Nothing is more satisfying to me than finding out that crafts and makers are connecting cultures and traditions. So when I discovered that Japanese potter Satoshi YOSHIKAWA was making tea bowls in Toronto, Canada, I immediately asked him to make a few for me. Like a picture postcard, these beautiful and sophisticated tea bowls perfectly capture his new life in Toronto.
In 2014, I worked as an interpreter to a group tour of American pottery enthusiasts to Bizen, a famous Japanese pottery town in Okayama, in Western Honshu. We visited the studio of ABE Anjin, the celebrated and highly unconventional painter-turned-potter, who fires magnificent tea ware inside his wood firing kiln that is built completely underground. This is where I first met Satoshi, who was then a fledging potter-apprentice of Abe’s, in the midst of firing a wood kiln that reached around 2500 F. He stoked it in time for the group to experience the power of the fire firsthand. Quiet and contemplative, Satoshi seemed perfectly in his zone, calmly answering questions from the group while tending to the blazing fire.
That same year, Satoshi had his first successful joint exhibition with Abe in Tokyo and the Japanese ceramics world embraced him with great anticipation for his future. But fate intervened. Satoshi fell in love with Mika Sato, who owns a pottery and plants store in Little Italy, Toronto. In the fall of 2019, Satoshi moved to Canada to be with Mika, and a few months later, Covid-19 gripped the globe.
For Satoshi, his early days in Toronto were very difficult. “I spent many days thinking about what I should do because the environment completely changed for me,” he says. “I felt impatient because I couldn’t effectively make use of the knowledge I have accumulated over the years.”
Satoshi was inspired to become a potter when he took up his first job at an antique store in the famous art and antique district of Kyobashi, Tokyo, after graduating from high school. “In the beginning, I didn’t know anything about Japanese ceramics culture, but when I saw the old Shigaraki, Ao-ido, and Muji-Karatsu tea bowls, they shook my heart” he says. He was intrigued that the customers, some of whom were famous artists themselves, avidly studied old objects. “I enjoyed seeing people fascinated with these objects and that sparked my interest to become a potter.”
Throughout his training in ceramics that began around 20 years ago, Satoshi enjoyed digging wild clay from various places and firing them. “Everyone told me, you can’t make a living doing things like that,” Satoshi looks back. “But the more primitive the process, the greater the happiness I felt. There was satisfaction in living counter to the norms of a highly civilized society.”
Then in the early 2010s, Satoshi met Abe who reignited his passion for chato -tea ceramics- and went to work for him. “It became clear to me that chato was what I wanted to pursue,” Satoshi says. “My study under Abe-sensei taught me the potential of ceramics, in art, chemistry, history, and religion. Abe-sensi continues to be a huge influence on me and my values.”
In Toronto though, Satoshi had no wood-kiln to fire, no clay to dig, and hardly felt the aesthetic of ‘wabi-sabi’ that is at the core of Japanese chato. But he says he was saved by the local Torontonians that came to his wife’s shop, MIKA, who were always glad to see him. “Eventually I could switch gears. I just wanted to make the best effort at creating things that would make people here happy,” Satoshi says.
The bowls in this batch of work by Satoshi are well balanced and they feel incredibly good in the hands. Each bowl is distinctive because Satoshi avoids repeating the same process twice. By doing so he creates a good stress on himself so that he doesn’t get “used to” the process. “Just like a gathering around tea is ‘once in a lifetime’, I think the utensils should be created with the same attitude,” he explains.
These days, Satoshi feels that there is nothing difficult about creating work because he can make whatever he wants, however he wants. “When I look back, I feel that I was trying too hard and being too competitive in Japan. I now think about the people here in Canada who will use my work and ask, ‘how can I make them happy?’ Then I apply my perspectives and experiences to achieve that goal, so it makes me much more flexible,” Satoshi says.