The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.

Miyu Kurihara and Yuta Segawa’s painted pot, 4 in. (10 cm) in height, glazed porcelain, 2021. Photo: Miyu Kurihara.Edmund de Waal, master potter and author, published his first book, The Hare with Amber Eyes, in 2010. It was a multiple award-winning biography centered on a collection of 264 netsuke that de Waal inherited from his great-uncle Iggie (the Baron Ignace Leon von Ephrussi). Netsuke are very small carved objects in ivory or wood: “smaller than a matchbox, often as small as the joint of my little finger.”1 

In the absence of pockets in kimono, Japanese men employed a cord that was draped over the obi—a sash or wide belt—that held the kimono closed. At one end of the cord was a container for tobacco or medicine; at the other was a netsuke in shapes like “street vendors, beggars and monks, rat catchers, dogs, lovers, a woman and an octopus, an elderly lady on an elderly horse, a witch trapped in a temple bell, a persimmon about to split, a hare with amber eyes.”2

The Hare with Amber Eyes is an absorbing, well-written mystery wherein de Waal uncovers his ancestry in Austria and Paris and explores the provenance of his diminutive treasures. Although the book has little to do with clay, I recommend it highly. As for the connection between Edmund de Waal and Miyu Kurihara, as much as being about ceramic practitioners, it is about Japanese traditions like kimono, fabric printing, and meticulous hand-crafted detail. But, as we’ll see as her story unfolds, it is also about miniature objects, as tiny as netsuke, on which Kurihara collaborates with her husband, Yuta Segawa. 

Cloth to Clay 

1 Miyu Kurihara’s crane on decorative pot, 18 in. (46 cm) in height, glazed stoneware, 2021.

Miyu Kurihara is inspired by pattern, an element that surrounds us—in nature and human-made things—even though we may not be consciously aware of its presence. Building fenestration, aerial maps, car tires, tree bark, orchid petals, masonry, knitting, eagle feathers: being mindful of the components rather than the whole reveals how much we take pattern for granted. 

Kurihara’s fascination with pattern prompted her enrollment at Tama Art University (TAU) in Tokyo, Japan. She had no background in textiles, or significant others like a grandmother who sewed or knitted, which influenced the decision. At TAU, she gained knowledge of weaving and fabric printing as well as fiber composition, cloth dying, and the impact of color. Her printed textiles from this time (see show wee humans swimming and playing in water, as well as experimenting with color fields. Kurihara also learned drawing and brush techniques, skills that became significant in her as yet-to-be-discovered medium, porcelain. 

TAU’s mandate includes preparing students to be part of the international community. To this end, the curriculum teaches practical English language and fosters international exchange. These benefits, along with an attraction to Liberty and William Morris designs, nurtured Kurihara’s relocation to England for textile courses at the Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London, where she earned a master of art degree in textile design in 2016. Work from this time shows rows of tiny foliage-filled vessels on different color grounds. 

While at Chelsea College, Kurihara discovered the ceramics workshop and learned basic pottery techniques; in addition, she consulted a friend in London who was a ceramic artist. Kurihara’s graduate show included textiles and ceramics where she expressed her ability to apply fabric patterns to ceramics. Coincidentally, in seventeenth-century Japan, Nabeshima ware was decorated with textile patterns. This type of porcelain was not for public consumption, but made for the Nabeshima family as gifts for government officials and fellow feudal lords. 

Immediately after graduation, Kurihara began her career as a professional potter. Initially she sold work at craft fairs, but then she says she was “lucky” to get orders from stores and galleries. She has been a production potter ever since, dealing with its benefits and drawbacks. Kurihara admits, “Sometimes there is pressure for quantities from retailers. My work is all handmade and hand painted, so there’s a limitation on numbers. When shops want really high quantities, it creates pressure for me. And occasionally the deadline is really strict. But, I usually enjoy working with retail shops and galleries.” 

Detailed Clay 

The size of Kurihara’s work warrants seeing it in multiples. An array of her slip-cast bud vases indicates the infinite variations on pattern that can be applied. The patterns are geometric and organic; lines and solids; repeats and combinations on the same vessel; triangles, diamonds, arcs, and squares. Kurihara has a predilection for the blue-and-white palette of Chinese porcelain that was developed during the Tang dynasty (618–906); later, in the thirteenth century, Jingdezhen potters refined clay recipes and firing processes thereby enabling vivid blue colors using pigment. It is this indigo spectrum that predominates in Kurihara’s portfolio. 

2 Miyu Kurihara and Yuta Segawa’s painted pots, to 4 in. (10 cm) in height, glazed porcelain, 2021. Photo: Miyu Kurihara.

Perhaps public familiarity with blue-and-white pottery contributes to a contemporary preference for these vases. Kurihara references indigo-dyed kimono in her pattern-making yet her ancestors were also inclined toward blue on white. The container attached to a netsuke, called an inrō, consisted of interlocking cases that slotted together to carry ink seals, powdered medicine, and pills. One from the nineteenth century shows a blue snowflake design on a white background3 that immediately appeals to the modern eye. 

As well, attention to Islamic patterns broadens her color spectrum: bright yellow, coral, cinnamon, olive, and gold luster are apparent. These vases in ochre tones are shyer, more reserved and, maybe, alien to what a Westerner regards as stereotypically Japanese. Regardless of country of origin or hue, regular visits to the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum in London supplement ideas for pattern and tone. 

