Interview with Namiko Murakoshi – Cute Ceramic Maker

By Mike Sullivan

Please introduce yourself and your background.

I now live and work in London, but I was born and brought up on the islands of Okinawa, home of the longest living people in the world. Feeding the goats and swimming in the sea, I grew up seeing how Okinawan people live.

Whatever happens, the Okinawans never forget to smile, believing everything will be alright in the end. This life motto has made me who I am and I strongly believe that smiling is one of the keys to a long and happy life.

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A smile gives a huge amount of power, not only to the person who sees the smile, but also to the person who generates the smile. A baby’s yawn, a cat’s paw, a penguin’s waddle – if those cute little things make you smile, my work will make you smile, too. I make ceramics for everyday life, ceramics for more smiles.

Please tell us about your work.

My work can be briefly classified into three genres: namnam tableware, Hairy Babes plant pots and decorations – Origami Ceramics and Shisaa guardians. They are all quite different from each other but the base concept is always the same: ceramics for more smiles.

I intend to put a “smile factor” in each piece of work I make, which is often achieved by being playful and wondering/questioning the way things are.

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How did the Namnam Ceramics brand start?

Just before leaving university, I happened to have a commission to make some tableware for kids, which made me think of coming up with a name that is cute and easy to remember even for kids. I remembered the English family I lived with when I first came to the UK used to call me “Nam” – initially it was “Namster” combining my name “Namiko” and “hamster” because of the way I eat (I love eating!) but then it got shorten to “Nams”, and “Nam” in the end. I doubled it to “nam nam” and made a logo with ladybird so that it would sound and look more friendly, thinking of kids’ happy faces just like when they say “yum yum”.

I enjoyed the commission so much that I decided to carry on making tableware, which was the start of namnam tableware.

Can you explain a bit about the techniques you use to make ceramics?

With tableware and plant pots, I mainly throw on the potter’s wheel and alter later on. With other decorative pieces, I hand build and try to stay open about techniques so that I can challenge and push the border.

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Where do your ideas for your work come from? Where do you find the inspiration for
your designs?

It depends on the work, but in general, I am constantly looking for something that makes your eyes sparkle in a decent way – something cute, fun, surprising, intriguing, etc. For example, the “namnam” range is a collection of porcelain tableware – simple forms with small details. One of the inspirations for this particular range comes from Wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery).

Wagashi is usually very tiny but full of eye-sparkling factors: colourful and playful, yet sophisticated. For me, it is the ultimate object that can be enjoyed both visually and tastily.

I often stay up late, or work all night once in a while in order to get new ideas. I love sleeping, but there is something about being awake at night, and I somehow get very excited and high when the midnight hours come in. I drink, but I do not do drugs, nor smoking, so I guess this is my way of reaching somewhere “different” in my mind, to see something new, or to see something in a new way.

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How long does it take to design and make a particular work? Can you give a short summary of the processes that go into each one?

I usually go playing wih clay straight away once I get a new idea rather than designing on paper. The actual making process may not take so long once I decide what and how to make but there are always drying, cleaning, firing and sometimes glazing to follow, also with tableware I actually use the samples to see the practicality, so normally I ask for 6 to 8 weeks to complete a commission.

What is your most popular item?

Hairy Babes plant pots!

The Hairy Babes are made from Terracotta Crank, a mixture of terracotta and coarse stoneware clay. They are hand-thrown on the wheel, fired to 1220°C and named after my friends and family. Each Hairy Babe has a different facial expression, they are all different and unique, just like we are.

For someone who wishes to take up this kind of career, what kind of advice would you give them?

Making has always been, and is still, something very natural for me. I do not remember how I came to a decision to do it professionally but I know that I need to keep making just like breathing. It is not easy to change the world, but I can at least try bit by bit by making something that makes people smile.

If you have a passion for making and if you have the will to give everything in order to keep making, I say go for it. One thing you really need to know before stepping into this kind of career is that nothing is instant in craft, every single process takes time.

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To what extent do you draw upon your Japanese heritage for your work?

To be honest, I do not take much note of myself being Japanese consciously after living in the UK for 12 years. But I am Japanese after all and my mind often goes back to my roots unconsciously, which makes me sure of having those Japanese bits in my work too such as Wagashi inspiration in namnam tableware.

But “to what extent”, I am not sure, apart from the Origami Ceramics and Shisaa guardians in which I take the origin from Japanese traditional crafts purposely. Some people here say my work is very Japanese, but some people in Japan say my work is not very Japanese. People tend to see things as they want them to be and I do not mind at all as long as I am happy with my work.

What do traditional Japanese crafts mean to you?

Highly skilled and truly aesthetic. Although I mentioned myself being not very conscious of Japanese heritage, I do get inspired and even awed by beautifully and perfectly finished traditional Japanese crafts. It is purely a celebration of what human hands can do.

Do you have any exhibitions or events coming up?

I will have some later on this year before Christmas so please keep checking my website!

www.namnamceramics.com

Finally, any last words for anyone interested in Japanese crafts?

I am often extremely amazed by how particular Japanese crafts are about the details. It is an obsession. I hope to reach that level in my work one day and make you not only smile but also say “wow!” so please wait for that day patiently – thank you very much!

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Michael Sullivan

Michael Sullivan is the editor for the online magazine and is responsible for bringing together the great content that we offer our readers. He can normally be found writing for several UK and Japanese magazines, as well as working as a translator.