Osaka-born and Iga-based Watanabe Aiko is a star in the Shigaraki industry. She is one of the few women potters working in Iga and Shigaraki pottery, committed to perfecting the art and forms of ash-glazed surfaces. Shigaraki and Iga’s unglazed stoneware surfaces witnessed a golden age in domestic tastes during the Momoyama period (1573-1603), and is now experiencing a revival in popularity during the 21st century. She originally majored in painting at the Saga University of Art, but later encountered Anagama kilns and ash-fired work. She then decided to devote herself to the art of wood fired ceramics having already built three Anagama kilns in Iga.
Her ceramics are characterized by the naturalistic effects that result from Anagama wood firing. Perhaps her experience in painting has also informed her ceramic work, for her ash glazed surfaces present dynamic compositions of ash, fire, and stone complimented by the classic vermillion tones of fired, unglazed Shigaraki clay. The ash falls on the side of the piece to create balanced scrolling surface scapes of violet, olive green, white, and red. Her work is full of Wabi Sabi and Shibui sensibilities. These surfaces are a result of oscillating rhythms of oxidation and reduction that emerge from constant stoking of the fire. Watanabe compares this alternating pattern with a type of deep breathing by fire.