The 14th-generation descendant of Shim Su-gwan, whose real name is Keikichi Osako, passed away from lung cancer on Sunday, Japanese local media outlets reported Monday. He was 92 years old.
He was the 14th-generation descendant of Shim Dang-gil, a pottery maker who was abducted to Japan in 1598 during Japan’s invasion to the Korean peninsula. The whole family of Shim Su-gwan has made pottery through generations, living in Satsuma (currently Kagoshima), Japan. Over the past 400 years, the Shims’ skillful Satsuma pottery has grown to become one of the most famous types of pottery in Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun said they also created a new technique by applying Kagoshima’s traditional glassblowing craft to pottery.
To honor the 12th-generation descendant of Shim Su-gwan, who had brought attention to the family business during the Meiji Restoration, descendants have inherited his name since then. The deceased became the 14th Shim Su-gwan in 1964, and passed on the name to his eldest son to become the 15th Shim Su-gwan in 1999.
Having graduated from School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University, Shim was named as an honorary consul general by the Korean government in 1989, and also awarded the Silver Order of Cultural Merit the following year. In 2008, he became an honorary citizen of Namwon, North Jeolla Province, where he was born in. The Asahi Shimbun said that the deceased actively served as a bridge that helps cultural exchanges between Korea and Japan through the Satsuma pottery.
Shim also came to fame when novelist Ryotaro Shiba published a novel in 1964, whose main story about Joseon’s pottery maker is based on Shim’s experience.
When he had an interview with the Dong-A Ilbo in November 2017, Shim proudly said he kept his father’s will. His father, the 13th Shim Su-gwan, led the life as a pottery maker after graduating from the School of Law at Kyoto University. “It marks 400 years in 1998 since the family came to Japan. Please keep taking care of the family business.” These were his last words before he died in 1964.
The deceased also brought “the embers of the Joseon” to Kagoshima. In 1998, he was able to take the embers from Namwon to Japan, which are still alive in Miyama, Kagoshima.
There was also an exhibition of their pottery in Korea. The Shims’ pottery, which had not once left Kagoshima until then, were introduced at the first overseas exhibition held at Ilmin Museum of Art in July 1998. The exhibition titled “Returning Home in 400 years: Shim Su-gwans’ Pottery Blossoming in Japan” ran for around five weeks, attracting some 50,000 visitors.
He made continuous efforts to let the Satsuma pottery be known, by submitting his works to exhibitions both at home and abroad including a world expo held in Osaka in 1970, as well as publishing a book introducing pottery. In 1998, Shim also joined an executive council for an exhibition commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Satsuma pottery held in Kagoshima.
A memorial altar was set up at Yoshida Funeral in Kagoshima. A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday.