Modern-day clay crafts
Updated: Aug 29
– with ceramicist and the founder of Deep Gorge, Hiroko Takada.
Today's story takes us to Japan, where we visit an ancient craft: pottery!
It is close to the heart for me as I occasionally make pottery myself, and extra special as I have met Hiroko in real life and it was one of the most memorable meet-ups in tranquil Kamakura, Japan - a seaside city just south of Tokyo.
First encounter. January 2020. Hiroko picked me up at Ofuna train station and we immediately hit it off.
The first stop was a quaint local restaurant, with a lovely traditional lunch with good chats. After that, we took a drive up the hill, past the narrow streets of the city, toward her Kamakuran studio, where time stopped. As she describes her space: '' It's a 50-year-old Japanese house, where the summers are piping hot and the winters are bone-shakingly cold. '' I instantly fell in love with her spirit & was dazed by how she expresses herself through clay craft.
In her own words:
"My name is Hiroko Takada aka Roko and I'm a Japanese pottery maker based in Kamakura, Japan. I spent a chunk of my childhood in beautiful Greenwich, Connecticut, where the foundation of my "contemporary Asia meets New England" style was formed.
As much as I'm passionate about traveling, I love coziness, comfort food, and small ordinary moments with our loved ones in everyday life.
Also, I believe that handmade heirlooms are essential to sparkle up your game! Beauty and happiness lie in our everyday lives that are simple, imperfect, and special. "
The creative theme of her design journey is "たおやか Taoyaka" in everyday dish wares
--- which is an adjective in the Japanese language meaning graceful, willowy, yet strong.
Tell us a little bit about your story.
I come from an almost completely non-creative background. I've always had interests in "crafts" in general, as my minor in college was Film Studies, however little had I imagined that I would end up on the production side of the process.
My father is a typical Japanese salaryman, and my mother is a housewife, also very typical for their generation. So when I decided to become a pottery maker after spending 4 years at Citibank as a new-grad hired staff, the shock I caused within the family was big. They were definitely concerned about their daughter throwing herself into an industry they know nothing about, but also extremely supportive and wanted to help out in every way they could.
It's extremely difficult for me to explain how I ended up wanting to become a pottery maker, and the most simple answer would be "I just did." There was always a part of me that felt a minor discomfort about not really knowing my own passion or being a banker.
The first step out of that for me was to "decide" what I wanted to do. Not "run into" or "find," but "decide" and commit to it.
I've always liked cooking, which is still my hobby until this day, so I wanted to do something that was related to "dining experiences". But I guess I knew that I didn't want to be a chef - that's too much teamwork, and too intense, I don't know how they do it, to be honest. I really have an enormous amount of respect for people who do it professionally. - Anyway! I also knew somewhere inside that I wasn't cut out for woodwork or glasses either, so "pottery" was a natural way to go. It's almost impossible to explain in words how you know if that material would work for you - but clay did. I just knew it the first time I felt the smooth surface of clay running through my fingers. It was love at first sight.
3 things you love about yourself.
1. Don't give up easily.
2. Flexible (able to adjust to the conditions of the clay)
What's your average morning like?
Fairly slow. Not having to rush out the door in the morning was the best thing about getting out of corporate life.
What do you like the most about living in Japan?
The food options and safety.
How do you recharge?
SLEEP! and also by enjoying pleasant conversations with my friends.
CREATIVITY / CERAMICS
What is your first memory of ceramics; what sparked your interest in it?
Having a chance to meet the legendary Jissei Omine from Okinawa was huge. The power of his pieces and the presence he held as a person made me want to pursue "creativity" although he advised me not to. (Not because he didn't think I had what it took, but because he says that to everyone. He said that the path is too long, too hard, and too financially unprofitable.) You could tell his wise old soul just by seeing him, and his powerfulness, generosity, experiences, and his deep wide knowledge made me feel like I was by the big blue sea of Okinawa.
I wanted to do something creative related to "dining experiences" and with clay. A great 5-star meal would not make you feel the same way if it came out on a paper plate - and that definitely intrigued me.
What do you most love about your studio space?
That it's mine! Many pottery artists use shared studios, but our work is very messy and everyone has different firing processes or methods, so I feel very lucky. It's a very old and shabby typical Japanese small house, but I feel very comfortable in it.
Tell me about a day in the life of a ceramicist?
Every day is very different for our creative process consists of many different steps.
I usually spend the entire day inside the studio and step out to the kitchen to cook something simple for myself from time to time. I really should exercise more!
Do you have any philosophies attached to your craft?
I rarely call myself an "artist" unless the context demands, because I want my pieces to be used as dishes and not "art pieces." I think everyone has their "go-to" dishwares in their cupboards, the one dish that they end up using for everything all the time. That's the position I'm aiming for.
Could you walk me through how you create a piece and what do you most enjoy about shaping the clay?
d. bisque firing (at 800C)
f. final firing (at 1250C)
I enjoy every process, but maybe my favorite is when I prepare for glazing. I usually improvise the patterns and it's fun when I'm trying to come up with one. ''
What's unique about Japanese ceramics in comparison to other countries?
Japan is one of the few countries where it's traditionally considered a proper manner to pick up our bowls when we eat. So our rice + soup bowls are designed to be picked up, unlike many other countries.
How do you handle creative blocks?
'' I make, make and keep on making until I power through. And if that didn't work, I take a break and halt until I start missing the process. ''
(Just like Hayao Miyazaki said in Kiki's Delivery Service.)
Any advice for other creative people out there looking to start a business?
'' Act on it, and don't stop. You don't need a qualification or be hired by someone else to call yourself a creator. You are a creator as long as you don't stop creating. ''
Thank you, Roko! Deep Gorge website: https://www.rdeepgorge.com/
Here's a little throwback to January 2020:
Roko, till next time!
Good vibes, Birgit