Ceramic Artist Profile

Ikai Yūichi

ceramic artist Ikai Yuichi's name in Japanese

At the young age of eighteen, Kyoto native Ikai Yūichi faced the difficult choice of taking over the ceramics shop his father had established along Kyoto's Gojōzaka street or becoming a maker of pottery.  He chose the latter and entered the Kyoto School for Ceramic Arts Training where, for the first time in his life, he touched a piece of clay.  He soon realized the skill of his own hands and set out to define his own particular style.

After graduation, Ikai established his kiln, Kihei-gama (Kihei Kiln), on a remote plot of land in the mountains to the north of Kyoto city.  Populated only by red pines and cedars, the wooded area would become both a source of inspiration for the artist - a place where he could connect with nature - and a convenient source for the principal ingredient in his glazes.

In 1984, Ikai started his formal apprenticeship under Shimizu Yasutaka, further honing his skills in forming and glazing.  He also trained under the late Shimizu Uichi (1926-2004) who, in 1985, was awarded the title of Living National Treasure for his outstanding work in ceramic making.  And it is from his two sensei (teachers) that Ikai learned the secrets to coaxing subtle hues and fluid effects from the oldest and most rudimentary of all glazes - ash.

Now an accomplished ceramic artist in his own right, Ikai has developed a unique approach to pottery making over the years.  That is, to intervene as little as possible between nature and the work itself - ash thus becoming the conduit which carries his message to clay.

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Ikai Yūichi


Born in Kyoto


Graduates from Kyoto Prefectural School for Ceramic Arts Training


Opens own kiln, Kihei-gama (Kihei Kiln), under the guidance of Shimizu Uichi (LNT)
Begins apprenticeship under Shimizu Yasutaka


Awarded regional Exhibition for Traditional Craft (Kinki Region)


Wins Japanese Traditional Craft Award


Accepted into Ichimonten ceramics guild.


Awarded Encouragement Prize at regional Exhibition for Traditional Craft


Holds first solo exhibition at Kuroda Toen Gallery, Tokyu


Accepted into the Japan Ceramic Arts Association


Exhibits works at Seika University International Ceramic Arts Exhibition, Beijing


Awarded Best Entry prize at 30th regional Exhibition for Traditional Craft, Kinki Region


Works acquired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Holds first solo exhibition at Mitsukoshi Dept. Store Gallery, Tokyo


For millennia, potters have used wood ash as a flux (the ingredient that promotes ceramic fusion) in their glazes, and historians credit the Chinese for first developing the technique some time during the Zhou dynasty (1046 - 256 BC).  Ikai Yūichi works in a number of ash glazes, called haiyū in Japanese, all of which he makes himself by burning red pine, straw, cedar or even rice husks and mixing the ash with water.  He rejects the use of any coloring agents because, for him, this would artificially mask the subtle differences that he finds so fascinating in each type of wood.  Even ash glazes derived from trees of the same species taken from different areas will create their own distinctive hue on pots depending on the quantity of naturally occurring iron in the wood itself.

In Ikai's view, any sort of mechanization to his craft should be minimized, or avoided altogether, at every step of the creative process.  The clays he uses, as well, are grainy and unprocessed, and forming tools for larger pots often become the broken end of a tree branch.

For the artist, nature is best expressed through imperfection and asymmetry, and any kind of mechanical precision or contrived embellishments just detract from his vision.

As a result, Ikai Yūichi's haiyū works are imbued with a organic tenor that resonates with Zen simplicity.  While on the all-natural path that he has chosen to take, he has secured his position as one of Kyoto's outstanding contemporary ceramic artists.


Ikai Yūichi also works in celadon and applies his philosophy to this more refined type of ash glaze.  Called seiji in Japanese, celadon is characterized by a network of fine cracks which forms beneath the glassy surface of the glaze while cooling in the kiln.  In order for these details to develop sufficiently, precise forming and uniform glazing are essential - strict requirements rather hard to accept for an artist who avoids the mechanization of his craft.  Thus, Ikai chooses the much more difficult path of dipping a number of his celadon tea ceremony bowls instead.

In 2007, a new phase in Ikai's art began with the establishment of his own noborigama climbing kiln.  Christened Kihei-gama, the wood-burning kiln has allowed the artist to experiment with a number of ash glazing effects and fuse them with the dynamic energy of wood-fired pottery.  He specializes in bīdoro (from the Portuguese word for glass), where pots come from the kiln accented with emerald beads of vitrified ash.


Ikai Yūichi holds annual exhibitions at a number of major department store galleries across Japan, including Kyoto Takashimaya, Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi, and Hankyu Umeda.


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Kyoto Takashimaya Exhibition

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Osaka Hankyu Exhibition

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Potter's Insignia

Ikai Yūichi's works are signed or stamped around the footring with the kanji character for "Yuichi" - his given name.  The wooden presentation box is signed with the same name and stamped.

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Box Signing Video
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