navbar topEmail UsSite MapPhoto Tours

eStore English Homepage

Kako Katsumi
Exhibition Review



spacerReturn to Who's Who A to Z Menu

Click here to learn more about Joan Mirviss
Click below links
for more stories
on Kako Katsumi

Sake Vessels

2001 Exhibition

2002 Exhibition


Yellin's gallery
sells pieces from
the kilns of Japan's
finest potters


Kako Katsumi Exhibit
Tobu Department Store in Ikebukuro (Tokyo)
October and November 2003

Story and Photos by
  Aoyama Wahei at EY-NET

Kako Katsumi

There is something strangely intriguing about ceramist Kako Katsumi. He is eager to explain his thoughts and visions as an artist, but at the same time he is almost zealously self-depreciating. He delights at praise, yet at the same time he will become the epitome of humility, often chanting long accolades of elder potters like an apostle preaching a gospel, not at all lending an ear to homage in his favor. His shuki (sake vessels) are ice cold in their refined forms, yet they also hold a mysterious warmth that makes the viewer want to hug them close to the heart.

Exhibit Pieces by Kako Katsumi

Work by
Kako Katsumi
at Tobu Dept. Store

Exhibit Pieces by Kako Katsumi

But Kako is not an enigma or a walking contradiction. He can pass for a normal Joe on any given day of the week. He is thin and likes to drink potato shochu. It's not that he is quiet, but he's not really the type that mesmerizes a crowd with rapid verbosity. He attaches his cell phone to his belt, an act far from fashionable. In short, he's like you or me: an ordinary guy.

Yet in his work lies a keen, cutting-edge sense of form that some might call chic. On closer observation, in his stylish shapes lie a balanced faithfulness to traditional shapes and clay flavor, to traditional ash glazes and earthy skin textures. His eye is perceptive, far more perceptive than many potters his age. Kako is 37.

I recently visited Kako's latest exhibit at Tobu Department Store in Ikebukuro, a sprawling section of Tokyo. In the gallery's small space were lined the newest collection of the ceramist's work. It is Kako's fifth consecutive year to exhibit at Tobu, yet opposed to last year's emphasis on Kouri-hada, or ice kohiki glaze, this year's emphasis was placed predominantly on chawan and two new styles.

    "This is a new style of mine. I call it Awayuki. Awayuki is an old way of speaking of Botan yuki, or a pure white Spring snow. It's not like my usual Shizuku-mon, for the integration of darker colors is much less. I wanted to make a contrast between white and black in this exhibition, especially in my chawan. It was my intention to leave the flavor of the clay (tsuchi-aji) while applying a white Feldspar glaze that resembles freshly-fallen snow." 

Awayuki by Kako Katsumi

Awayuki Chawan
by Kako Katsumi

Shizukumon Chawan by Kako Katsumi

Shizukumon Chawan
by Kako Katsumi

I look at Kako as he speaks enthusiastically about his work and its esprit, and then glance at the Awayuki chawan. Indeed, it is similar, yet different, to Kako's past Shizuku chawan. It was the glow of gentle tenderness that struck me upon my first encounter with Kako's work. However, his Awayuki-style chawan didn't only radiate a soft kindness: it beamed it. Moreover, in the pleasant earthy, even sandpaper texture of its clay, as well as in its soft marshmallow whiteness of the feldspar, was the refined eye for balance, for style, other ceramists Kako's age could only wish for. I asked him about his current fascination with chawan in particular. Why now?

    "I haven't gone recently, but I used to practice the tea ceremony. I like tea. The chawan is a difficult ware to make. In its simplicity is much complexity. Cutting the kodai is something that gives me many problems. Yet what is difficult is also what is interesting. Before my daughter was born, I used to make mostly plates and kitchenware. Yet after she was born, for some reason I began making sake vessels at a greater frequency. Now my wife is going to give birth to a second child very shortly, and at the same time I find myself making chawan. It's a phase, really." 

He smiles as he talks of his family, a glimpse of jubilant serenity. Making sake vessels broke Kako's fame onto the pottery scene, in particular catching the eye of Robert Yellin. Yellin's promotion of Kako lifted his career, and he still feels a deep indebtedness towards Yellin to this day. 

    "Yellin-san was the person that really got my name out. I respect him and his eye, and I will always continue to ask him for advice on what I can improve upon."

What a modest man, I thought. He is already a talented artist. Yet even so, he is extremely eager to ask a person for ways to improve his work. Such humility makes one better. Listening sharpens the senses. You strive for better things. Kako Katsumi, I thought, will only ripen with age.

