So, I’ll preface this post by saying that I had a devil of a time finding information about this potter, and the reason why should become clear! I was pretty sure I had all my ducks in a row, but I had to call in the Japanese language big guns to fact check for me. Thanks go to Bjorn Bjorholm and Peter Warren for making sure I’m not publishing inaccurate information!
His full real name is unknown, all I know is his name is Sato, and he lives in Kanda. Couldn’t find a date of birth for him, although he did merit a page in the Hatanaka book of pottery, at the very end, on page 247. Sato has long been a prominent and well known figure on the bonsai scene, though he adamantly denies making the pots(although he once told Haruyoshi that they only take 2-3 hours to make!).
As best as I can ascertain, Shishimaru pots were, at least originally, a scam perpetrated on the bonsai community, beginning in the 80s. The original Shishimaru pots are unsigned and unmarked, appear to be much older than they are, and are either copies of or homages to famous and very expensive potters’ work, such as Tofukuji, Sekisyu, Ichiyo, and Ono Gishin. The intent is clear: unmarked pots resembling pots worth thousands of dollars in the boom era: malicious forgery. Over time, it seems, rather than simply making these unmarked pieces, Shishimaru created the “Shishimaru” identity: a fictional potter purported to have lived decades ago whose work was just surfacing, and was sold to the bonsai community by his uncle. Again, the intent was malicious, an effort to part wealthy collectors from their money!
Over time, the ruse was discovered(though he still denies making the unmarked pots), and “Shishimaru” pots dropped into a hole, price wise, from $500, $1,000 and sometimes much more, in cases where unsigned Shishimaru were thought to be Tofukuji, to next to nothing.
These days Shishimaru no longer makes new pots, and his older pieces are starting to be appreciated on their own merits, and not merely as scams and forgeries. Unique among forgers, Shishimaru never expressly marked the pots as being made by anyone other than himself, he left it up to others, appraisal experts, to say “this is a Tofukuji” or “that’s an unmarked Gishin!”. While the original intent was probably malicious thievery at worst and mischevious shenanigans at best, the end result is quite different: Shishimaru pots are now desirable in their own right. As master potter Haruyoshi writes: “The Fiction has become the reality.”
Let’s take a look at some of his pots.
We’ll start with an unmarked pot that was originally thought to be the work of Tofukuji, you can’t see it in the head on picture, but the clay is a spot on match. The style is one Tofukuji used as well, though mokko shapes are super rare from Tofokuji…if it were him, it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000¥, around $10,000. As a Shishimaru, it’s considerably less, but it’s a nice pot nonetheless. Note the glaze and apparent patina, at only 30 years old, this pot appears much much older than it really is.
Another unmarked piece with a really nice yohen in the glaze. Could also be one of a number of famous potters. It’s tough to see from this photo, but the pot is distinctly bowed, as you see in antique Chinese pots and Japanese works made before the advent of more modern firing techniques.
Here we have a marked Shishimaru. Really cool and unique, the pot has its own built in stand! The glaze is very nice too. Exceptional clay work and design. A good example of why, despite their malicious origins, they’re starting to be appreciated for their own skill and craftsmanship.
Another unique marked pot. Very well glazed, the crackle is even and fine, and the details to the sparrow are nice. Another that looks much older than it is! I’m not sure what methods were used to artificially patinate these pieces. It doesn’t look like a brushed on wash, and if it is, it’s fine work!
A really nicely glazed blue Mokko over white clay. A great and easily usable pot: The blue isn’t too dark to use with lighter leaves varieties like Kaede, but it’s dark enough to contrast well with dark red berries, like Umemodoki.
Another marked piece, both the stand and the pot are Shishimaru. Really excellent kiln change glazes. I mention “kiln change” and “yohen” quite often when speaking about the pots of Tofukuji, Bushuan, and Shunka Shozan. Yohen are glazes that mix and match, producing unpredictable, and often unrepeatable, glazes. For the Japanese, it’s spoken of as a partnership between the potter and the divine when beauty results from these unpredictable glazes.
A cooperative painted pot made by Shishimaru. I’m not sure who the painter is in the piece. The pot is well made porcelain, however. In some of the better info I found on Shishimaru, Haruyoshi writes that he laughed at him after being asked to do a co-op piece…perhaps the legacy of thievery still stands strong!
A really nice and clean yellow. Pure, bright and single colored. Very nice and usable in this bag shape.
A really unique and cool tall cascade mokko in light blue with cloud feet and seahorse. The detail on the seahorse is very nice, and the differentiation between the glaze of the pot and ornament is perfect.
Another, smaller, painted pot. A really well made piece, looks to be single block carved.
A deep, rich blue mokko with pointed accents and bottom band. Super nice glaze, I’m not sure if it’s a trick of the light or what, but that little accent of light blue in the center and center right really makes it a stand out pot. Very well made, clean lines and razor sharp detail.
A rustically glazed yellow crackle round with feet and lip. Really nice yellow crackle, and the white clay body used makes it subtle, it would be overwhelming with a darker clay body.
I’m not sure what this glaze is called, but I’m going to call it “Kyotenmokukaki”. The fine speckling on the red glaze looks like the variety of Himekaki(princess persimmon) called “暁天目”-“Kyotenmoku”; even the shape is persimmon like! (click on the image and enlarge to see what I mean!)
“Kyotenmoku” Himegaki, showing fine Oil droplets on the fruit. There are at least 50 different shapes and colors to Princess Persimmon fruit, many with these fine oil droplets. That’s a lot of variety for a species that has been used for bonsai less than 40 years!
Another deep rich blue bag pot, unmarked. Important to show for one reason: the “patina” is backwards. Patina always builds first in cracks, crevices, and indentations, unless they’re shielded. In this pot, the patina should be deeper under the rim, I think, whereas the area under the rim looks as new as the day it was made! Clearly a good example of techniques Shishimaru used in his scheme.
A really nicely made, and glazed, tall cascade with a speckled brown iron glaze over a yellow base. The anchor shaped feet are an especially nice touch, as is the almost intentional appearing drip, very wabi sabi.
And we’ll finish up with a pair of earlier work marked Shishimaru with box and cloth. From the period before the ruse was unearthed. These were available for sale last week, and they weren’t all that expensive(relatively speaking). The seller, one of my favorites, who I’ve bought many pots from in the past, had the box made for the pair and hunted Shishimaru down at Kokufu Ten 5 years ago, and got him to sign and stamp the box and cloths with all his seals and signatures. A cool collectors item and a couple of nice Shishimaru pots!
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a few pots from master forger come master potter: Shishimaru. Thanks for reading! Up next. Pots from My Collection 12, Shohin Bonsai Around My Garden 2, Painted Pots from Shunka Shozan, and a full post on Tsukinowa Yusen! Stay Tuned!
Ry—you never cease to amaze with such great posts. Keep up the great work! Probably the most interesting and intriguing thread you have composed, speaking for myself.
Thanks Matt, it was a long time in the making, since I was offered one last year, and couldn’t find any info on the guy!
Thanks Ryan, your thorough research is invaluable to us, and the information always fascinating!kora
Outstanding stuff…most japanese enthusiasts dont go to these lengths…
Thanks for the props there Trev! Much appreciated, and thanks for the read!