Ceramic Artist Profile

Kawai Tōru

ceramic artist Kawai Toru's name in Japanese

In the late 1920's in Japan, a small group of artists started the mingei, or "folk craft" movement.  It was a reaction to what they saw as the increasing threat of industrialization upon traditional, handmade crafts.  For them, modern society's eye for beauty in simple utensils for daily life was becoming blinded by low cost and standardization.

So a group of potters, including Bernard Leach, Hamada Shōji, and Kawai Kanjirō, sought to keep the craftsman spirit alive by producing everyday objects which satisfied the practical as well as the spiritual needs of life.  The works they made were functional, expressive, yet unassuming.  As a matter of principal, mingei wares were hardly ever signed.

Kawai Kanjirō (1890-1966) is considered one of the principal figures within the mingei movement.  With equal amounts of engineering skill and artistic sensibility, Kawai created works of extraordinary creativity and rustic charm.  He had a penchant for combining modern methods of manufacture with traditional Japanese design, pioneering a technique called doro-hakémé, or "mud slip brushing."

Thanks to the contribution of the mingei movement, a great number of Japanese handcrafts, including baskets, furniture and cast iron ware, were preserved and are still thriving today.  In the realm of ceramics, Kawai Kanjirō's legacy extends far and wide, and a small handful of his descendants continue producing pottery to this day.

Among them is his grandnephew, Kawai Tōru.

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Kawai Tōru


Born as first son of ceramic artist Kawai Takéichi


Begins apprenticing under his father


Father & son exhibition, Fukuya Dept. Store Gallery, Hiroshima.
Begins solo exhibitions from this time on.

1983 to

Holds exhibitions at Takashimaya Galleries in: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Yonago & Okayama.

Holds annual exhibitions at these venues from this time on.


Solo exhibition at Gallery Tsubasa, Toyama Pref.


First solo exhibition at Takashimaya Gallery, JR Station, Nagoya


Kawai Tōru was born in 1941 and entered the world of ceramic making in 1962 as an apprentice to his father Kawai Takéichi.  He was also the last disciple to receive instruction and inspiration from Kawai Kanjirō, assisting the legendary master with large communal firings at a massive noborigama climbing kiln located on Kyoto's Gojōzaka street.  This was also nearing the end of the kiln's life, as new environmental regulations in the 1970s would close wood-burning kilns in Kyoto city.

Like many artists who choose to carry the banner of a family legacy, Kawai Tōru was faced with the difficult balancing act of preserving tradition and, at the same time, establishing his own artistic identity.  He has done so by taking the spirit of mingei and certain elements from Kawai Kanjirō's work and melding them into structured forms that are distinctly modern.

Kawai Tōru's glazing tends toward those with simple color schemes, like gosu cobalt blue or rust colored tetsu-yū iron slip.  He excels in mentori - a forming technique where leather-hard clay is carved away in facets.  Like a master gem cutter, he makes every cut with a steady hand, sharp eye and keen sense for maintaining a pot's balance and proportion.

The strength and complex geometry that rules in Kawai Tōru's larger pieces show a level of technical skill unseen in the works of former mingei masters.  Upwardly twisting facets, swirling vortexes, and flared rims are the trademarks of his craft.


Kawai Tōru's works are wood-fired in a four-chambered noborigama climbing kiln established by his father in a rural area of Kaméoka city (Kyoto Prefecture) where wood-burning kilns are still permitted.  The kiln was christened Nantan-gama, or Nantan Kiln.  Firings requiring a small team to tend to the kiln every few minutes with new splits of red pine.  From loading to unloading, the event takes 3 days to complete.

image of kiln firing


Kawai Tōru holds annual exhibitions at a number of major department store galleries across Japan, including Osaka Takashimaya, Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi, and Hankyu Umeda.  In 2000, a retrospective of three generations of mingei potters was held at the Kyoto Takashimaya gallery.  It included works by Kawai Kanjirō, Kawai Takéichi and Kawai Tōru.


photo of Kawai vase

Kawai Trio Retrospective, Kyoto Takashimaya Gallery

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exhibition image

Osaka Takashimaya Gallery Exhibition

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Potter's Insignia

Kawai Tōru's works are signed around the footring with the single hiragana character for "To" - the first sound in his given name.  The wooden presentation box is signed with his full name and stamped.