    "It was around the time of the birth of my daughter when I decided to make a kiln of my own, something other than an electric kiln which I had previously been using. I had not made a kiln before, but I took inspiration from Iwabuchi-sensei, my teacher at Saga University of Art." (Author's Note: Iwabuchi Shigeya, a potter in his own right, invented the "ittekoi" style of kiln, which is, in essence, a one-chambered noborigama.)

With his teacher's knowledge in mind, he swiftly built his kiln in Nishiwaki, Hyogo Prefecture. Since Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, had strict regulations regarding kiln smoke in its streets, Kako had no choice but to move away from his home in order to start anew. Yet moving from Kyoto helped Kako emancipate himself from his past -- Kyo-yaki porcelain.

Kako was born the heir to a family of
Kyo-yaki porcelain potters, who predominantly mass-produced and painted porcelain bowls and plates. Kako wanted more freedom to roam, to build, to have a form of artistic expression wherein his own creativity could be fully realized. Yakimono was his escape. And to make a kiln for yakimono stoneware, he left Kyoto. 

One cannot talk of Kako without mentioning his "ittekoi" kiln. Fired with wood, it is small enough to fire alone, without the help of others. Thus in practicality it is similar to an electric kiln, or perhaps even closer to the small anagama kiln that the Tsujimura family uses. Since it is small yet high-powered, he can fire a load in approximately 20 hours. This allows Kako to fire once every two weeks, sometimes even less. It is this fast pace which allows for Kako to hone his skills to perfection, perhaps more quickly than his contemporaries. 

    "Firing in a wood kiln is a lot of fun. I really feel like I'm "firing" a work. Before, in a gas kiln, that special sensation of firing was lost. It's not half as exciting as firing with wood." 

Hakeme Kouri Hada Chawan by Kako Katsumi

Hakeme Kouri-hada Chawan

Kouri-hada Chawan

Kourihada Chawan by Kako Katsumi

It is interesting how coincidences collide. At the time of his daughter's birth, Kako had conceived his wood kiln, invented his kouri-hada glaze, and started focusing on shuki. And as the new swept through Kako's life, he met Robert Yellin.

"It was Yellin-san who coined the phrase 'kouri-hada', or ice-skin glaze." I nod my head in acknowledgement, as this story is quite famous among Kako's fans. This ice glaze, a pale, emerald version of white kohiki glaze, quickly became the impetus for Kako's early fame. 

    "Kouri-hada is essentially the same as kohiki glaze. I apply it the same way. Yet due to the positioning of the pots within the kiln, the glaze reaches a deeper, more greenish blue color. Pieces that turn out darker, I call kouri-hada. Ones that turn out lighter, I call kohiki. Nothing really different at all," he says. "Categorizing a piece is just based on my impressions at a certain time." 

Speaking of impressions, what instantly caught my eye upon entering his exhibit was Kako's Kuro Chawan. I had never seen a black-glazed work by Kako before. I believe it might be the ying that Kako's yang awaits.

    "Black glaze is tough, for black, although one thinks of it as being balanced, is in reality really unbalanced. But since it's a formidable foe, the more I want to overcome it. I'm going to continue to try to make a better black."

Black Guinomi by Kako Katsumi

Black Guinomi

Black Chawan

Black Chawan by Kako Katsumi

As I heard him say this, I thought to myself that Kako Katsumi the artist is truly entering a new, mature, even ambitious stage in his career. His innate sense of balance had already been sharpened in his early styles, such as his tokkuri and guinomi shapes- in many ways they have become a standard of excellence. At the same time, his innovative sensibilities, seen in his kourihada and shizuku wares, have also grown into a stable and mature level. Yet as Kako starts to challenge newer arenas, such as awayuki and kuro chawan, his range as an artist exponentially blooms. He is testing his horizons as an artist, while relying on the foundations of his previous success.

The ceramics intelligentsia in Japan, in particular the critics at magazine Tohjiro, are quickly tuning into Kako's talent, just recently naming him one out of five young artists who will lead chawan into the 21st century. That's quite a recognition.

Please remember Kako Katsumi's name. His legacy has only just begun. 

(Kako Katsumi's second child, a baby girl, was born yesterday evening, October 13th, 2003. Congratulations to the Kako family!)



Copyright - Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery

Our Address and Contact Numbers

pot logo tiny

Home | e-Store | Who's Who | What's What | Where | Guidebook | Newsletter | About Us

Site design and maintenance by Onmark Productions