From the Town of Usuki to the World. The “USUKIYAKI Research Institute” to bring the fantastic pottery to the present day.

From the Town of Usuki to the World. The "USUKIYAKI Research Institute" to bring the fantastic pottery to the present day.

Located in the southeastern part of Oita Prefecture, Usuki is a town with a cultural atmosphere, with the Usuki Stone Buddha, the first Buddha sculpture in Japan and the first sculpture in Kyushu to be designated a national treasure, and a castle town with a rich history. Fascinated by the pottery culture preserved in the unique atmosphere of Usuki, we visited Hiroyuki Usami, who has carved a new history for the town.

Culture of the town “Usuki

Usuki City in Oita Prefecture is a town with a rich natural environment and a variety of history and culture, including a castle town represented by the Niouza Historical Road. Among other things, it is widely known as a “food town” with products from the sea and the mountains. Typical examples are the miso, soy sauce, and sake brewing industries, in which people have preserved and improved on traditions. In 2021, the town was recognized as a member of the Food Culture Division of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for 2021 in recognition of the food culture that has been preserved. In 2021, Usuki was certified as a member of the Food Culture Division of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. 

About 200 years ago, in the late Edo period, potters from Shimabara (Nagasaki), Koishiwara (Fukuoka), and Komine (Miyazaki) were invited to Usuki to make ceramics and porcelain for the Usuki clan. Hiroyuki Usami, president of the “USUKIYAKI Laboratory,” has focused his attention on this mysterious ceramic culture.

The path to the establishment of the USUKIYAKI Research Institute

Mr. Usami first encountered pottery when he was in art school. He always wanted to combine art and pottery, which was his major since he was still a student, and work with them. After graduation, he returned to his hometown of Usuki, where he took over his family’s restaurant serving local cuisine, while at the same time working in tourism. While dealing with dishes, he came to know that there was pottery in his hometown that was dying out, and he thought, “I would like to combine my pottery skills with it and make Usuki’s unique brand even one step forward. At the same time, he also wanted to revive Usuki’s ceramic culture that had ceased to exist, so he established the “USUKIYAKI Laboratory” in 2015 with his friends who had been making pottery in Oita. The institute was born out of the desire to renew the pottery culture of Usuki that once existed, and to create it from scratch.

Neat and beautiful white porcelain ring flower

The pottery of Usuki, which ceased to exist after only a dozen years, was locally called “Suehiro-yaki” or “Sarayama-yaki” because the kiln at that time was located in the Suehiro Zempoji area (commonly known as Sarayama). The first “Suehiro (Sarayama) Pottery” Usami encountered was a small bowl just right for ice cream. The moment he saw the chrysanthemum-shaped white porcelain rinka, he was drawn to it. The culture of Usuki, where the spirit of “frugality and thrift” has been nurtured since ancient times, and the simple but elegant white porcelain rinka were intuitively suited to the image of the bowls they wanted to produce. Mr. Usami named the series “Usukiyaki” with his desire to develop a series of white porcelain ring and ridge flowers with traditional motifs of chrysanthemums and lotuses, and his wish for the revitalization of the local community of Usuki.

We want to create products that can be used and cherished for a long time.

The motif of “Usuki Pottery” is the rich nature in the town of Usuki. The inspiration comes from various things such as flowers and grass, wind, and landscapes consisting of the sea and mountains. The matte white color with beautiful shadows and shadows, and designs with modern arrangements of traditional motifs such as chrysanthemums and lotuses, which have taken root in Usuki since ancient times, are the characteristics of this pottery. Based on the few remaining materials and existing works, the pieces are made by a combination of katauchi molding, in which a mold is made by placing a raw clay sheet on a plaster mold and transferring it to the mold, and rokuro (a wheel) grinding. Since most of the work is done by hand, Usukine-yaki vessels are completed with a handmade texture. The use of a matte glaze gives the vessels a soft and comfortable feel when you hold them in your hands. Although it takes time to complete, the “USUKIYAKI Laboratory” uses limited resources with great care and spares no effort, aiming to create products that people will use for a long time. The products unique to this region, born from the abundance of nature, are only completed when both “makers” and “users” carefully nurture them.

A group of professionals who share the vision of “Usukine-yaki

The people behind “USUKIYAKI” are a group of professionals not only in ceramics but also in various other fields. The studio started with a small number of people, but now the number of staff has increased to two locations: “USUKIYAKI Laboratory” and “Atelier Sarayama”. The work is completed by a division of labor between locals, immigrants, and members of different generations, genders, and nationalities. If we made the work too difficult, we would not be able to increase the number of craftsmen, so we looked for a way to divide the labor, and we settled on the current method of “katauchi” (mold making). Mr. Usami, who started the institute with the desire to create pottery work in Usuki, is expanding the base of craftsmen’s activities by dividing the workload.


Usukine-yaki is a simple yet elegant dishware that adds color to dishes.

We are happy if Usukine-yaki is useful as a tool for spreading awareness of Usuki’s food,” says Usami. Usuki is a town that has established a soil cultivation center and produces compost for organic vegetables, which is rare in Japan. For this reason, many young farmers from all over Japan have moved to Usuki, saying they want to farm in Usuki. In order to promote such local efforts, Mr. Usami is introducing the taste of Usuki to people through “USAMI,” a local cuisine restaurant that offers creative dishes using locally grown organic vegetables, and “Sarayama Tea Room,” where seasonal sweets and authentic Chinese tea can be enjoyed.

He says, “A vessel comes alive only when it is used to serve food. The institute’s belief is that “a vessel is a frame for a dish. Usuki ware is born from people’s daily life and is used in their daily life. Usukine-yaki” is not only white and beautiful, but also has multifaceted charms such as its simplicity and usability that can be blended into any lifestyle.

Beyond “Usuki Ware

Mr. Usami says, “The most important thing I want to convey through ‘Usuki Pottery’ is to make people interested in the town of Usuki and visit there. What he wants to convey most through “Usuki Pottery” is that he wants people to be interested in the town of Usuki and to visit the place called Usuki.

While the number of visitors to Usuki decreased during the Corona Disaster after 2020, online orders for vessels increased. Although the timing was just right for them to consider overseas expansion, they found that they could display and ship their products and communicate with customers online without having to visit. On the other hand, they were so busy making orders that they were unable to fulfill their original wish of having people come to their hometowns and actually touch and see the vessels while they were selling them. This experience led him to seek a place not only for a store, but also for a place where people can have a relaxing experience of eating, drinking, and enjoying tea, and he completed “USUKI SARAYAMA,” a space for experiencing food and tableware. The space consists of a gallery where Usuki ware is exhibited and sold, an atelier where visitors can experience molding and metal-joining and observe the production process, a coffee shop, and a baked sweets studio, where visitors can experience “making, seeing, and touching”. Various events are held throughout the year where visitors can enjoy dishes and seasonal meals, creating a warm and welcoming place for new communication with customers.

Usami’s heart is always filled with the desire to “promote Usuki, a small town, to the whole country and to the world. The origin of his activities is the encouragement he received from people from Oita and Usuki all over the world when he started “Usuki Pottery”, and he wants to give back to them.

Usukine-yaki, which carries the feelings of people who love and live with Usuki, will continue to be connected to the world.


USUKIYAKI Research Institute
9-1 Kukai, Usuki City, Oita Prefecture
TEL 0972-65-3113