Japanese Pottery and Ceramics Home

Ceramic Artist Profile:  Kamada Koji

Specializing in Tenmoku Pottery

works by Kamada Koji

green tea cups
sake flasks & cups
incense burners
tea ceremony bowls
vases & tsubo
plates & chargers


2011 schedule




Capturing the Heavens in a Cup


Visualize for a moment the Time of Creation, when our newborn universe was a hot swirling miasma of gases, elements, and endless space.

Now imagine what it would be like to capture this chaos, pour it into a cup, and freeze that moment in time - to create a precious jewel to hold in your hands and appreciate for a lifetime.

Inside a modest kiln located in eastern Kyoto, tenmoku artist Kamada Koji is doing just that - harnessing the same powers of creation to make ceramic vessels of unimaginable beauty.  Formed from earth and baptized by fire, his works are imbued with the elements of mystery, energy, and shimmering light.




Mr. Kamada's career as a ceramist began in 1968 when, under the guidance of his teacher, Tadashi Shimizu, he decided to pursue a life in pottery making.  During these early years, Mr. Kamada fired his pots at a community kiln located along Kyoto's Gojo-zaka Street - the same noborigama (climbing kiln) where mingei artist Kawai Kanjiro fired his own distinctive style of iron-glazed pottery years before.

It was here where the young artist's fascination with the changing character of tenmoku glazes was born.  When the wood burning noborigama was closed in 1980, he decided to continued his pursuit of this elusive glaze by building his own kiln at his house in Kyoto's Fushimi district.

Today, Kamada Koji is one of a small handful of Japanese ceramists who have chosen to devote their lives to the research and production of tenmoku.  Through years of experimentation, refinement, and patience, he clarified a distinctly modern vision of this ancient Chinese glaze and, in the process, built a reputation as one of Kyoto's most outstanding contemporary potters.

Mr. Kamada's busy exhibition schedule includes several of Japan's prestigious department store galleries - major patrons of the arts - and a number of other smaller venues.  Additionally, his tea ceremony bowls (chawan), sake cups, and vases have won the admiration of collectors and dazzled attendants to galleries and museums abroad.  In 2005, his work was granted permanent display at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Commenting on his growing international reputation, Mr. Kamada says:

"I hope people living in today's modern world, wherever they are, can truly understand the joy of crossing over the wall of language to appreciate tenmoku."

1948 Born in Kyoto
1968 Begins training under Tadashi Shimizu
1969 Graduates from the Kyoto Municipal Institute of Ceramics.
1971 Starts study of tenmoku at community kiln (Gojozaka, Kyoto)
1973 Wins first regional exhibition for Japanese traditional craft (Kinki Region)
1976 Accepted into the Japan Ceramic Arts Association
1977 Holds first solo exhibition at Osaka Central Gallery
1980 Holds first solo exhibition at Takashimaya Dept. Store Gallery (Kyoto)
1984 Holds first solo exhibition at Mitsukoshi Dept. Store Gallery (Tokyo)
1990 Accepted into the Japan Green Tea Arts & Practitioner's Association
1997 "Tenmoku & Celadon" exhibition, Gallery Dai Ichi Arts (New York)
1990 Holds 30th Anniversary Exhibition, Takashimaya Dept. Store Gallery (Tokyo)
2005 &
Works acquired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art
View the collection

Exhibition Schedule


Link to the Heavens


When asked the reason for his early interest in tenmoku, Mr. Kamada explains:

"Since my childhood, I've been captivated by the stars that fill the sky and the mysteries of outer space.  I feel that tenmoku possesses the same quality.  The way the glaze is fire-changed in the kiln is the essence of pottery and the reason for my fascination in tenmoku."

This association between his craft and the heavens isn't just metaphorical.  Originating in China during the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279), tenmoku is a term used to describe a type of tea bowl whose name literally means "heaven's eye."  The term is taken from the mountain range (Tienmu-shan in Chinese) where they were produced and used.  The finest examples from this period were fired in massive wood burning kilns and have a lustrous black glaze with streams of rust red running towards their center.


In the 13th century, tenmoku bowls were introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks returning from their studies in China.  They were highly regarded among the Ashikaga shoguns (the family dynasty which occupied the shogunate from 1338 to 1568) and were used extensively in the evolving art of Japanese tea ceremony.  They have held their revered position in the history and development of chanoyu ever since.


Form and Process


There are several kinds of tenmoku, but the two most common, yohen and yuteki, are the ones in which Kamada Koji truly excels.  Three examples of his guiniomi (sake cups) are shown here on the right.

His yuteki tenmoku is a mixture of wood ash, iron oxide, and cobalt.  Fired in an electric kiln, this guinomi resembles a twilight blue sky filled with stars.  Technically, these are spots of iron oxide (sometimes referred to as "oil spots") which form on the surface of the glaze while cooling down in the kiln.

Mr. Kamada's yohen tenmoku sake cup is as equally stunning.  When rotated in the hands, it resembles the aurora shimmering across the northern sky.  During firing, streams of vitrified wood ash forms on the surface of the glaze then melts away to reveal the iridescent, iron-rich layer underneath.

Mr. Kamada has also modified traditional tenmoku to produce a number of interesting effects, and those which show the most promise become one of his signature glazes.  One example is a glaze the artist calls ginsho tenmoku tsuisen.  Seen here on the last sake cup, this glaze lends works a lustrous brushed metal-like finish with golden highlights around their rim.

Of course, it isn't just dazzling glazes which make Kamada Koji's works so attractive.  The precision in which they are formed is as equally impressive.  This isn't only a matter of technical skill but a matter of necessity as well.  The iron content in tenmoku glazes makes pots naturally heavy, so forming them to a waferlike thinness is necessary to keep them light in the hands.

On the process of making tenmoku, Mr. Kamada adds, "it is essential that forming, glazing, and firing must be in total agreement with one another - a harmony among the elements of pottery making.  Only then is a piece acceptable in its entirety."

Yuteki Tenmoku Sake Cup


Yohen Tenmoku Sake Cup


Ginsho Tenmoku Tsuisen 
Sake Cup


"All that glimmers..."


For Kamada Koji, it has taken years of experimentation to perfect his own special kind of tenmoku alchemy.  To the surprise of many of those who inquire, none of his pieces has gold or bronze content.  What appears to be some precious metal is actually a complex reaction between iron, ash, and clay.  The fire of his kiln serves as the catalyst for creation.


An old saying goes, "all that glimmers is not gold."  It is a fitting adage which, by no means, detracts from the value of Mr. Kamada's artistry.  A cup with the shimmering light of the heavens captured within is certainly a treasure worth its weight in gold.







© Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. 2000cranes.com Japanese Pottery and Ceramics, Kyoto