Lost in the Greens: Discovering Mugihiko's World

Visited a young ceramic artist, Mugihiko Kitagawa, in the deep Aso mountains. Ended up lost in the middle of a rice field. The heavy rain was a bit scary, but after 3 hours of driving, I finally made it to his studio!

Mugihiko Kitagawa is the second generation of the ceramicist family. His family established the kiln back in the 1980s on Aso mountain in Kumamoto, Japan. Aso Mountain, an active volcano, has soil rich in minerals and volcanic ashes. The region is renowned for its hot springs and vibrant farming culture.

Mugihiko’s family came up with the idea of "natural ash glaze" by using local organic plants, veggies, and fruits. Since the Kitagawa family lived a vegan lifestyle, they grew these ingredients on their own farm. It can take anywhere from 1 to 10 years, depending on the ingredients, just to make these natural ash glazes. And because of the natural resources, the colors turn out different each time.

Mugihiko shared some memories from his childhood with me. Back in the 1990s, being vegan was still quite rare where he was growing up. His parents aimed to live close to nature; they didn't have a regular bath at home like most Japanese families. Instead, they would dive into the nearby river to clean up or visit the nearest hot springs since their town had plenty.

Growing up uniquely in the deep Aso mountain, Mugihiko developed a deep appreciation for nature, inspiring him and his family to create their own original vegetable ash glaze.

Just so you know, his name Muginiko actually means Barley boy in Japanese. "Mugi" stands for barley, and Hiko means boy and I thought it is such a beautiful name!

Mugihiko built his house all by himself, using second-hand and upcycled materials.

He brewed me a cup of coffee during my visit to his studio/house. He's into roasting his own coffee beans while making ceramics. Mugihiko made everything in his space - from the tiles on the walls to the light fixtures, cooking pots, and the mugs he used for coffee. It was so cozy staying at his place, enjoying the aroma of coffee he roasted and the great conversations we had.

This place gets down to -10 degrees Celsius in winter, so having a fireplace is a must. I adore his workspace - so calm and serene, nestled among trees.

Mugihiko's cat tagged along the whole time. I guess his cat really liked to me!

Echoes of Wanderlust

Mugihiko visited loads of countries in his 20s, hanging out with local families in each spot. Every curve of clay, every brush stroke, tells the story of Mugihiko's adventures around the world. Following his gut, he infuses his ceramics with memories of the places and people who welcomed him, sparking a quiet conversation between cultures. Mugihiko is really into hand-kneading with those natural ash glazes to capture the beauty of Aso mountain and add a touch of uniqueness from the countries he's visited.


Mugihiko showed me the inside of his handbuilt kiln. First time stepping into the kiln for me! It was a great experience to see how each step of the process is made. He uses straw and nearby abandoned pine woods as fuel for the kiln, giving his ceramics an even deeper connection to nature.


The fermented natural ash glaze... Mugihiko said, "I forgot how long these ashes have been soaking in the water... but yeah, definitely over 5 years...!"

Mugihiko's work has been showcased in several exhibitions and galleries across Japan. Each piece has its own character, unique and one of a kind. His passion for craftsmanship is evident in every detail of his work, from the texture to the shape to the glaze. 

It's a shame I had to leave at a certain time because I had another appointment to visit. Mugihiko mentioned a couple of tasty Soba noodle spots near his place, so we promised to go have some Soba noodles next time!

Hope you enjoy a piece of Aso mountain and a slice of Mugihiko's heart...!


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