Tsuneki Naoto's atelier can be found in the city of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture. Perched on the banks of the Takahashi River and facing the Seto Inland Sea, the city has long been a gathering place for merchants, craftsmen and travelers.
In the Edo period, Kurashiki first made its name as a bustling trading port - a reputation it still has today. Many of the picturesque 17th century warehouses, decorated with distinctive black and white tiling, remain alongside the city's willow-lined canals. Small boats continue to ferry travelers along the waterways and under the stone-arched bridges of the old town.
A potter dedicated to Bizen ware
Naoto was born in Kurashiki in 1971 and has been working with Bizen ware for over 25 years.
Bizen ware is among the most famous of Japan's traditional pottery styles, and denotes ceramics made from a particular type of clay gathered around Bizen in Okayama. Uniquely, the properties of this 'hiyose' clay mean that glaze will not adhere to the pottery. As a result, Bizen ware has little luster and the patterns on each piece are unique - the hues and shades come only from the natural earth and the fire of the kiln. Bizen ceramics' unadorned simplicity and rustic beauty have made the style much sought after for over 500 years.
Naoto's journey into crafting Bizen ware began by studying under the renowned master, Sueishi Taisestu in the mid-90s. After further honing his skills at the Bizen Ware Centre under Sato Taisuke, he moved to Hokkaido in 2001, where he established his first own atelier. In 2016, he returned to his hometown and fired up his traditional 'cave' kiln in Kurashiki the following year. No matter where he finds himself, Naoto is constantly on a mission to convey the wonders and understated beauty of Bizen ware.
Unique patterns and shades of ochre
Working in his atelier amid the green mountains around Kurashiki, Naoto has a clear focus on the purpose of his pottery: "My aim is to make pieces that can be used in everyday life - and, in doing so, bring a little joy." While his process owes much to tradition, his Bizen ware is crafted for regular use in the kitchen. Naoto combines the naturally heat-resistant clay with a slightly lighter, thinner heft in order to make his pottery adaptable and easy to handle.
Alongside the appealing utility of his ceramics is the captivating aesthetic of Naoto's work. He is keen to emphasize the ochers and oranges, the subtle gradation of shades that are very much the hallmark of his pottery. He fires up his traditional kiln to preserve these natural elements in the clay. Naoto does this by skillfully reducing the smoke and ash in his kiln, which determines the final colors and patterns.
Naoto's process results in entirely unique pieces. Each one differs from the next and is appreciated for their subtle changes in color, shade and light.
Bringing joy to daily life
Naoto always has one eye on how to integrate his ceramics into everyday life, routines and tastes. His tableware and kitchenware are a rare harmony of practicality and beauty. But underneath the apparent simplicity of his pieces, modern life and tradition are brought together by his careful thought-process.
His bottles, for example, are inspired by centuries-old Bizen ware water holders, but these ones are designed to fit perfectly in your fridge door shelf. His coffee dripper, too, is an unexpected delight to use, when people would typically think of glass or plastic.
Naoto suggests that his Bizen ware is ideal for releasing the aromas of drinks due to the fine pores that naturally form on the surface of the pottery. Not only that, but there is the particular texture of his cups and sake bottles and the appealing sound made when pouring and drinking from them. This is very much what Naoto has in mind when he says that using these items will bring enjoyment to the daily routine.
Naoto suggests that his Bizen ware is ideal for releasing the aromas of drinks due to the fine pores that naturally form on the surface of the pottery. Not only that but there is the particular texture to his cups and sake bottles and the appealing sound made when pouring and drinking from them. This is very much what Naoto has in mind when he says that using these items will bring enjoyment to daily routine.
2003 the 12th flower organ contest, the 33rd whole pottery, the 26th longest three award biennale, the 78th road exhibition,
2018 the 61st Japan Crafts Crafts (China Branch) Exhibition
A solo exhibition at Sapporo, Kurashiki, Furano, Tokyo, Matsuyama