Food & Drink

Leach Bar inherits spirit of Japanese folk art

by Hiroko Shoji

Kyodo

At the Rihga Royal Hotel in the city of Osaka, there is a bar designed by British potter Bernard Leach, who is known for having played a key role in the mingei (folk craft) movement in the late 1920s and ’30s.

Leach (1887-1979) became connected to the world of pottery while he was in Japan, and became acquainted with many artists in the movement led by philosopher Muneyoshi Yanagi that stressed the beauty of everyday handicrafts such as pottery, lacquerware and woodwork.

Reflecting the concept of the movement, the walls of the one-of-a-kind bar are made of rocks, bricks and cane, creating a quiet cottage-like atmosphere in the middle of the noisy city, and the bar features craftworks of well known artists such as potter Kanjiro Kawai and woodblock printmaker Shiko Munakata.

A particularly noticeable work is a block print by Munakata, who had been a nameless artist before Leach nurtured his talent.

Yoriko Ishii, the 59-year-old granddaughter of Munakata, said Leach and other folk art coteries had “embraced him (Munakata) with surprise and pleasure, although he was viewed as heterodox in the art world.”

The bar was opened in the Osaka Royal Hotel, the predecessor of the Rihga Royal, in 1965. Osaka business tycoon and the founder of the hotel Tamesaburo Yamamoto asked Leach to provide the concept for the hotel’s main bar, and Japanese architect Isoya Yoshida embodied the ideas.

Customers can see pictures of Yanagi, who passed away before the opening of the bar, as well as works by many artist, for whom the watering hole has been a favorite meeting place for half a century.

Late Japanese author Ryotaro Shiba wrote in one of his books that the Leach Bar was where he last had a conversation with Takeshi Kaiko, a Japanese novelist who died in 1989.

Ishii said, “I think people in the circle were on really good terms, respecting each other and mutually enhancing (talents).”

Strangely, everyone in the circle but Kawai was a “lightweight drinker,” she said.

Kiyofumi Kageyama, 42, the chief bartender, said, “You may think that people who can’t drink alcohol are not qualified to go to a bar, but that’s not true. I would be happy if people spend time together with their loved ones in this historic place inheriting the spirit of (Japanese) folk art.”