An interview with Yuka Ando
When we saw her works for the first time, we felt its smoky, mature-like colors of the glaze were attractive. She says the colors in nature such as sky and sea inspire her for those of her works. It was the first time I’ve met someone who talks about glaze that way. Ando spent many years in the United States and used to work for a company in Los Angeles. I visited her house and atelier in Himi city, Toyama prefecture, which is located close to the sea, and asked her about her life story.
ーYou lived in the United States for a long time, didn’t you?
‘Yes, seven years since I was eighteen. I’d been learning English from a Canadian tutor since I was in elementary school. I enjoyed his way not to teach grammar, but to teach naturally through communication, and I came to like English. I had been to the United States for a few short-term studies. Unlike Japanese schools, which have many rules to obey, I was impressed by the very free atmosphere. That made me want to live there in the future. When I was in high school, we went to a study abroad center in Osaka by myself without telling anything to my parents in order to collect the necessary informations to enter a university in the United States, then went to Los Angeles in California at the age of eighteen.’
After learning finance and international business at California State University, she got a position in a company in Los Angeles. She enjoyed living there, but when two years had passed since started working, she noticed a change in her feelings.
‘At that time, I got a long-term visa and it was likely that I would acquire a Green Card. It was my longtime dream, but when I looked back the past two years, I unexpectedly felt it was empty. I just worked, shopped, and had parties with friends… ‘It’s fun everyday, but what’s ahead of me?’ When I met someone who had a dream and worked hard, I compared myself. When I met friends who were doing their best to become a Japanese teacher or a photographer, they looked so bright to me. I came to think what I really like day after day.’
Then, she returned to Japan temporarily to celebrate her family’s birthday. When she visited Tanba Sasayama with her friends, she found the beauty of Japanese unspoilt landscape.
‘ I felt I didn’t know anything about Japan that had such a beautiful place.’
It is one of impressive episodes to show her changes at that time. And a piece of Tanba ware that she bought and brought back to the United States changed her life.
‘Before, I used to eat out quite often, but after returning from Japan with ceramic ware, I started to cook at home. And once the tableware changed, I wanted to harmonize articles of furniture one by one. My life was changing gradually due to that bowl. Then one week later, the idea to become a potter unintentionally came up in my mind. It was the moment when I felt that many things scattered inside of me were concentrated in ceramics. I liked America, but I wanted my own core to live. I wanted to stay in the U.S. while having something that I really should do and wanted to do. So I thought it would be the best for me to study ceramics in Japan, then would come back and live as an artist in United States.’
After quitting her job and leaving from Los Angeles, she went to pottery training school in Kyoto, and became a disciple of a ceramic artist Masahiko Ichino for three years.
‘ I went to his atelier from my parents’ house. I worked as an assistant to my master in the daytime, and made some pieces of my own work at night. And occasionally I exhibited them at some craft fairs on weekends. Looking back, it was a good time.’
Although she left everything of her life in the U.S. and went on to become a potter, her feeling towards pottery gradually changed through the life as disciple with making what she was told and packing them everyday, and rarely meeting people nor getting feedback on her works. And in the third year of apprenticeship, the East Japan Earthquake occurred.
‘We saw the scenery of things being washed away by the tsunami on TV. Many people died. It was the time for all of us to think again what was the most important thing in life, and how we live from now on. Then when I asked myself, I really had no answer inside of me. I could not believe my works made the world better, and I was not sure I enjoyed my life. Asking myself if I were to die tomorrow, wouldn’t I regret my life? I thought I couldn’t say yes. So after finishing my apprenticeship, I went to Denmark because I wanted to move away from ceramics once and become zero to rethink. ‘
She left Japan to go to a place where she knew nobody, returned to the starting point, and tried to consider her own way of life. While she stayed at an eco-village in Denmark and worked as a volunteer at the farm with people who lived sustainably. This healed her heart, she said.
‘More than 100 people lived together in the eco-village, and each person has their respective roles. I met a man called ‘’ repair man’’ who fixes everything, such as bicycles, radios, or chairs, whatever. Even a mug that looked like a freebie, people wanted it repaired and kept using with care. That seemed beautiful to me, and I was moved by the power of things. I felt that real value of things were not based on the value standards , such as luxury, trend, fashion, or something like that, but on the intimate feeling towards the things. When I saw it, I thought I also wanted to make something intimate and important for someone. That reminded me of the origin when I first wanted to be a potter in America.’
She gave small plates made by herself in Japan as gifts of gratitude to the people she met there. She was deeply touched to see how much people were pleased with what she made. She realized the power of things again through these experiences. Things can touch heart, and they tied to the heart are no longer just things. She herself was the one who changed her life by the bowl found in Tanba Sasayama.
In the latter half of her stay in Denmark, she entered Folkehojskole, an institution for adult education, that is unique in Denmark. They had a pottery class, but she chose a glass class. As glassmaking was a hard work and sometimes teamwork was required, she felt it was not for her. This experience made her realize pottery was her vocation. At the end of the school life, she made a mug in the pottery class. When she baked it using a prepared glaze in a bucket, it was finished in a smoky light blue color that she had never seen before. She said she was attracted by the color for some reason.
‘Until then, I had never thought I liked a light blue color, so I wondered why it attracted me. I finally found there were light blue or pink in harmony with nature, although I used to have an image that light blue was a pastel color. That idea came from the scenery of Denmark. The sky and the sunset there are very beautiful. The sky is wide because the buildings are low. When I went to the sea, I found that water illuminated by the setting sun wasn’t blue, but it looked silvery or pink. I was deeply moved by the awareness of various colors in the world. I could say it was my starting point for my glazes when I noticed that I liked these colors.’
Her current atelier in Himi city is near the sea, and white Tateyama mountain range can be seen over the sea on a sunny day. She says that she often gets the image of the color of glaze from those of the sea and sky. I asked ‘ What is your favorite color?’ After thinking a little, then answered ‘ the color at sunset in the eastern sky.’
* This article is a compilation of an interview in Himi, Toyama on June 6, 2020