Tokuda Yasokichi IV, 53, is a Kutani ware potter living in Ishikawa Prefecture. In 2010, she followed her late father, a living national treasure, in succeeding to the Tokuda Yasokichi name. She has expanded her activities overseas, with work in the permanent collection of the British Museum, and her use of vibrant hues has created a strong fan base abroad.
Tokuda was born as the eldest daughter of a family famous for making Kutani ware since the Meiji era (1868-1912). Her father, Tokuda Yasokichi III, broke new ground with his unique color gradations. Although she grew up looking over her father’s shoulder, she says, “I never thought I would become a Kutani ware potter.” She had a vague plan of getting married and having a family.
However, while on a trip to the United States in her mid-20s, the young Tokuda came across a pot from Jingdezhen, China, in a museum and rediscovered her own roots. She graduated from the Institute for Kutani Pottery in Nomi, Ishikawa Prefecture, in 1990 and embarked on her path as an artist.
The turning point came in 2007. Her father, who was in and out of the hospital following a stroke, began to teach his daughter about the preparation of the glaze that had been passed down from the first generation. In 2009, her work was selected for a prestigious traditional Japanese crafts exhibition. On his deathbed, her father repeated, “Well done, well done, amazing,” before he died. The following year, Tokuda officially became the fourth generation, changing her name on the family register from Junko to Yasokichi.
But at her late father's studio, Tokuda was also required to be a good manager. “My works were sometimes rejected, and I would get depressed,” she recalls. “I didn’t have managerial qualities and told the workers I was thinking of quitting.”
In March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. With society seeming to grow darker, and dragged down by feelings of depression, Tokuda stood in the pouring rain looking out over rice plants growing in the fields in front of her studio. As she thought of people suffering in the wake of the disaster, she had the strangely optimistic idea of “having to work hard like a grain of this rice plant, in spite of my feelings of sadness or pain.” Turning her attention once again to pottery, and aiming to express the ripening rice she had seen, Tokuda decorated a pot with a gradation of deep green and shimmering yellow.