Mr.Yuichi Ikai, a ceramist
“I wanted to continue making ceramics even after I graduated”.
－First, could you tell me the reason why you chose this job?
Originally, I was a son of a ceramist at Gojozaka area, Kyoto. Our family has operated this pottery shop for generations. For ceramic artists, Gojozaka is one of the highest-class places in Japan, so both my father and grandfather were very proud of running our shop at such a prestigious area. I have sympathized with their idea from my childhood, and as the oldest son, I thought that I should be the one who takes over their shop.
－Does it mean that you were interested in potteries from your childhood?
No, actually, potteries were not interesting at all for me until when I was a high school student. There was a time when I thought that we should stop selling purchased potteries and should sell our original products. I thought that because I was not good at business or speaking in public at that time. I was rather good at creating things and drawing pictures. That was why I chose to go to a ceramic school. I entered the school when I was nineteen years old and that was my first time making potteries.
－How was your school life?
I went there without any knowledge. But that was OK with me at that time, since I was not interested in potteries at all. I had never seen the process of making potteries out of clay. I didn’t know how to make them, neither. That school was the first place for me to see these things and I found it very fascinating. As I was often praised by people around me, I have gradually gained self-confidence.
In the end, I was completely absorbed into ceramics. So it was only natural that I wanted to continue making potteries even after I graduated. I remember that there was a student who had the outstanding skill. He studied potteries for only one or two years, but his skill was much better than me. I was quite frustrated at that situation.
－You hated losing, didn’t you?
Yes, I did. When it comes to technique, I hate to lose. At that school, there were many students who had the same goal as mine. As I said, I was nineteen years old at that time. However, there were students who just graduated from a junior high, high school, and university. Some of them graduated from art colleges. There were sons of pottery artisans. We even had classmates who just quitted their job to be ceramists too. In other words, these some thirty students had completely different backgrounds. That school was the first place for me to express my mind and experience into potteries.
－Then you were totally absorbed into potteries.
Once I enter the world of potteries, I realized how wonderful they are. The more I studied about potteries, the more knowledge I got. I studied the Japanese culture of tea, cuisine, and bowl as well. Through these study, I found that the world was unlimitedly expanding outside of me.
At the same time, I also understood that the skill is not out of me, but it was the problem of my own. I met my mentor at that school, and his proficient skill surprised me every day. I thought why I can’t do the same thing as he does. I tried my best desperately to improve myself.
－You really wanted to improve your skill.
Yes. To make a good pottery, we need to improve the skill and polish ourselves. In order to do so, it is important to gain a wide variety of experience and meet various kinds of people. I believe this is what study is. We need to go into the new world by ourselves. When you are a student, your teachers teach you many things. In contrast, however, once you become a member of society, nobody guides you unless you ask somebody by yourself. Learning from other people is very important.
I Consider Potteries are Always Connected to Someone.
－What is important for you when you make original potteries?
What I put first while making potteries is that these potteries lead to people in the end. They are always connected to someone, such as our customers and people who see them by chance. The reason why I always think this is that I want these people to feel calm and relaxed when they get my potteries. If I make potteries without thinking about other people, the potteries will be just for myself.
－Except making potteries, you have other sides, such as an artist, artisan, potter, and seller.
Yes, I do have these sides though it isn’t easy to play all of them. Naturally, there are times when every side doesn’t work well. In contrast, there are times when everything goes well, too. I sometimes leave one of them to my family members. For now, I would like to focus on making potteries.
We can’t go against the tide of times
－As technology is advancing, I feel handicrafts don’t adapt to the current market. We should do something to solve this problem, but it is difficult find the solution.
Yes, it is. Although the situation varies from industry to industry, it is true that the market of traditional industry is shrinking, and we can’t do anything about that. There must be some traditional handicrafts which are no longer in demand. Some industries can survive because of government subsidies. Considering the tide of times, I suppose they cannot be helped.
－Does the market of pottery have the same problem?
Potteries are still in demand, especially for serving dishes. Most rice bowls and teacups are made of potteries. And there are many people who want to use potteries. The important thing is its quality. What we can do is to arouse people’s interest to potteries, and lead them to want to know more. So it is important for us to provide the chance to see original potteries to general people.
It is very difficult to tell people about the good points of handmade products.
－I am trying to tell what is so good about handicrafts to other people, but I don’t think I can do it well.
Handmade products are expensive and these things are not necessities of life. Although it is true that there are always people who really want to get them, the number of these people are decreasing these days. This leads to the problem of handmade products.
－There are other problems such as the difficulty of successors and the decline in demand. What do you think is important to solve these problems?
I can’t give you the clear answer, but I really feel that we should do something in our generation. Every person who is related to traditional industries thinks about it. But what we do is just thinking. We can’t keep going on like this. I really feel that we should do something big in our generation to solve this problem.
It is not the problem of artisans, sellers, or the government, but we should work on this on the whole. The good points of handicrafts are actually very vague. That’s why telling people what is good about handicrafts is very difficult. Most people already knew that handicrafts are good in some way, but we still have the problem of declination.
－I think everyone knows that handmade items are good.
It is not enough to share the idea among craftspeople. Sharing the idea among young people is important. I wonder how many people can answer the question “What is the good point of handmade items?” I can’t answer it well. Even if I can, I would be stuck for the right answer in the end.
－I think we can’t describe what is so good about handmade products in words.
It is difficult to describe it. If you talk about the warmth of handmade items, or tell that every single pottery is different, many people don’t understand it correctly. They would restate these words into different expression, such as “This product is very light,” and “It is light and the design is also nice.” They do so because they don’t really understand what is so good about handmade items. Even for me, I can’t understand when it comes to other fields.
But I believe the most important thing is that these handicrafts can enrich people’s heart. For example, many people come to Kyoto and enjoy wearing Japanese traditional kimono. Sometimes, they enjoy eating Japanese cuisine at a traditional restaurant. After that, they will go back to their daily life. These people are feeling the good points of handmade products by doing so.
However, it is difficult to appreciate handmade products in their daily life. Consequently, the demand for handmade products shrunk, and the number of artisans decreased. This leads to the escalation of the price. The more the price of products rises up, the more people stop to buy them. This negative spiral has already occurred.
－I think what you said “negative spiral” is true. Does it mean that the traditional industries are losing their market?
I think people are still looking for traditional industries in some way. But there should be more chance to use them. General people don’t use these products in their daily lives, and that’s why our industries are shrinking. We can’t stop the change of our lifestyle, but we should think about it more carefully.
“I always imagine my customers’ faces when I make potteries”. Mr. Ikai Yuichi is a ceramic artist who has his pottery shop with a workshop attached at Gojozaka area, Kyoto.
Tsuboyakihei Workshop of ceramics
6-504-10, Gojobashihigashi, Higashiyama-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 605-0864, Japan
about the writer