Pottery Classes and Ceramics Classes in Japan
The very talented Agape Ceramics School and Studio owner Tom Morris talks wabi-sabi and of his journey into the exclusive world of Japanese ceramics
Q. How did you first become acquainted, and interested in traditional Japanese pottery and ceramics?
While a high school sophomore, I worked as a busboy at one of the first sushi restaurants in Los Angeles. All the staff were from Tokyo, so it was my first exposure to working in a different cultural setting, at a relatively young age. I was always intrigued by how much care was taken in the restaurant to match every kind of food with the appropriate “pottery” tableware.
A beautiful tea bowl crafted by Tom
Growing up as a kid we’d grab any old bowl or plate from the cupboard for whatever we were eating, so I never gave much thought to the aesthetics of food and artistic tableware synchronicity. Loving all kinds of food, first and foremost, it was a natural transition into slowly appreciating the art of pottery, especially Japanese.
Tom Morris, potter, pottery teacher &
Japanese ceramics enthusiast
Q. Was it your interest in Japanese pottery and ceramics that initially brought you to Japan?
Yes…I first came to Japan in 1990 to focus on Japanese ceramics after having studied American and European styles as a student at UCLA. I studied for 3 years with various instructors in commercial venues around the Tokyo area before returning to graduate school in California. Upon my return to Japan in 1996, I was back in Japan, in Kamakura, studying with a raku-yaki master sensei for two years.
Q. What were your initial impressions of studying pottery and ceramics in Japan?
Initially I was a bit discouraged because my Japanese speaking ability was still not very good and there was only one school I found in Tokyo where the instructor taught in English. Unfortunately, I found this school to be rather disappointing. But, after my language proficiency improved a bit I was able to explore and experience more interesting schools and instructors. Pottery is a very intuitive and creative artistic expression, thus the teacher-student relationship, classroom dynamics, and course of study are very important considerations for any prospective foreign student.
Also, some schools I experienced were only interested in the business side of things, thus the creative and artistic components were lacking. Meeting up with the right teacher who patiently helps you discern your own unique artistic passion and potential is key to an edifying and enjoyable pottery making experience.
Sake Bottle & Cups
Presently, I am studying advanced aspects of throwing on the electric wheel, as well as traditional glaze making with a sensei in Iriya, near Ueno. In Japanese ceramics, one is always and forever a student…
Q. What are the origins of Agape Ceramic Studio (ACS)?
After about 9 years of having studied various traditional pottery styles with different instructors, I felt the confidence to slowly venture out on my own and establish Agape Ceramic Studio in 1999. “Agape” roughly translated means, “Universal love and acceptance.” Without sounding too altruistic, I wanted to create an artistic space which was international, all-inclusive, and open-minded, which invited all creative ideas and artistic sensibilities; a place where the boundaries and parameters of tradition could include fresh and unconventional creativity both in thought and artistic exploration.
Agape Ceramic Studio
We started operations out of an old, traditional house near the seaside in Zaimokuza, Kamakura, and further expanded 4 years later to Gokurakuji, Kamakura.
Pottery School Equipment Japan Studio
In February 2005, we relocated our school and studio to Motomachi, Yokohama, where we’re now combining the traditional with a more convenient location, so more international students can share and explore with us the beauty and fun of making traditional Japanese pottery and ceramics.
Q. As a potter and ceramics art instructor do you have any preferred style or teaching interest/technique?
I personally like the very rough, asymmetrical, and unpredictable wood-fired works found throughout many rural, traditional kiln locations of Japan. I especially appreciate the uniquely Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, described as: “Rustic, simple, artless, or unsophisticated… [with] surfaces rough or irregular.” Wabi-sabi does share some characteristics with what we commonly call “primitive art,” that is, objects that are earthy, simple, unpretentious, and fashioned out of natural materials. Unlike primitive art, though, wabi-sabi almost never is used representationally or symbolically.”
Intuitively I feel “wabi-sabi” speaks to who we are as humans with our own frailties and imperfections by creating a sort of visual balance and inner harmony, which invites us in to the art without knowing why.
Japanese Ceramic Vase
In my classes I teach both form and theory so students learn the functional and utilitarian aspects as well as the intentional and historical considerations of each style. Every month I incorporate a new clay, glaze, decoration style or firing technique to keep the learning process enlightening and invigorating. From this students often discover their own creative forces and interpret styles of their own.
Q. What are your goals for the future of Agape Ceramic Studio?
With our recent move to Motomachi, Yokohama from Kamakura we hope to be more accessible and available to the foreign community. By offering traditional pottery instruction in English we hope to create opportunities for people to learn who otherwise would not have the chance to do so.
Yokohama Studio Pottery
Also, we have created a beautiful exhibition space in our studio and are encouraging fellow artists interested in exhibiting their works to consider our art space. I am hopeful, too, to get back into creating my own works and have some exhibitions and sales this year. I am also working on some ideas for workshops and retreats, which combine ethnic art themes and spirituality. Finally, we’d like to be a venue where people could come for parties and celebrations. Making pottery in conjunction with festive events is always a great combination.
Yokohama Studio Pottery Students
We offer customized party packages with kid’s and adult birthdays being the most popular. Other events have included bridal and baby showers, girls’ night out parties, corporate events, employee parties, house warmings, retirements, church/temple group gatherings, reunions, fundraisers, club groups, and spiritual retreats.
Q. Do you have any sage advice for aspiring foreign potters or other artists here in Japan?
Over the years numerous long-term foreign residents, wanting to make a career change, have expressed an interest in opening their own art studios or schools, but had neither the resources, skills or necessary information or contacts to do so. With that, I’ve been approached with franchising offers but I am reluctant to take that step at this point. I feel art, and especially a pottery school is something hard to franchise because so much depends on the instructor and his or her skills, experience and personality. Rather I’ve put together an informal consulting element to my business, which advises people on how to get started with a pottery school; including, business plan and location analysis, supplier contacts, lesson plans, clay and glaze familiarity, firing techniques, and especially personalized pottery instruction to improve overall skill proficiency.
I’ve found it to be a unique, niche market as a foreigner teaching Japanese pottery and ceramic art in Japan. I think it’s a great opportunity for others to consider who are looking for a fresh change from what they’re doing now. The opportunities are limitless.
To Contact Tom Morris