Akiko Hirai Japanese, b. 1970

Akiko Hirai is fast becoming one of the foremost potters in the UK and her work is in high demand. She is a ceramicist who uses Japanese pottery techniques to create contemporary decorative artworks and tableware. Akiko’s forms are satisfyingly simple with deeply textured surfaces and serene, calm colours. Her Japanese cultural background and aesthetics, British training and contemporary design, all strongly influence her ceramic pieces.


Akiko Hirai was born in 1970 in Shizaoka, Japan. She studied ceramics at the University of Westminster and Central St Martins in London, graduating in 2003. After her graduation Akiko established herself as an independent potter at her studio in London. In 2005 she taught ceramics and became head of department at Kensington and Chelsea College in London, before leaving in 2015 to devote more time to her studio practice.


Akiko uses various building techniques including throwing, hand-building, casting and coiling. She applies several layers of slips and glazes to create the complex tones and textures for each ceramic piece. Often the work is fired using the reduction atmosphere in her gas kiln. Akiko will use metal and mineral rich clays with raw materials to create colours that occur from the chemical reaction during the firing process instead of coloured oxides. Akiko compares this process to the slow ageing of materials over a long period of time. Her work has a remarkable purity and is deeply textured in soft white, matt black or natural colours. The forms created are simple and satisfying. She chooses very rough dark clay and often glazes it with white or pale colours to form a veil between the rough forms underneath and the smooth calm of the exterior. Akiko’s extensive range of ceramics include fine pieces of porcelain, large moon jars, simple Morandi bottles and deeply glazed platters. The larger pieces, particularly the moon jars, are full of the drama of broadside making and the processes of firing. Akiko was inspired by a famous, early 18th century Korean moon jar owned by Bernard Leach and Lucie Rie which is now in the British Museum.


Akiko’s ceramics are held in many private collections and displayed in museums worldwide including the Victoria &Albert Museum in London, The Fitzwillam Museum in Cambridge, the National Museum of Ireland and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. She was shortlisted for the prestigious international Loewe Craft Prize in 2019.