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In Japan, my sculpture program was very traditional, so they wouldn't let me go beyond the technical rules of Japanese tradition. I felt that I was restrained from fully developing my own expression or style or from looking outside of the framework of what “Japanese art is.” 

That led me to move on to my MFA in the US, where I joined the Sculpture program at Kent State University in Ohio. That was a very different environment, and they encouraged me to make anything from any material that I could find. I used chicken wire, paper mache, and acrylic paint to make installations and environments. 

Of course, with time, I faced an identity crisis. People in America were looking at me as Japanese but were not able to define what that meant. I struggled with language and expressing how Japanese people speak versus how non-Japanese speakers speak, which was reflected in my artwork. The art I was making hinted at a subject, but didn’t show that subject specifically. I wasn’t drawing an object, but rather around it. That's how Japanese people communicate, too. They don't need to directly tell you what it is. They describe around things. 

I also met several Asian artists back in Ohio. For example, Jiha Moon is a Korean sculptor based in Atlanta, and she makes ceramics and paintings merging American culture into Korean art. It was encouraging to see people make art honestly without trying to fit in. I felt that it wasn’t fair that I had to make American art because I'm not American. I wanted to create my own path as an artist.

I started making ceramics in Ohio but focused more on it in New York. I found this studio in Sculpture Space NYC where I started making ceramic works and also went to the Noguchi Museum and discovered Isamu Noguchi’s artwork. There was this specific piece, Fudo, where he was mixing American and Japanese materials. At that time, Noguchi was coming back and forth between America and Japan, and the environment was nationalistically intense because of the war. People would call him American or not American enough or not Japanese. This piece is not very well balanced, aesthetically, but he just wanted to put these Japanese and American materials together and see what would happen.

At first, for me too, while thinking about my memory of Japan, I was putting together letters and colors and shapes, but it wasn't coming together well. But I stuck with using letters and started looking at Japanese ceramic history. 


I don’t journal as much these days, but I like to make little sketches, go over old sketches, and research anything that feels related to my practice. I like felting or trying out stencils. I make a lot of objects.

I look up pictographs from ancient China and Hiragana, which are Japanese phonological letters. People brought in characters from China to Japan, but the Chinese characters were simplified to write and became Hiragana. Growing up in Japan, you learn how to write thousands of Chinese characters. The mannerisms of drawing the lines in a character became the nature of how I make lines. It's so different if you write dragon in the English alphabet or with a Chinese character. It's like painting a picture. There’s a course of how your brush moves from top to bottom. My mom was very strict about it. There’s a rhythm, like a dance, and it became a very physical practice. The shapes in my works are really like parts of letters.

I also look at prehistoric Japanese Jomon pottery. One time I went to an exhibit of Jomon pottery, and I felt like I could almost read the pottery, like reading a letter or character. They’re very expressive objects. If the object is a fire, a monkey, or a boar, those figurines themselves were functioning like letters or characters or words. They were made to share meaning. My work is conjoining that spirit of meaning-making with the contemporary era–with the media and letters that we have available right now.


In my practice, I hand build and mostly use coiling. I first make a base shape, like legs, which defines how large this piece will become. Then I think of what kind of hole it will have. Is it square? Is it going to be oval? I play with shapes and see what makes sense to me and then build around it. I focus on making a hollow vessel, so it can carry flowers or water. It’s like creating a figure where the top is like a head. The top decides the character of the piece. Each piece originates from Japanese letters, so it's kind of like making up new letters every day. 

I usually plan out the form first, and sometimes I just follow the sketch 100 percent. Sometimes, I do like to edit in between. I stop at the halfway point when I’m working, especially with larger-scale pieces. I will stop and really look at the piece from a distance. Clay gets dry and is time-sensitive, so I have to make a quick decision. 

For me, playing with the dynamics of turning a small piece into a large one invites people to feel that you can go inside it. The large works are very physical, so I hope that people can enjoy the form from a distance as if it’s a person, not just a flower vase. 

The choice of glaze is organic. For the colors, I have been looking at a lot of ukiyo-e patterns, like kimono patterns, and the colors used in ukiyo-e prints. I also look at Czech Cubism, which has very similar patterns to Japanese kimonos but feels very art deco. Sometimes the ceramics look like traditional Mingei color themes, or sometimes very Pop, with red and white. Color choices like that can happen back to back. 

I'm into patterns and architecture, such as Mesoamerican architecture, which has organic shapes and steps coming together. I also like to play with the surface and place 2D letters onto a 3D object. If you look at ukiyo-e, people were wearing kimonos, and these fabrics should be 3D, but they look like flattened patterns. That’s really interesting–it’s something I love to look at. 

Images courtesy of the artist, Edward Ramos, Bryan Anton, and Nikki Lu.