3 Miyu Kurihara’s handbuilt collection, to 81/2 in. (22 cm) in height, glazed stoneware, 2021. 4 Miyu Kurihara and Yuta Segawa’s painted pot, 13/4 in. (5 cm) in height, glazed porcelain, 2021. Photo: Yuta Segawa.

Interestingly, while TAU encouraged the use of digital technology in order that its graduates readily adapt to international design and production, Kurihara rejects the use of decals or other applied pattern devices. Each line, block, and circle is hand painted, a technique practiced historically by craft masters in Asia. The process requires making a slip-cast porcelain form that is bisque-fired at a low temperature (1598°F (870°C)). Patterns are intricately applied with fine brushes followed by a transparent glaze and firing at a high temperature (2264°F (1240°C)). While the pieces may look similar and manufactured, every single one is individually made and decorated. 

Another aspect of Kurihara’s portfolio is her handbuilt stoneware that is carved and painted. Some of this collection is inspired by Chinese Cizhou ware, whereby the form is dipped in cream slip and patterns are carved, then coated with several kinds of glazes that are mixed from her original recipes. Unlike the porcelain vases, which have a general appeal, this work is for the connoisseur. It is less distinctive than the aforementioned porcelain and, I expect, will be explored further. 

5 Miyu Kurihara’s single flower vases, to 41/2 in. (12 cm) in height, glazed porcelain, 2019.


Enter Yuta Segawa, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in industrial, interior, and craft design at Musashino Art University, Tokyo, in 2011. This was followed by internships in Jingdezhen and Penthalaz, Switzerland, and master of art studies at the Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London (2015). Segawa is now the Director of SGW Lab, London, whose mission statement is: “to think about the significance of craftsmanship in the context of William Morris, to believe in the worth of human labor and to explore and practice the beautiful possibilities created by handicrafts.”4 

Kurihara and Segawa met while at university in London and married in 2022. Segawa’s specialty is the miniature vessel, a form that has been found in Prehistoric and Hellenistic Mediterranean archaeological sites. Small-scale clay vessels had ritual uses such as containers for offerings of oil or precious perfume for the gods. In China, small ceramic snuff bottles of the Qing dynasty (beginning in 1644) were decorated with “monochromatic glazes, painted underglaze cobalt blue, and overglaze enameled decoration; and glazes in imitation of ivory, mother-of-pearl, metal, lacquer, wood, bamboo, jade, agate, marble, and puddingstone [toned conglomerate rock].”5 Japan also had a history of ceramic snuff bottles as well as porcelain and stoneware inrō. 

6 Miyu Kurihara’s bird vases, to 21/4 in. (26 cm) in height, glazed stoneware, 2021.

Japanese traditions in petite ceramic objects, as well as the size of netsuke, take us back to Segawa. As can be seen from the images, a segment of his practice is very small: six objects can easily fit in the palm of a hand. Every one is turned on a wheel, a feat that requires extreme patience, manual dexterity, and a resilient neck. Many of the finished ewers, bottles, and jars have solid color or gold luster. Much like the Qing dynasty potters, Segawa attests to having originated 500 glazes. The plethora of shapes and colors, as with Kurihara’s bud vases, are best seen and purchased in multiples. They’re like peanuts or potato chips—you’re not content with just one! 

7 Miyu Kurihara’s single flower vases, to 41/2 in. (12 cm) in height, glazed porcelain, 2022.Segawa states his reason for working at a tiny scale: “Miniature pottery relates to the issue of the relationship between artists’ bodies and their works. It is a challenge to test the limits of what a human body can make on such a small scale.” It can also be asserted that, philosophically, the miniature vessel is not simply a prototype of a functional object, but representative of the genre of that object. Segawa’s thousands of tiny objects reflect the history of ceramics and humanity’s varied solutions to the problem of containment. 

Seeing a vast array of his shapes and colors denotes heritage and tradition. Segawa’s apprenticeship in Jingdezhen, with its long-standing influence on world ceramic production, may unconsciously have seeded the idea of miniatures. 

It was almost inevitable that Kurihara and Segawa collaborate to create patterns on tiny vessels. Again, we see the influence of Chinese and Japanese traditions: animals and creatures from mythology meticulously painted onto ovoid, fluted, and other shapes in blue or a rainbow of hues. Peacocks, highly regarded in Islamic culture, are depicted frequently, as are pomegranates and peonies, dragons and snakes, and lions, leopards, and lilies. The pots are delightful to examine repeatedly, not only for their charm but their technical expertise. 

Kurihara and Segawa had their first child in February 2023. This has meant Kurihara’s having to forgo practice in her studio. Nevertheless, she can paint the bisque-fired objects at home and Segawa’s kilns at SGW Lab finish the pieces. Miyu Kurihara hopes to resume her chosen career in autumn 2023. Undoubtedly the customers of the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland; the Sway Gallery in London, UK; the retail shop at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, UK; and personal online exhibitions are looking forward to her return. 

the author D Wood has a PhD in design studies and is an independent craft scholar whose artist profiles and exhibition reviews have appeared in an international roster of art and design publications. She is the editor of and contributor to Craft is Political (Bloomsbury, 2021). 

1 Edmund de Waal, “God of Small Things,” The Guardian, 29 May 2010.
2 Ibid. 
3 Barry Till, Miniature Arts of China and Japan (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2010), 187. 
5 Barry Till, 33.