeare plays and an original kabuki play based on a Chaplin film, among other innovative forms of performing. I also staged in Las Vegas in collaboration with teamLab (a Tokyo-based company) and chose a skating rink, not a theater, to introduce a new play.
Hashiguchi: Traditional craftsmanship and traditional performing arts may be left behind the times if we continue to simply follow traditions day after day.
Matsumoto: I have occasionally been chided by some people, who say, “Is what you perform a kabuki play?” But I would like to continue to further broaden the potential of kabuki as an entertainment experience by taking on more innovative challenges. I think that innovation should be always embedded in any tradition if you really want it preserved. If something is old yet really good, it is new in reality. I feel that this Presage watch equipped with an Arita porcelain dial actually proves that, indeed.
In their dialogue, Matsumoto said: “I always ask myself where kabuki begins and ends. I believe that it is essential to bravely take up new challenges in order to keep up with our ever-changing lives as a definite way to preserve kabuki as a traditional performing art.” Concurring with the renowned kabuki actor, Hashiguchi said: “Truly, it is an eternal theme to combine tradition and innovation. We in Arita are working with the same mindset as yours.”
Matsumoto Koshiro, a kabuki actor (left)
Born in Tokyo in 1973, he debuted at the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo in 1979. He assumed the stage names of Ichikawa Somegoro VII in 1981 and Matsumoto Koshiro X in 2018. He performed a kabuki version of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and a kabuki adaption of Chaplin’s “City Lights.” He won the 2019 Japan Art Academy Award.
Hiroyuki Hashiguchi, an Imari and Arita porcelain craftsman (right)
Born in Saga Prefecture in 1965, he began working at Shingama, a 190-plus-year kiln, in 1983. He then mastered the fine and sophisticated “sometsuke” method of producing blue and white porcelain, winning many awards, including the Minister of International Trade and Industry Award during a Kyushu-Yamaguchi Ceramics Exhibition. In 1996, he was certified as an Imari and Arita porcelain traditional “shitaetsuke” (underglaze painting) specialist. At Shingama, he is responsible for the “Seika Takumi” brand developed by him.
Seiko Presage Arita Porcelain Dial Limited Edition
“Suigetsu” (“water” and “moon”) is a traditional Japanese term that describes the moon reflected on the surface of the water. With the esthetic brilliance of the moon used as the motif, the Arita porcelain dial of the Seiko Presage watch collection gives a glossy three-dimensional appearance unique to earthenware. The model also has two three-dimensional subdials visible through dual-curved sapphire crystal glass. The complex mechanical system of the watch is visible thanks to the see-through case back. The light blue crocodile leather band, evocative of the water surface tenderly illuminated by moonlight, makes the wrist look dignified. This limited-edition model is one that combines the cream of traditional craftsmanship and more than 100 years of watch manufacturing experience to the extent that watch collectors are likely to yearn for it.
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