How Japan’s Best Ceramists “Listen” to Clay

Kohyama Yasuhisa, “Wind (Kaze)” (2004), stoneware, Shigaraki clay with natural ash glaze, 19 1/2 x 21 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Halsey and Alice North, 2015 (photo by Richard Goodbody)

Japan has long been a center of ceramic excellence, but in the 20th century many of its celebrated traditions began to change. An engaging new book, Listening to Clay: Conversations with Contemporary Japanese Ceramic Artists (Monacelli Press, 2022) by Alice North, Halsey North, and Louise Allison Cort, reveals the people, places, and moments behind this seismic shift. The book’s lively, in depth interviews with 16 of the country’s most revered living ceramists, along with five influential dealers of Japanese ceramics, shed light on how the Japanese clay worker went from shokunin (skilled production craftsperson) to sakka (fine artist), transforming the country’s culture and society in the process.

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