It says much for the prestige enjoyed by the potter's art in Japan that Hamada Shoji is perhaps better known in the West than any Japanese twentieth-century painter or sculptor. Born in 1894 in Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo, in 1916 he graduated from the ceramics department of Tokyo Koto Kogyo Gakko [Tokyo Industrial High School].
This was followed by a period of study in Kyoto and a visit in 1920 to England, where Hamada worked with the British potter Bernard Leach. His works were sold in several London galleries including the Little Gallery (see page opposite). In 1924 he moved to Mashiko in Ibaraki Prefecture and remained there for the rest of his life. During the 1920s he became deeply involved in the Mingei [Folk Craft] movement led by Yanagi Soetsu, and carried out wide-ranging research into the popular ceramic traditions of several countries including Okinawa, Korea and China, seeking always to produce work that fulfilled Yanagi's elusive ideal of the modest 'unknown' craftsman producing unsigned, distinctive and yet modest wares for use by ordinary people in an age of mass production. He was named Mukei Bunkazai Hojisha [Holder of an Important Intangible Cultural Property] a position better known by its popular title Ningen Kokuho [Living National Treasure] in 1955, and he was appointed to the Bunka Kunsho [Order of Cultural Merit] in 1968. He died in 1978. His simple and bold ceramics, made from local clay and decorated with his signature palette of seven different glazes, have inspired generations of potters throughout the world.