July 11, 2022

Everyday life leads to inspiration
Naomi Ashida,Ametsuchi

毎日の暮らしが、つくりたいものにつながる<br>陶芸家、芦田尚美 AMETSUCHI

Interview: Aki Miyashita/ Photographs courtesy of AMETSUCHI

The desire to create useful objects has long been a source of inspiration for potter Naomi Ashida. Based in Kyoto, she creates hand-thrown tableware under the brand name AMETSUCHI, stylized in all capital letters. In Japanese this word is written with the characters for “heaven” and “earth.” In her ongoing series “Yamanoha” (“mountain edge”), each piece features a mountain range motif that seems to mark where the earth ends, and the heavens begin.

“I love the Kamo River in Kyoto, particularly the Demachi-yanagi area. You can see the mountains upstream and the boundary between the sky and the ground seems to wrap all around you. I thought to incorporate a mountain range motif like this into my work when I was starting out and searching for a way add some individuality.”

The lines that form mountains around the rims and bases of her Yamanoha pieces are engraved rather than painted. Each person has their own idea of what a mountain range looks like, but somehow Naomi’s Kyoto-inspired motif manages to resemble many places at once. On first look you might not even notice, but then you recognize the slopes and peaks. Tiny mountains on the kitchen table, mountains you can hold in your hands. It’s indescribably delightful. No wonder the Yamanoha series has such wide appeal. 


Naomi says she has always enjoyed working with her hands.

“I was the kind of kid who would make a backpack the night before a field trip because I didn’t like any of the bags I had. I often made clothes, too. My thinking was that if I couldn’t find something I wanted in a store, I could make it myself.”

Naomi first encountered pottery in painting class she attended as a child. Experiencing how clay is shaped by human hands and transformed by the heat of a kiln was so captivating to her that she later decided to major in ceramics in university.

“I still feel the same excitement when I open the kiln. There are some failures, but sometimes things turn out even better than expected, and that’s an unforgettable feeling. I have some standard pieces that I make, but they always come out a little different, so I’m never bored. As a student I was asked what I wanted to express, but I’ve found that I’m most interested in the act of working with my hands and creating the next thing. I want to keep creating objects that someone will like and find useful. Making small changes helps me stay engaged in the process.” 

Hard-paste porcelain (“jiki”) is her favorite medium. Compared to “tsuchi-mono” (“earth objects”) made from earthenware clay, hard-paste porcelain contains kaolin and other minerals that make the fired objects harder, easier to wash, and durable enough for daily use. These properties are clearly in keeping with Naomi's drive to create useful things. Porcelain is often associated with mass production using molds, but Naomi's work gives quite a different impression. 

“I studied tsuchi-mono in university, so maybe that's why I use techniques more common for earthenware. Compared to more malleable clays, porcelain clay can be difficult to handle because it is more prone to cracking and warping, but I like to work with it as freely as if it were earthenware clay. Porcelain is strong even when it looks delicate, but I make my pieces thicker because I want people to use them with peace of mind.” 


This explains why her work has a warmth and charm you might not expect from porcelain. For years she worked out of her home in Kyoto City, but in 2019 she moved to Miyama, a mountain village where thatched roof houses dot the landscape. She renovated a traditional storehouse for a new dedicated atelier space.

“It's simpler now that I live in Miyama. There are so many fun things to do in the city. I might have felt inconvenienced if I had moved in my 20s, but I felt I could leave the city and be okay now that I have a better idea of what’s important to me. The timing was right. It's easier now that I don't get swept up in unnecessary things.”

“With the pandemic, I’ve been spending each day going back and forth between the house and my atelier. I’m just living life, yet no two days are the same. Even though I see the same mountains, they’re always changing. I’m more mindful of the daylight hours now and I feel that I’m living more in tune with the nature in that respect. The first year I had to work hard to get used to life in the country, but the third year has been a lot of fun because I’m able to notice so many new things.”

Naomi also happens to be a knitter. She says she’s had more time for herself since relocating and looks forward to relaxing with her knitting each night. “I like that my hands don’t get dirty like they do with clay, and I enjoy the texture of the yarn, too.” In her work, she has recently collaborated with The Little Indigo Museum in Miyama to incorporate used ash from the dyeing process into a new glaze.

“The iron in the ash can give the glaze a subtle green tint or speckles, each piece has a unique finish. I’ve always liked the clean texture of porcelain, but I’ve developed an appreciation for the relaxed feel of this earthy look, too.” 

She is currently preparing a collection of pieces using this indigo ash glaze for her next exhibit. It seems everyday life in Miyama has brought Naomi’s next inspiration to her.

Naomi Ashida

Graduated from Kyoto City University of Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts with a concentration in ceramics in 2000. The same year she also started creating everyday tableware for her AMETSUCHI series and others. She currently lives and works in the rural village of Miyama-cho, Nantan City in northern Kyoto Prefecture. Visit her website for her exhibition schedule, online shop, and other retailers.