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Kenjirō’s Fellows – Miura Ken’ya

Updated: Dec 17, 2022

 Among Hibiya Kenjirō’s (日比谷健次郎) (1836–1886) distant relatives is a man called Miura Ken’ya (三浦乾也) (1821–1889). He is generally known as a potter who was active between the end of the Edo period (1603–1868) and the beginning of the Meiji era (1868–1912). However, he was also a multi-talented artist that left works in painting, makié (蒔絵) (gold-relief lacquerware), sculpture, and modern science and technology. Due to his prolific career, he was considered a genius in the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate.


 Miura Ken’ya, who was also known as Fujitarō (藤太郎) during his childhood, was born on March 3rd 1821, in Ginza, Edo during the Bunsei era (1818–1830), the time in which Kasei Bunka (化政文化) (communal culture developed by townspeople) flourished. In addition, Miura was the son of Sumida Kiyoshichi (住田清七) (unknown date of birth and death), a flute player of nagauta-hayashi (長唄囃子) (small wind and percussion ensemble), and succeeded to the Miura Family name at the age of two. When Miura’s father passed away at the age of 16, he moved in with his aunt Také (タケ). She was married to Ida Kichiroku (井田吉六) (1792–1861) who was one of the most famous potters in Edo who worked for the shōgun Tokugawa Ienari (徳川家斉) (1787–1837). Thereafter, Miura studied Raku Yaki (楽焼) (a type of ware made without using a potter’s wheel) under Kichiroku’s supervision. Miura also studied with Nishimura Myakuan (西村藐庵) (1784–1853) also known as Ogata Kenzan V (尾形乾山五世), a follower of the Yoshiwara aesthete (Yoshiwara no sukisha 吉原の数寄者) and a student of Sakai Hoitsu (酒井抱一) (1761–1829). At the age of 25, Miura claimed himself as ‘Kenzan VI’ (乾山六世) and became the successor to the Kenzan school. However, it is worth-noting that, since he was adopted by the Ishii family for three years at the age of 24, he was also known as Ishii at that time. This is the time at which his works became widely known to the public and were referred to as ‘Ken’ya-yaki’ (乾也焼) pottery. Miura was commissioned to make a bookshelf by the Tairō Ii Naosuke (大老井伊直弼) (1815–1860), a high-ranked official in the Tokugawa shogunate. Because the shelf was highly appreciated by the Tairō, other important officials, such as Abe Masahiro (阿部正弘) (1819–1857), an experienced chief of the Mito domain, and Tokugawa Naraaki (徳川斉昭) (1800–1860) soon visited Miura to study his skills with him.


 In 1853, the arrival of Commodore Perry’s Black Ships (referred to as Kurobune 黒船) became a turning point for Miura at the age of 32: he went to the Uraga port and rowed a boat to study the Black Ships in close distance. He then returned to Edo to study shipbuilding, and he created a model steamship. He subsequently proposed to Abe Masahiro the importance of developing warships. In 1854, as a result, the shogunate sent Miura to Nagasaki, ordering him to acquire various relevant skills for shipbuilding, including reverberatory furnaces, for three months. This course of action evinces Miura’s diligent activities.


 Finally, in the 3rd year of the Ansei era (1856), he was commissioned by the Sendai clan to build a Western-style warship, the Kaisei Maru. He finished this project with great success. Thus, it is obvious that he was a truly talented craftsman in a range of fields, considering the facts that he was only a potter at the start, but later he only spent three months learning to build an entire warship.


 After the Meiji Restoration, Miura became internationally recognized as a potter after participating in the first National Industrial Exhibition in 1877 and the Paris Exposition in 1878, where his pottery was received well.

 

He passed away on October 7, in the 22nd year of the Meiji era (1889), at the age of 68.


Japanese names follow the Japanese order: surname-name.

Japanese names and words are transcribed using the Hepburn romanization method.


References:

Kunio Masui, Bakumatsu no kizai, Miura Ken’ya, (The Genius of the Bakumatsu: Miura Ken’ya, 1992) (Ribun Shuppan, 1992)


Kokushi Daijiten (Dictionary of National History), Vol. 13 (Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1992)


Author: Hibiya Yūki


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