24 June 2024

A Classicist of Sometsuke: Yamamoto Choza

In the cold embrace of mid-December, we ventured to Ishikawa Prefecture to meet the esteemed Kutani ware craftsperson Yamamoto Choza of Myousen Toubou. The landscape, draped in winter's frost, offered a serene backdrop to our journey. As we neared the heart of traditional Japanese craftsmanship, excitement stirred within us at the prospect of witnessing Yamamoto's renowned mastery.

Yamamoto, a notable figure in the art of contemporary ai-Kutani "blue Kutani" ware, considers himself a classicist. His creations represent a harmonious fusion of historical and contemporary styles. These pieces, highly prized by collectors and art enthusiasts alike, are not just visually striking but also embody rich philosophical depth, influenced by his profound appreciation for antique art.


  • The Nurturing of Aesthetics of Antiques
  • Preserving Tradition and Symbolism
  • Meeting Modern Needs through Choza's Artistry
  • Enhancing the Dining Experience
  • Beauty of Chinese-Style Paintings

The Nurturing of Aesthetics of Antiques

Yamamoto's journey into the world of sometsuke art began with a strong familial influence. Raised in a household fond of antiques, he developed an intrinsic connection with historical art forms from a young age. 

"My father ran a carpentry business, which he eventually closed. He loved antiques and collected them. From my childhood, I was involved in handling scrolls learning about box wrapping, and tying knots. Having been around various items since childhood, my fingers remember them."

He studied under various masters in his 20s until he resolved to pursue the art of sometsuke. This was because he found that the region of Kutani ware was famous for colorful decorations such as hanazume flower paintings and kinsai gold decoration, and therefore he thought of pursuing the art of sometsuke which was regarded as non-mainstream. This style in Kutani ware was considered as additional decorations to enhance the colorful designs, and Yamamoto felt that his talent in drawing of fine lines could have its use in his new pursuit.

"If you think about it, in other regions like Arita ware or Seto ware, sometsuke is very popular as well. Being surrounded with Kutani ware gives the impression that colorful ceramics is all that matters, but that’s not true. So I decided to establish myself in sometsuke of Kutani ware."

Furthermore, he emphasizes that "tension" is pivotal in his creative process, manifesting in the intense atmosphere of his workshop and his focused expression while at work. He believes his art comes from a refined state of tension, aiding him in achieving his ideal of blue and white beauty.

"A sense of tension is important, right? The right level of tension. If there's too much tension all the time, things will break down. It's the same with work, relationships, and products," Yamamoto notes.

This meticulous attention to tension also extends to his mastery in color composition and the chemistry of dyes. Yamamoto frequently uses delicate brushes that seldom last more than two days to achieve the perfect hue and depth in his artworks.

Preserving Tradition and Symbolism

"I only draw auspicious symbols. That's what everyone wants. Because everyone becomes happy with them. Nobody wants to buy something that will make them unhappy. Porcelain is obviously fragile, so that’s an inherent flaw. If there isn't something to compensate for that flaw, people won't be satisfied and won't buy patterns that seem likely to bring misfortune.”

Yamamoto's designs feature traditional auspicious motifs like flowers and treasures, which he believes symbolize wishes for longevity and happiness, integral to the art and virtue of sometsuke porcelain.

His commitment to these motifs extends beyond their symbolism; it's a reflection of his dedication to preserving the heritage of this art form. Despite the extra care needed for his thinner, finely crafted plates compared to factory-made options, Yamamoto asserts that the beauty and dedication in his work far outweigh any practical limitations.

Meeting Modern Needs through Choza's Artistry

"To have one's own space filled with them, I think that is the ultimate happiness. I think antiques are like that, at least for those who can afford them. And for those who can’t they at least seek for things that remind them of antiques, that share fragments of their allure. "

The form and design of Yamamoto's tableware are deeply informed by his philosophical approach and his meticulous craftsmanship. His designs come from a deep study of antiques and its unique allure. He says the environment he was surrounded in which was full of antiques, has raised his awareness and ability to perceive what consists of a timeless design, or something that would stand as a heritage art.

Also he does his research on current and future trends through reading Japanese lifestyle magazines like Kateigahou and Fujingahou, as well as visiting department stores and their exhibitions. 

"When you're at the department store, you explore the dining section and the furniture section. The key is to research where people are gathering. What's being sold in the tableware section? For instance, if you hear that coffee makers are selling well, it indicates a trend toward coffee. Then it makes sense to focus on selling cups. If shelves or tables are popular, it's evident that there is a preference for a Western lifestyle. Since eating habits change, the necessities also change. To understand these changing necessities, you have to observe the tableware and furniture section."

Enhancing the Dining Experience

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"The food is the main character. The plate mustn't speak. The plate cares for the queen (the food), but steps back. And lets the queen shine."

Yamamoto's philosophy extends beyond the mere physical creation of his art, encompassing its interaction with the culinary world. He believes that the art of Blue and White should complement and elevate the presentation of cuisine, without overshadowing it. For Yamamoto, art is not about dominating the culinary experience, but enhancing it. This belief is reflected in his approach to design, where the main goal of his art is to beautify and elevate the overall dining experience.

This is evident in the tall kodai or "foot rings," a distinctive feature of his tableware designs. The elevated foot ring frames the food placed upon it beautifully, adding rhythm and elegance to the dining table. It allows the dish to be delicately held on the fingers, emphasizing the need for careful handling of these fine pieces. His design considers the movements necessary to create a beautiful dining space.

"In classical music you are given a score. But the expression may have its subtle differences depending on the conductor. I would describe myself as more of this conductor."

Yamamoto views himself as a composer in the realm of classical music, likening his work to how different conductors interpret a classical piece uniquely. He brings his personal interpretation and flair to traditional designs, ensuring that each of his pieces is distinctively his own.

His talent for fusing historical motifs with a philosophical approach to creation sets him apart in the world of sometsuke artistry. Through his work, Yamamoto not only inspires and captivates but also seamlessly bridges the past and the present in each of his creations.

View Myousen Toubou CollectionView Yamamoto Choza Collection


1953 Born in Ishikawa Prefecture
1990 Presented the Bowl with the Imperial crest for Emperor and Empress, used for the enthronement ceremony of Japan.
1991 Work presented for the 'Banquet of the Ceremony' to the Imperial Household Agency
1992 Presented the celebratory confectionery dish for Princess Mako of the Akishino family
1994 Recognized as a Kutani ware traditional craftsperson by the Minister of International Trade and Industry.