Dealers and producers of Tokoname pottery, one of the six oldest types of potteries in Japan, are turning to Russia to market their teapots. They recently held the first teapot exhibition in Moscow, and sold 30 pieces in two days.
They’re eager to gain a strong foothold in Russia’s vast untapped market and woo fans to their brand originating in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture, before other pottery-producing areas join in.
Tokoname teapot artisans Seiho Tsuzuki, 71, and Shoji Umehara, 70, went to Moscow along with Satoshi Mizukami, 70, owner of pottery dealer Kofuen Mizukami, to organize the exhibition.
Their relationship with Russia began six years ago, when Mizukami became acquainted with a man who runs a culture class in Moscow. They were attending a Japanese tea promotion event in Shizuoka Prefecture.
The man liked the earth color tone of Tokoname teapots and has since bought several hundred thousand yen worth of teapots every year.
In spring last year they began discussing holding an exhibition and finally managed to achieve their goal.
At the exhibition, which was held in the culture class building, the two Aichi artists demonstrated their traditional techniques on the wheel.
The exhibition generated ¥1 million in sales. Teapots painted with sakura cherry blossom motifs were particularly popular. Many of the customers were young women who planned to use the teapots to brew all types of tea, including green.
Sales of teapots in Japan have been declining amid the decreasing population as well as changing lifestyles.
Most pottery centers, including Tokoname, have turned to China in the last few years, targeting the new rich there.
Although sales picked up as a result, market prices have been going down as some pieces are being sold online at cut-rate prices.
Now the Tokoname pottery industry is focusing on Russia’s potential as a market.
Despite their close proximity, the two countries have completely different cultures and little trade.
“We have almost never heard of Japanese pottery being exported to Russia,” said an official of the Federation of Japan Pottery Manufacturers’ Cooperative Associations based in Nagoya. Mizukami’s exhibition was supported by the Tokoname Chamber of Commerce and Industry as one of its overseas expansion projects.
Backed by rich natural resources, the Russian economy had been growing until international sanctions were imposed in response to the 2014 Ukrainian crisis.
“I was surprised to see their interest in Japanese tea culture even though they are experiencing an economic slump,” Mizukami said. “Russia is a promising market.
“We cannot survive if we depend on China alone. We want to succeed in Russia before passing the baton to the next generation,” he added.
Mizukami is seeking to hold similar teapot exhibitions at public facilities in Russia.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published June 10.
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