Deep, shallow, and in almost every conceivable size and form, Japanese food vessels are perhaps the most diverse in the world, and Iga potter Kojima Yosuke creates a staggering variety of them. His outstanding work that uniquely harmonizes with food and flowers has been selected by many boutique restaurant owner-chefs in Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo.
“I feel humbled that food professionals pick my work because I know that their job is extremely hard every day” says Kojima-san, who once aimed to become a chef himself by attending the Kyoto Culinary Institute.
Kojima-san makes his work in the historic pottery town of Iga, just a few miles east of another famous pottery town of Shigaraki. The two towns share an identical stretch of high-quality, chunky white clay deposit that once lay under the basin of lake Biwa, an ancient tectonic lake dating to at least 4 million years ago (the current version of the lake is located further north in Shiga prefecture).
The origins of Iga kilns can be traced back to the pots made for agricultural use around the 8th century, but its fame grew from the time of Tsutsui Sadatsugu (1562-1615), a daimyo of Iga-Ueno domain. Under Tsusui, and later under the Todo clan, the region produced ceramics with elaborately calculated effects of ash and fire for utensils used in the Way of Tea (chanoyu).
Iga became famous for flower vases and water jars that were fired multiple times in the wood-firing kiln. These rustic pots with warps, cracks, bumps, burns, and covered in some parts by clear green ash glaze were considered the epitome of austere wabi aesthetic, and were much sought after by tea practitioners of that era.
Perhaps it is because Kojima-san grew up steeped in this vigorous pottery tradition, after graduating culinary school in 1997, he became intensely interested in making bowls, plates and other containers for food and flowers. He changed course and learned pottery from his own father, Kojima Kenji, an Iga pottery heavyweight in Japan, famous for his dynamic and original style of wood-fired work. After the apprenticeship, the younger Kojima-san set up his own studio and kiln in 2003, a few minutes walk from his father’s studio, in Marubashira, Iga.
“My focus is on the unique effects on clay fired with wood,” Kojima-san says. Many of his pieces are fired multiple times in the wood kiln, and he fires his small wood-kiln at an astounding frequency of around 30 times a year.
The first time I met the younger Kojima-san was in 2019, when I rudely interrupted his firing by asking directions to visit his father. I was visiting Iga with a pottery tour group from the US. At the time, I was already in love with Kojima-san’s work– which I had discovered through a yakitori restaurant account in Osaka– and had been following him on Instagram for a while, but I didn’t know he was the son of Kojima Kenji.
In this batch of work by Kojima-san, I selected a wide variety of dishes so that you’ll be able to get an idea of his scope of work. I know that matched dishes are the norm at dining tables here in the US, but I hope that you will use this opportunity to explore the joy of plating, eating, and drinking with unmatched and uniquely shaped dishes by this remarkable Iga potter. I guarantee that these vessels will be an inspiring part of your meal.