I was living in my hometown of Kumamoto, Japan during the 2021 pandemic with my children. It was during that time when I decided to launch my small business, Yoka—a dream I had been nurturing for decades. Akio Yonehara from Kajiya Kiln was one of the first artisans to believe in me and my dreams, offering his exceptional works when I first started Yoka. This blog post is a heartfelt tribute to Akio, his artistry, and the journey we’ve shared over the past few years.

The Humble Beginnings

I’ve probably shared this story with many of you, but in Japan, business cards are crucial. When I went on my initial buying trip before launching my website, I didn’t even have one. Despite this, Akio and his wife warmly welcomed me and supported my business plan to highlight and assist local artisans from my hometown. Their belief in me and my vision was a significant boost to my fledgling business.

When I brought back my first purchases, they quickly sold out, affirming my mission. This success led me to continue reaching out to Akio, and over the past two years, I’ve made several trips to his studio. Unfortunately, I couldn't restock his products as frequently as I wanted because he and his wife became busier helping their parents with the rice farms. Their house and studio are literally in the middle of rice fields. I got completely lost using Google Maps to find his studio in 2021, but now, after annual visits, I know the way by heart. Haha!

A Meaningful Connection

Here’s another beautiful story that makes Akio’s works special to me. One of my earliest customers bought a mug cup crafted by Akio and shared her family history. Her grandparents had moved to Hawaii from Kumamoto in the 1800s. As a third-generation Japanese American, she was always searching for her grandparents' "home." She was deeply moved and thrilled to own a piece from Kumamoto, Japan, which made her feel a connection to her roots. When I shared this story with Akio, he was equally touched.

She created a painting of Akio's ceramic pieces, capturing a moment that was both touching and sweet.

Sometimes, a simple object can evoke profound happiness and connect memories across generations. I was delighted that this customer shared her story, prompting me to reflect on the meaning of my shop’s name, Yoka—"good" in my hometown’s dialect. It’s about sharing good things, feelings, and creating a positive cycle. This philosophy is at the heart of everything I do at Yoka.

 

The Artistry of Akio Yonehara

Akio trained at Fumoto Kiln, a historic ceramic company in Kumamoto, before starting his own kiln. He honors local ceramic traditions by using local clay and creating glaze from rice straw ashes, resulting in a beautiful snow-white finish. His unique patterns, reminiscent of clouds, rice plants, and ocean waves, reflect the landscapes of our homeland, Kyushu Island, Japan.

Crafted from local clay with passion and precision, Akio’s pieces embody simplicity and elegance. Each item offers a warm, slightly chunky touch, adding unique charm to any setting. Handmade in his studio nestled amidst rice fields, Akio’s ceramics are rare finds, produced in limited quantities due to his dedication to family and farming.

After nearly three years, I am thrilled to showcase Akio’s work at Yoka, celebrating the beauty and commitment that infuse every piece. This collaboration is not just about business; it’s about preserving and sharing the rich cultural heritage of Kumamoto and supporting the artisans who keep these traditions alive.

The journey with Akio has been deeply rewarding, filled with moments of mutual respect, admiration, and growth. His dedication to his craft and his family is inspiring, and I am honored to bring his extraordinary creations to a wider audience.

Launching Yoka has been a dream come true, made possible by the support of artisans like Akio Yonehara. His work embodies the spirit of Kumamoto, blending tradition with artistry in a way that resonates deeply with our customers. As we continue to grow and share these beautiful pieces, I remain grateful for the connections and stories that make this journey so meaningful.

Thank you for being a part of Yoka’s story. We look forward to sharing more incredible works from talented artisans like Akio, who remind us of the beauty and goodness in every handmade piece.

 

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