Interview: Keita Tokunaga, Tokunaga Pottery

2016.12.31 Interview by Kanae Hasegawa interviews, taf, tokunaga pottery co., ltd.

Although the Tokunaga Pottery in Arita make different kinds of porcelain objects there is a focus on domestic tableware. In recent years, the pottery has developed a technique that enables them to produce hand-painted designs efficiently and economically. This skill, alongside many others, was used in the making of a 2016/ collection designed by Swedish architecture and design studio TAF. Here, Mr. Keita Tokunaga the Senior Managing Director of Tokunaga Pottery explains the challenges posed by this new series.


- You have described your porcelain collection as including timeless objects for use by both adults and children. Have your own children been using them?

Yes, they have. The object we started with when producing the collection was the mug. This is the item whose functionality is the most complex: we had to consider the feeling of holding it in the hand, the touch of the mouth, it’s size and volume. I asked my son to use the sample of the mug during our trials and he liked it. We went on to make 3 different models of the mug on a 3D printer at the Ceramic Research Centre in Arita, each just slightly different (3mm) in size. The details and sizing are important to all the items in the collection, we discussed them over and over again.


- Some time has passed since the product development was completed. What are your thoughts now when you look back at the 2016/ project?

I was uncertain at the beginning of whether I would be able to communicate with the international designers. However, as we talked face to face, I felt the language barrier get less. TAF tried to understand me and the culture of porcelain in Arita and I also visited them at their studio in Stockholm and saw their design process and the way that they work. We agreed the direction that we should aim for and the theme of the collection. In doing that, I felt that I could understand the sensibility even if I could not understand the language. It was a complicated production however, compounded by language difficulties. TAF's design has simple circles and straight lines and it is not easy to make these well in porcelain. Colourful glaze is another feature of this collection and we made many tests until we found the final colours. I think the collection captures an impression of Saga prefecture. When TAF said that they like the sea we took them to a beautiful coastal area called Rainbow Matsubara in Karatsu on our way back to Fukuoka airport. They were very pleased; they picked up shells and took some pictures and this later developed into a shell relief on the mug.


- What are your thoughts on how well the collection might sell? 

We do not yet now but I think we will see results once the collection has reached more places. There was a proposal for a new colour of mug from a buyer and I’ve just made a sample of that – I would like to respond quickly to these kinds of requests. In that respect, I think it makes sense that we have the 2016/ showroom and shop in Arita; it will enable us to directly tell our stories to customers. I have not had feedback from consumers yet but I am using the collection at my own table at home and it looks beautiful whether holding Japanese or Western food. My parents like and use them too, I believe the collection will be used by a wide range of people across the generations.


- What does the future hold for Tokunaga Pottery?

I think that it is important to maintain quality and mass production capabilities. Through participating in this project our pottery invested in a gas kiln which has increased our production capacity. Labour shortages remain a serious problem in the ceramics industry however. I would like to see our pottery grow with a new generation of people who want to learn the skills of making porcelain and respect the knowledge of our veteran craftsman.