Settle in, this ones going to take a minute!
Of all the painters of bonsai pots in the 20th century, none is more famous and highly regarded than Tsukinowa Yusen. While many bonsai enthusiasts are familiar with Yusen, his successors: Tsukinowa Shunseki and Tsukinowa Shousen, are less known and appreciated. Today we’ll take a look at pots from all three generations of the Tsukinowa lineage.
Tsukinowa Yusen lived from 1908 to 1998. At a young age, he moved to Kyoto to study and paint ceramics. He was forced to do hard labor during World War 2, and as a result was in poor health much of the rest of his life. Bonsai was a hobby, and in 1961 he began making pots for his own trees, and as a hobby. Like many other painters of ceramics, some of his best works are copies of famous old paintings, such as Ando’s “53 Stations”.

Tsukinowa Shunseki lived from 1931-2006. I’ve seen very few examples of his work, and even the pottery books show only a relative few. His work is not near that of his father, and is relatively inexpensive in comparison.

Tsukinowa Shousen was born in 1960. He truly embodies the spirit and skill of his Grandfather, with the same attention to detail, marvelous brushwork, and quality ceramic work.
Because of the extremely high value and relative scarcity of Yusen pots, many forgeries exist. The only ones I’ve seen are pretty clear, it’s much more difficult to imitate Yusen’s extremely skillful painting than, say, a glaze color or a clay type, as in some very well done forgeries of Tofukuji and Heian Kouzan. Because of the forgeries of his grandfathers work, all Shousens come with a certificate of authenticity, stamped and signed box, and stamped and signed turmeric cloth.

In the future I’ll do posts on each potter individually, but here’s a brief(…) introduction to the lineage.
Now, on to the Pots!


We’ll start off with the rarest and the priciest! Yellow window pots like this from Yusen are few, and VERY expensive, as only a handful exist. Great patina, and note the great feet and ceramic work, clean, flawless. No drip to the window, or blurring. Yusen was nearly as great a potter as painter, a true rarity.



A red painted round porcelain pot, showing some nice patina on the rim. Porcelain patinates at a fraction of the rate of other glazes and unglazed clay, so porcelain pots showing patina are much more valuable and tough to find. This pot is a prime example of why Yusen’s work is prized. Note the detailed brushwork, the full wraparound landscape, the flawless porcelain…gorgeous.

A five color painted landscape, with tall feet. This pot style is common to Yusen pots, and often seen holding lovely deciduous semi-cascades and cascades in the Gafu-Ten shows. Again, marvelous detailed landscape, really great ceramic work.

Another go-sai pot to contrast with the previous piece. No feet to speak of, and much softer lines to the pot all around…how cool is that? The pot is softer, more feminine, and the painting mirrors that change precisely! Softer lines and brushwork, more negative space, softer details…wow.

A Yusen Suiban with blue landscape. Great use of negative space, flawless porcelain. I have no clue how many of these exist…less than a handful I’m sure, as this is the only one I’ve seen.

Another red with great brushwork and details. Less negative space here, needs a busy tree to compliment it.

A simple pot with the tall feet common to Yusen pots. Great details and brushwork.
We’re not finished by Yusen by any means, there will be more to come!
As a footnote to Yusen, we should mention the paintings of Seifu Yohei. Yohei was a contemporary of Yusens who painted many pots made by Yusen for him. Here are a couple of examples.


We’ll look at Yohei’s work in more detail in another post. Suffice to say, it’s easy to see why Yohei wanted Yusen blanks…his ceramic work is excellent in these pots!

I only have 2 pots archived to show you Shunseki’s work. As indicated above, they’re simply not that great.

This one shows some good geometric and character work.

A gold and red painted pot. Nice detail to the kids, but the pot looks a little wonky.

A sometsuke blue from the third generation Tsukinowa. You can clearly see the grandfathers influence in the fine brush style, full wraparound landscape, and great ceramic work on this pot.

A red painted pot based on famous old anthropomorphic paintings of animals. Super fine brush work, really pretty, fun, and playful.

A five color pot with a very nice hollow footed base. A spartan winter scene brightened up considerably by the foot painting and rim. An interesting and hopeful contrast.


A wonderful winter scene sometsuke. To me, it just feels cold and spartan, evoking the season perfectly. The top photo shows the various accoutrements that come with each Shousen pot. As I’ve indicated in previous posts, winter scene painted pots are hard to come by, which always seemed strange to me, as the most important shows are in winter…the best painters of the current generation, Haruyoshi, Ranzan, Joshu Syouzan, and Shousen, seem to have realized this as well, and I see more winter scenes from them than previous generations. Now if somebody in the United States would actually HAVE a show in winter(or at the very least an appropriate time…August in Chicago…really?). Well then we’d be taking a huge step forward!


Two great reds with totally different styles of pots and brushwork. The oval is, interestingly, painted more heavily than the rectangle, and while the rectangle is the stronger pot based upon shape alone, the painting makes the overall balance softer and more feminine, the oval becomes almost as strong as the rectangle. An interesting contrast.


And we’ll finish up with Shousen today with a round, showing two different views that would suit totally different trees. The first view needs a very strong tree, while the second, with more negative space, could suit much more elegant trees.

Hope you’ve enjoyed seeing this overview of the Tsukinowa Line. As soon as I find the photos, and the time, I’ll post on these potters in more depth(winter?).
Next up, Miyazaki Isseki. While Yusen is the master of the brush, Isseki is the master of the no-brush, that is to say, the master of negative space.
Thanks for reading, I DO appreciate it when you subscribe and comment, my favorite thing about this research and writing about it is meeting the others interested, so….post a comment! Subscribe!


About japanesepots

I've been collecting Japanese Bonsai pots for a few years, and feel that the famous, and some of the lesser known but great Japanese pot artists could do with a little more writing and exposure in English. Additionally, this blog will feature My own And others bonsai for discussion. The purpose of this blog is to further knowledge of Japanese pottery and Japanese style bonsai. If you have any questions about Japanese bonsai pottery, or would like to acquire pots by some of the potters presented in the blog, feel free to email me at gastrognome@aol.com
This entry was posted in Famous and Antique Potters, Modern Potters. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tsukinowas!

  1. mameandshohinbonsaipots says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this post. Great photos & information. One point I’ll take away ( beside all of the lineage and connections to Yusen ) is how the painted scene dictates the style of tree occupying the pot. Negative space or busy scenes… I have never thought about that. Thanks.

  2. japanesepots says:

    Thanks for the comment Andrew. Yes, this is point I think is often lost in the west. Unusual or wilder trees, or trees with a lot going on(read: busy), need correspondingly fancier pots, to create balance and harmony. While with an unusual pine this would mean fancy feet, a riveted drum, or even carved unglazed pots, unusual and busy deciduous trees planted in painted pots need similarly busy paintings, while simple and elegant trees need the same!

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