Ikuo Takemoto believes he would not be alive today if it was not for discovering pottery. Over thirty years ago, the suicide of a deeply respected friend made Takemoto feel helplessly lost. He recalls being in a bar one night questioning his own life, when he came across a postcard of a small vase by a National Living Treasure, master potter Fujiwara Kei. The postcard transfixed Takemoto for a long time, and staring at it made him began to realize that there was more to life. He said, “This postcard saved my life.” Although inexperienced in clay, he felt a career in pottery would bring meaning to his life. At the age of 33, Takemoto left Tokyo and his successful career as a professional photographer to seek out the man who produced the work that forever changed him.
Takemoto managed to find and convince Fujiwara Kei to take him on as a student. Under Fujiwara’s guidance, Takemoto learned crucial lessons such as the importance of clay, its texture, workability, durability, and most importantly, where to find and store it. Fujiwara also introduced Takemoto to highly influential people, one being the scholar, Koyama Kujjio, whose research established Echizen’s importance as the sixth ancient kiln site. Koyama encouraged Takemoto to go to Echizen to help preserve its tradition. There, Takemoto excavated ancient kiln sites and studied historic kiln designs; he then used this knowledge to construct his own kiln.
Takemoto’s work is very delicate and deliberately void of much decoration and glazes. His simplistic forms are highly enhanced by dry matte finishes left by his kiln firing. Only soft tool marks can be seen on the exterior of his esteemed red tea bowls. Unlike most wood-fire potters of Echizen, Takemoto fires some of his work encased in stackable, lidded containers know as saggars. These protect the work from any ash buildup. Doing this allows him to achieve smooth, unglazed surfaces. Takemoto digs his own clay, storing it for up to a decade before he uses it. He believes the clay is the life of the pottery and only through constant use will a piece live and become more beautiful.