The “Arita Porcelain 400th Anniversary Project” comprised a series of activities which kicked off in 2016. Six years have passed since then, and NEXTRAD, a team of young volunteers from Arita ware kilns, continues to question what the art of making things means today, sometimes even transcending the historical models of their production region.
We interviewed Hiroyuki Tokunaga, Yosuke Maeda, Kosuke Fujimoto, and Yusuke Fukuda, all members of the NEXTRAD team, about their efforts to become a sustainable production area.
Interview by Kyoko Tsutsumi (HULS)
NEXTRAD, a team of 14 young managers and successors of Imari and Arita ware producers of different types and sizes, was formed in 2017 to help ensure that Arita ware continues to thrive into the future. The team discusses the initiatives of each company and the challenges and directions facing their common production region, invites people involved in the ceramic industry to exchange opinions, and shares information with the aim of considering and communicating a sustainable future for the Arita ware industry. The name “NEXTRAD” was created to reflect the idea of how the next generation (NEXT) considers the traditions of the past (TRADITION), while working innovatively (RADICAL) as a group of young people.
Please tell us how NEXTRAD was founded.
Fujimoto: In 2016, which marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of Arita ware, the first porcelain in Japan, the “Arita Porcelain 400th Anniversary Project” was promoted with the support of various people and organizations, including Saga Prefecture. The project included an exhibition at Maison & Objet and Milano Salone, collaborations with renowned restaurants, and the launch of a new brand. Being such a large-scale, limited-time project, we imagined that it would be a one-time thing that would fade away. So we consulted with Takaharu Hamano, design director of promoduction (and now an advisor to NEXTRAD), who had been invited to Arita for the 400th Anniversary Project, and together came up with the idea of using this as an opportunity to develop people with the skills and knowledge that would lead the industry into the future. As long as people are nurtured suitably, we will be able to develop products and expand sales channels on our own.
Arita has an association of pottery makers, The Saga Ceramics Industrial Association, within which there is a young artisans group. We established NEXTRAD as a group of kiln owners and successors within this young artisans group, and organized a platform for the continuous exchange of opinions, including invitations to outside lecturers. During the 400th Anniversary Project, everyone began to actively exchange ideas, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to move forward that process a little more. In order to nurture future leaders of the cooperative, members of NEXTRAD take it in turn every year or two to serve as leaders.
What kind of activities do you usually engage in as NEXTRAD?
Tokunaga: We started out with a monthly rotating chairperson who would set a theme and discuss issues we were currently struggling with, such as problems in production or sales and so on. We still do this once a month. As we proceeded with these activities, we came to the conclusion that we wanted people outside the group to be aware of the problems we were facing, and we began to talk about holding an exhibition as a place to communicate this. That was around 2019. Then the Coronavirus epidemic made it impossible for us to engage in person for a while, but we were finally able to hold the event last fall.
What was your impression after holding the event for the first time last year?
Maeda: When we all had a chance to review after last year’s event, many of us wanted to do it again, so we decided to hold the event again this year.
Fukuda: The exhibition was well-received and we had a good feeling about it. If the quality of the show was satisfactory, we would like more people to see it.
Tokunaga: Through the exhibition introducing the production process, we were surprised to learn that there are some things that people in the industry – especially those involved in sales – were unaware of and now realized for the first time. On the other hand, I felt that we, as a production region, were not doing enough to share this kind of information. In that sense, I am glad that we were able to create an opportunity for people to learn more about it.
We also held an exhibition to introduce the issues of production regions from the perspective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and I got the impression that this theme was of great interest to the younger generation. When making Arita ware, there are inevitably some items that have spots of iron powder on them, which the artisans had always seen as defects and discarded. When we asked the visitors what they thought about this, the younger generation was surprisingly clear in their opinions, saying that they did not worry about the iron powder and from the perspective of the environment thought that those pieces should not be discarded. We believe it is important that this kind of opinion be fed back to the makers.
Fujimoto: The Arita ware industry is not very good at reaching out to the younger generation. It is not that we do not target the younger generation by any means, but the effort we put into creating these products makes them relatively expensive, with prices not easily accessible to younger people. Therefore, we hope to approach the younger generation from the standpoint of “sustainable craftsmanship.”
To have people come to the production region, or to go outside and tell people about it. Which would NEXTRAD place more emphasis on in order to let more people know about it?
Fujimoto: I think it depends on the situation as to what kind of weighting we will take, but I am sure that both are necessary. This year, a new member joined the team, bringing the total to 14, and I think each member has his or her own strengths. Some are good at communicating with the outside world, and others are good at coordinating within the production region. I believe that if we can make the most of each member’s strengths, we will be able to accomplish a wide variety of activities.
