Introducing Takemi Seto: Master of Yohen Tenmoku

Born in 1958 in Kanagawa, Takemi Seto is one of five renowned ceramic artists known for his dedication to the creation of Yohen Tenmoku ware in Japan. His interest in ceramics began during his training in Aichi Prefectural Ceramics Training School, where he first started exploring Shino, Oribe and Ki-seto glazes. However, it was his discovery of a ceramic history book he found in Yokohama that sparked his fascination with the Tenmoku glazes. Seto’s unanticipated success in creating his own Nogi-me Tenmoku (hare’s fur) encouraged him to experiment with Yohen Tenmoku, a type of iron-glazed ware that is notoriously difficult to reproduce due to the unknown creating process.

Since the Muromachi period, Yohen Tenmoku bowls have been perceived as the highest grade of Tenmoku ware. It was said that the tea bowls were brought to Japan by a Zen monk who received training at the Tianmu Mountain in Zhejiang province, China. They are believed to have been fired at the Jian kiln in Fujian province during the Southern Song Dynasty. At present, there are only three intact Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls in the world, all of which are in Japan and designated by the Japanese government as national treasures. Yohen literally means “the changes that take place in the kiln.” It is also a term referring to black glazed tea bowls known as Tenmoku type covered with iridescent round spots that change from blue to bluish purple. Under the right lighting conditions, the surface veiled in an aurora-like pattern glimmer against the black glaze, creating a mysterious effect.

Reproducing Yohen Tenmoku is an extremely difficult task. In 2002, Seto managed to produce his own version of a Yohen Tenmoku tea bowl with glistening iridescent, blue-colored spots. His strength lies in his thorough research of glazes, black clay and an unstable oil kiln. The kiln is fueled by kerosene and is not as easy to control as a gas or electric kiln. He experimented with different mixture of glazes and clay and tried different firing methods. Many pieces have been ruined due to unsuccessful firings. Through his accumulated experience of failures, he acquired the fundamentals of Yohen Tenmoku, which include the spirit and randomness that emerge from the clay and firing. Seto’s pursuit of achieving the ideal Yohen Tenmoku is ongoing, as he continues to push the boundaries of this challenging art form.

Don’t miss this opportunity to witness the beauty of Seto’s Yohen Tenmoku creations that glow like galaxies filled with stars. A limited quantity of only one tea bowl and two sake cups will be available for purchase and on display at Duxton Hill gallery from May 9 to May 19, 2023.