The tales of Steve Jobs & Japan #03: Yukio Shakunaga, Steve Jobs' Favorite Porcelain Artist

It is well-known that Steve Jobs is a Japanophile.
It is also well-known that Steve Jobs admired great artists and craftsmen.

Among the many artists he loved was Yukio Shakunaga, a porcelain artist based in Toyama prefecture, Japan.
Jobs found the work of Shakunaga while he was having a vacation in Kyoto.

Shakunaga's atelier is in Toyama prefecture, 330Km (or 200 mi) away from Kyoto but he was having a week long exhibition in a gallery in Kyoto.
"Etchu Seto-yaki" is the kind of porcelain Shakunaga makes; Etchu is the old name of Toyama prefecture and "Seto-yaki" is the kind of porcelain he makes.

Jobs just walked in the exhibition with his wife, Laurene Powell; he liked Shakunaga's work so much and bought several Japanese tea cups and flower vases. More over, he visited the exhibition three times during the one-week exhibition.

It was still in mid-'90s. Steve Jobs still worked for NeXT, Inc. and Shakunaga had no idea who Steve Jobs was but was impressed by two things: Jobs' searching eyes and deep interest into his works.

After Steve Jobs has passed, Shakunaga's daughter, Yo Shakunaga, has posted an anecdote by an author, Shizuka Kanaki:

Yo's blog: Steve Jobs and Etchu Seto-yaki

According to that story, Shakunaga's niece was there to help the exhibition and she was the only person who recognized Steve Jobs.
She was explaining to Shakunaga that "having Steve Jobs visit the exhibition is like having John Lennon purchase a tea cup there. And uncle, you've even talked with Steve Jobs for so long. That is so amazing!"

According to that blog post, sometime, speaking and hearing didn't work for Jobs and Shakunaga, so they relied on pens and papers. But Jobs kept asking so many questions.
And most of Jobs' questions were about the clay used in Shakunaga's work.

Shakunaga explained to Jobs that he used "Hakudo (White Clay)." Jobs was so curious about this "White Clay" that he almost visited Toyama. But then, he reallized it will take three hours just to get there and gave up.
Although most porcelain artists buys clay, Shakunaga starts his work by digging his own clay. Kanaki believes that sort of craftsmanship may have impressed Steve Jobs.
And Jobs' strong interest impressed Shakunaga.

The correspondence between the two continued even after the exhibition.

After the visit, Steve Jobs' name was on the customer list of "Shorakugama": Shakunaga's atelier; actually, it was Steve Jobs' name card at NeXT, Inc. according to another Japanese blog called "Netafull."

Since then, Jobs made occasional orders to Shakunaga.
Shakunaga wasn't a technical person and he only took orders by fax.

One of my ex-Apple friends told me that Steve Jobs once asked why Japanese people are using still fax.
I don't if it was just for Shakunaga but Steve Jobs purchased fax and use it to send purchase orders to Shakunaga. Sometime, his order was typed and sometimes they were hand-written. Sometime, the order came directly from Steve Jobs and sometime, it came from Laurene Powell.

Webun, a newspaper in Toyama, interviewed Shakunaga after the passing of Steve Jobs.
In the article, Shakunaga says "I am very happy that Steve Jobs understood how good the clay for Etsu Seto is. I was so encouraged by his support. I only regret that he couldn't finally make it to Tateyama (city in Toyama)."

According to this news article, the last order Shakunaga received was in 2005, and was for "a dozen tea cups in a new style."
Shakunaga used "Kokuyu(black glaze)" unique to Etchu Seto-yaki, made 150 tea cups and pick the best 12 he found; you would find the same tea cup sent to Steve Jobs in Shakunaga's hands on Webun's article.

Shakunaga recalls "Steve Jobs lived in precise world of computing, but he had the depth to also enjoy the beauty of natural soil. He gave me inspiration by viewing my works in his own unique way."

correction & apology:
I sincerely apologize that I had mis-spelled Mr.Kanaki's name: instead of Shizuka Kanaki, I have spelled Shizuka Kaneko.

Yo's blog (Shakunaga's daughters & also his successor blog / JAPANESE):

Netafull (a famous blog in Japan by a mutual friend between me and Shakunaga's daughter):

Webun (by Kita Nihon Shimnbun):

Yukio Shakunaga's official home page(need Web browser that supports Japanese URL):釋永-由紀夫/

投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年02月11日 | Permalink