Jill Fanshawe Kato is a British potter who has exhibited widely internationally. Originally trained as a painter, she was drawn to Japanese ceramics while living in Japan and studied with the potter Yosei Itaka. Her ceramics are inspired by the natural world and travel.
004 Jill Fanshawe Kato Asobi Sake set. Photo Setsuo Kato

The most obvious way in which Japan has influenced my life is that I first went there as a painter and came back to England as a potter. As a recent graduate in Painting from Chelsea School of Art, I had scarcely experienced the world of ceramics.

Living in a 3-tatami room in a student lodging house in the then downmarket Harajuku, I could only afford the cheapest restaurant. I clearly remember the teishoku meal served on a tray, a long samma fish served on a sparkling blue and white long rectangular plate, just right for the fish. Five varied bowls held artistically arranged pickles, soup and rice and tea was in a warm orange shino yunomi. The chef in blue and white worked behind the tiny counter, backed by shelves of blue and white ceramics. Having previously mainly encountered the big white round plate in England, I fell in love with ceramics from then on.

Early evening in Shibuya in the August heat, armies of men in identical white shirts were marching across the bridges as an amazing inflorescence of neon lights began to flower on tops of buildings in every colour, like an electrical garden. I only had 3 words of Japanese at that time and those unreadable kanji advertisements were the most exotic thing I’d ever seen.

Despite the kindnesses and the wonderful cultural experiences there were positives and negatives however, the downside for me was the rampant male chauvinism in those days and the experience of being a gaijin everywhere I went. Missing liberation and flower power, I came back to England vowing never to return to Japan.
Jill & Setsuo Kato
Life being what it is, however, I had to rethink Japan, as one of the first people I met on my return to London was Japanese photo-journalist Setsuo Kato, studying in London for 3 years but due to return to Tokyo. We were later to marry, in kimonos, in a Shinto ceremony in Tokyo, but the 3 years were a torture for me as to whether to go back to Japan or not. Eventually, Setsuo went back and sent me a return London-Tokyo-London air ticket in case I changed my mind and he also found me a lovely pottery teacher called Yosei Itaka, so my fate was sealed. I studied with Yosei for 4 years before we returned to England more or less permanently, but there began my ping-pong life as a potter, with 43 exhibitions in Japan and many in the UK and internationally. I never planned it like that, but Japan has certainly enriched my life.