Friendship fostered through Iran's "lusterware" Dr. Araghchi, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, visits Kobei Kato's workshop
In August 2017, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation invited Dr. Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Deputy Foreign Minister (in charge of legal and international affairs) of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to Japan. Since assuming the current post in 2013, Dr. Araghchi has emerged as an influential diplomat that played prominent roles in Iran's historic nuclear deal in 2015, attracting attention from parties both in and outside the country. During his time as the Iranian Ambassador to Japan (2008 - 2011), he came to learn about a Japanese ceramicist who revived Persia's legendary lusterware ceramics, the techniques of which had been completely lost after the 17th century. It was the late Living National Treasure, Takuo Kato, who was the sixth-generation master ceramicist of the Kobei-Gama Pottery, founded in Tajimi City, Gifu Prefecture in 1804. He revived the lusterware techniques through 15 years of dedicated work and passed away at the age of 87 in 2005. He was succeeded by his first son, Takuo, also known as 7th-generation Kobei Kato, who is passionate about maintaining and further spreading the techniques of lusterware in Japan. Dr. Araghchi and his wife first visited the Kobei-Gama Pottery in May 2008, when their association with the 7th Kobei Kato began. Mr. Kato made his first visit to Iran in 2012 and held an exhibition titled "Lusterware Ceramics from Past to Present" at the National Museum of Iran in 2013. On the last day of his Japanese stay, Dr. Araghchi visited Mr. Kato, who continues to contribute to promoting cultural exchange between Japan and Iran through pottery. We interviewed Dr. Araghchi during his first return to the Kobei-Gama Pottery in 9 years.
－ What is your impression of the Kobei-Gama Pottery on your second visit?
＜Dr. Araghchi＞ I believe lusterware by Mr. Kobei Kato is a symbol of cultural exchange between Iran and Japan. I felt his passion to his creative work, just as much as I did on my first visit. My first visit here in 2008 inspired him to visit Iran on several occasions since. Two Iranian ceramicists underwent training under Mr. Kato. Through such experiences of exchange, his sense of attachment to lusterware seems to be increasing even more, which makes me very happy. It is also great to see that his son, Ryotaro, has grown up to be an excellent successor. I saw Ryotaro when he visited Iran on his honeymoon. I have no doubt that he will succeed the legacy of his grandfather, Takuo, and father, Kobei, to become a successful ceramicist.
－ You tried hand-painting a lusterware piece this time.
＜Dr. Araghchi＞ It was a lot of fun. When you try it yourself, you realize how difficult it actually is. I drew the phrase, "In the name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful," accompanied by my name. I will hang the piece on the wall of my house to keep the memory of this visit fresh. Person-to-person exchange is a very important part of maintaining diplomatic relations between two countries.
＜Dr. Araghchi＞ Person-to-person exchange is the foundation of diplomatic relations. Political, economic and security relations must be fostered to guarantee a better standard of living and safety. To this end, mutual understanding is crucial. Cultural and art exchange is a very effective way of deepening mutual understanding. Conflicts around the world stem from a very minor misunderstanding or lack of mutual understanding. To rectify this situation, it is very effective to promote cultural and art exchange across different cultures and religions so that people can meet and understand each other. In this sense, Mr. Kobei Kato is a man of great significance. He is a symbol of a bridge connecting Iran and Japan. The Iranian Embassy in Japan and Iran's Foreign Ministry will continue to support his work.
－When do you plan to make your third visit to the Kobei-Gama Pottery?
＜Dr. Araghchi＞ There was a nine-year gap between my first and second visits. I hope it won't be as long before I can return for the third time. However, being a diplomat, there is no knowing when and where my next assignment will be. I would like to create an opportunity to come and see his new collection in the near future. I hope he will continue to generate even more in-depth exchange between Iran and Japan, and show the beauty of lusterware to the rest of the world.
－How was Dr. Araghchi's latest visit to your Pottery?
＜Mr. Kobei Kato＞ When he visited us for the first time, it was shortly after he came to Japan as the Ambassador of Iran. He impressed me as a very capable diplomat. He had a strong interest in cultures. He was delighted about my father, Takuya's achievement in reviving the techniques of lusterware, and asked us a lot of questions. I feel tremendously honored to find that he set time aside on his final day of his Japanese stay to visit our Pottery. I discussed with our staff about the best way of welcoming him back, and decided to offer him an experience of painting a lusterware plaque. Lusterware of advanced intricacy, like those developed in the 17th century, is no longer produced in Iran. I would love to pass the know-how of Japanese lusterware techniques to local ceramicists. Respecting and honoring the pride of Iranian ceramicists, I am adopting the stance of growing together with them in actively promoting continued exchange into the future.
Cultures and arts will bring universal harmony, as they are characterized by the fact that people strive to reach the same height regardless of their political systems or difference in cultural / religious backgrounds. It is hoped that Iran and Japan will establish even closer diplomatic ties through multi-layered exchange based on person-to-person networking through cultures and arts. We wish to thank the staff of Kobei-Gama Pottery for their warm hospitality.