Maeda: There was some discussion about holding last year’s event in Tokyo.
Fujimoto: We thought it would be more efficient to hold the event in a place where it would be easier for the people we wanted to see the event, such as the media and craft industry, to visit, rather than having them come to Arita. However, we still want people to come to the production region and directly feel the atmosphere of the actual place, so we think it would be better to first work out the details of the event by holding it here, and only after the entire group is satisfied with the content of the exhibition should we hold an event elsewhere. I think we are still at the stage where we need to prepare further before we organize events in other places.
What do you hope to achieve through the NEXTRAD team?
Maeda: I want people to know about Arita’s craftsmanship. I especially want to introduce it to young people and have them become fans. Arita ware is famous, but many people have an image of it as somewhat old-fashioned. But in reality, each kiln creates many unique products, and I want more people to know that. If we can use the event as an opportunity to get people who want to be involved in crafts to come to Arita, that could help solve the problem we are experiencing of a shortage of artisans.
Fukuda: I believe that we need to become a sustainable production area. In order to do so, we need to let people know about it, and we need to approach young people properly. At the root of all our actions is the awareness of “What must we do now in order to continue to produce Arita ware and pass it on to the next generation?” We hold events as a means of making people aware of what we are thinking and educating them about the manufacturing process, which will surely lead to a future in which Arita ware continues to thrive. The reason we are working as a team called NEXTRAD is because it is better to share ideas with everyone now so that we can grow the Arita-Imari production region smoothly in the future.
Since Tokunaga became president of the youth division, there has been an accelerated movement toward greater interaction with other production regions, and such exchanges are taking place outside of NEXTRAD as well. For example, we have recently begun exchanges with Hasami ware artisans.
Fujimoto: It’s a lot of work just to cross the mountain pass (laughs).
Fukuda: Due to the different prefectures and historical backgrounds, there has only been a little interaction. Tokunaga, the current chairman, decided to break the impasse in this area.
Tokunaga: Sounds like such a big deal… (laughs). But in the end, some of the artisans and mold makers that the Hasami kilns deal with are also close friends of the Arita artisans, so I thought that Arita and Hasami are probably facing many of the same issues. Although there is an administrative hurdle of being in another prefecture, I think that if we can work on the problems in the field in a casual manner, it will make it easier for us to work together well in the future.
What issues do you most want to focus on at the moment?
Fujimoto: I would most like to work on issues related to the SDGs. As in any industry, costs have been rising rapidly in recent years, including for materials. In such an environment, many substandard products are being produced, and there are also problems such as the structure of profit distribution in production areas where many specialized roles are involved. However, if we can create a positive cycle from now on, I think it will be possible to distribute profits among the various specialists a little more equitably. We would like to change the current situation in some way, even if it is through methods other than those such as last year’s event.
Tokunaga: I think that this can be solved by sharing information and convincing both the creator and the user. Therefore, I think it would be good if the creators of the products could share as much information about them as possible. In a survey of visitors to last year’s exhibition, some of them said that Arita ware should focus their attention on the quality of whiteness. This has been Arita ware’s primary pursuit throughout its history, a fact the members understand well. However, the current situation is also what Fujimoto just mentioned, and we all want people to know about it.
Fujimoto: If it becomes possible to change that kind of perception in the Arita ware production region, perhaps all the ceramic production areas in Japan can follow suit. I think it will have an impact on the craft world as a whole. We are now working with the hope that we can be a catalyst for that.
– Hiroyuki Tokunaga / Tokko Kiln
As the fifth generation of the Tokko Kiln, Hiroyuki mainly produces tableware for commercial use. He specializes in creating vessels with an elegant appearance using tensha transfer printing techniques. He is a former leader of NEXTRAD.
– Yosuke Maeda / Kouyou Kiln
Yosuke produces vessels for the home that are in touch with modern life. Together with skilled craftsmen, he is striving to create vessels that people find heartwarming. Current leader of NEXTRAD.
– Kosuke Fujimoto / Fujimaki Seitou
While working in the family business at Fujimaki Seitou, Kosuke began to think deeply about the ideal state of traditional industries for the next generation. He also teaches at a local high school and was the first leader of NEXTRAD.
– Yusuke Fukuda / Fukuju Touen
Yusuke specializes in designs that fuse tradition and modernity, and strives to create dishes that will remain beautiful and be loved for many years to come. He is in charge of NEXTRAD’s current web site.
NEXTRAD Interactive Exhibition
“Go Forward 2022 – The Future of ‘14P’ Related to Porcelain Manufacturing”
Dates: November 3 to 5, 2022, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Main venue: arita mononosu (1217, Hokaoyama Hei, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga Prefecture)