Local Scratches


Koito Pottery in Takayama, Gifu Prefecture

"In every thing I do, there is always the entire history, all tradition and a nanometer of myself."


Dai, what is creativity?

For me, its very difficult to understand. Sometimes people say, that creativity depends of the individual character of a person, but that's not true in Asia. Because if tradition wouldn’t exist, we couldn’t develop our personality.

So creativity has something to do with tradition?

Its is the ability to learn from tradition and history. In the west people are rather focused on the individual human, but here we learn from nature and history. These are our friends.


Dai Nagakura is a philosopher on the pottery wheel. He explains his work with Hegel, Nietzsche, Beethoven, Karajan, Sartre and the Mingei crafts movements in Japan. His workshop looks like time has stopped, like technology or any modern development had forgot to knock on the door. He conducts his wheel without electricity, barefoot. His view is into nature, towards the mountains of the Japanese Alps. It is a quiet place, full of energy and invites to day dreaming and deep conversations.

Dai and his wife live in Takayama, both were born here, both wanted to stay here. The crafts ship, the workshop and the skill he took over from his father, the desire to create he developed over time and during his study in Tokyo.

He learns from history, everything has been done before, so to be creative means to study everything what is given and to add a bit more. For him creativity is history plus one.

To learn the technique its easy, I learned it from my father and grandfather by observing. But to think, to use the mind and the heart, it is difficult and can only be learned from the past. My teacher is history.

His father enters the workshop, he seams happy, hums Beethoven. The choral of the 9th symphony – Freude schöner Götterfunken. We sing together, Dai continues tipping barefoot the wheel.

Beethoven again.


Accuracy is beautiful, but beauty is not always accurate

Why did you become a craftsmen, Dai?

Well, I grew up here. The house of my childhood was a craft house. I studied ion methodology in Tokyo for seven years and came back home to continue pottery, because I didn‘t want to work in a company. I was tired and all the time too busy. I prefer to work alone, surrounded by nature and talk to the clay.

What do you tell the clay?

The clay is my child. So I tell her, please be a kind and good child and have a nice colour.

When do you decide, that the clay turned out to be good and nice one?

The keyword here is beauty. The only goal I’m aiming for, I intent, is to reach beauty. Usually in crafts ship the aesthetics lies in accuracy, but not in pottery, that different to wood working maybe. Here I don’t need to be very precise, no need for perfection, it’s my choice. Accuracy is beautiful, but beauty is not always accurate. For example this bowl here is the best and most beautiful bowl in Japan.

Says who?

Me of course. I decided my pottery is beautiful. That's only a feeling. I can feel, when it is beautiful. But this only happens maybe in 2% of my work, where I‘m actually happy and satisfied with the product. The difference is the beauty. I call it the 2% law. You can ask every craftsmen of the world, even every artist, they will probably agree on that. I just realized, that in this discussion I don’t distinguished between craftsmen and artist.

Is there a difference at all? What are you, an artist or an artisan?

I don’t know. Maybe both, sometimes only one of them.

History and personality vs. creativity and beauty

Dai likes to hide behind big words, and big philosophical concepts, he rather talks about the usage of accuracy than about himself or his relationship to his father. He and his work is constantly moving in the field between history and personality, or in his words: creativity and beauty. He explained, that in Japan the concept of creativity might work different to the understanding we could have in Europe. While beauty is a very subjective and individual feeling, here creativity does not come from individuality, but from knowledge, history and the ability to combine both.

When I work, I reproduce. It is always a combination of what has been done before and my decision to add on that.

Can you give me an example?

Yes, Sakura is the hole package of history.

Isn‘t it a blossom, nature?

No, its like Schiller already said: Its a Freude schöner Götterfunken. Sakura has a very long history in Japan. I use that history in my work. My actions are made from history, if I have a creative day, its only a moment, because creativity is history plus one.

The one is you?

Yes, only a tiny nanometer I can add to history. That would be a creative moment. It is something you cannot learn in school. Learning a craft ship is a very autodidactic process, it needs a lot of autonomy and it’s very difficult to teach that, the teacher can only lead a little, only a bit, the rest you must discover in your own process.

Takayama, Gifu Prefecture


Dai Nagakura

Koito Pottery