Anagama of Sekisui kiln
The Appeal of Shigaraki Ware
Shigaraki ware is a vessel fired unglazed, giving it a rough and earthen appeal (compared to the smooth texture of glazed ceramics). Its beautiful and unique texture continues to be valued today. Aside from the potter's skill, the natural beauty created by the kiln's flames is simply fascinating. Shigaraki ware stands out for its bidoro (natural glaze), which refers to the color developed by the melting of firewood ashes; and yohen, which refers to the expression's changes depending on the firewood's flames. Different kinds of yohen bring their own keshiki to the vessel, such as ishihaze, in which cracks appear around small stones within the clay; kani no me (crab eyes), in which the clay portion is fired over a long period, forming white glass-like grains reminiscent of crab eyes; and hi-iro (crimson), in which the iron within the clay turns reddish brown with the flames. Keshiki refers to the clay and glaze's expression that has been changed by the flames. It varies depending on the firing, kiln's filling, clay, modeling, and other factors. The climate (temperature, barometric pressure, humidity) and other conditions are also crucial in affecting the keshiki. These factors are why two pieces of Shigaraki ware are never the same, giving them their greatest appeal—uniqueness.Shigaraki ware (“Shigaraki sakecup” by Katsunori Sawa)
The Shigaraki ware production site owes its success to the bounty of Lake Biwa.
Shigaraki Town, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture, is located in southern Shiga Prefecture, on the border with Mie Prefecture. As the production site for Shigaraki ware, it lies above Lake Biwa, blessed by the high-quality clay deposited by the lake's movements 4 million to 400,000 years ago. Lake Biwa's soil is famous for its quality and durability. It stands out for its warm crimson color when wood-fired in a kiln, its natural bidoro glaze, and its burnt flavor, drawing out the brightness of the unglazed surface. Shigaraki clay is attractive for its texture and simplicity, and the Shigaraki pottery made from it has been loved and prized by ancient tea masters, such as Sen no Rikyu. The world of wabi-sabi has also been passed down to the present as an art form woven by clay and fire.
About Sawa's Oribe works
Sawa studied under Goro Suzuki of Aichi Prefecture, a potter who mainly made Oribe and Seto ceramics. Sawa also made Oribe ware, so we'll leave a brief explanation here.
What is Oribe ware?
Oribe ware is a type of pottery produced in the Mino region (Gifu Prefecture) during the Momoyama period (16th century), and its name is said to derive from Furuta Oribe, a warlord and tea master. The Oribe style is known for its hacho no bi (beauty in distortion), a contrast to the wabi-sabi aesthetic of Sen no Rikyu, whom Oribe looked up to as his teacher. This chaotic and asymmetric style made a great impact on the subsequent history of Japanese culture.
Oribe ware stands out for its modeling and patterns.
Its novel and unique shape is an exquisite balance between its warped form and asymmetry, which can be called the beauty of playful distortion. Notable for its abstract shape and bold deformed patterns, when combined with the green glaze poured over the vessel, it becomes akin to a contemporary abstract painting. Japan's international trade was booming in the Azuchi-Momoyama period, and colorful imported goods delighted people's eyes. The Oribe ware's fashionable design was completely different from the conventional tea bowls, earning the favor of many classy people.
There are several styles of Oribe ware featuring a variety of expressions. Vessels with Oribe glaze over their entire surface are called Sou-Oribe (Total Oribe). Meanwhile, partially Oribe-glazed vessels with iron underglaze on the rest are lovingly called Ao Oribe (Blue Oribe). Other examples include the Naruime Oribe, which is made from a combination of white and red clay, painted with white makeup, and has an iron underglaze. There is also the Yashichida Oribe, which received its name after being fired in a Yashichida Kogama kiln, featuring a unique iron underglaze and scattered Oribe glaze.
History and present of Shigaraki ware
Shigaraki ware, produced in Koga County, Shiga Prefecture, is said to have been invented in the mid-Kamakura period (around the 13th century). It descended from Tokoname ware in Aichi Prefecture and is said to be the sixth of the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan*. Like the rest of the Ancient Kilns, it was mainly produced for daily necessities, such as jars, pots, and mortars. Shigaraki ware is known for its unique rough clay and beautiful natural glaze made from wood ashes. The birudo glaze, a deep green color created by the melting wood ashes, has especially captivated many pottery enthusiasts.
Shigaraki lies near the major consumption centers of Osaka and Kyoto. At first, Shigaraki ware was only distributed to limited areas. However, starting from the latter half of the 15th century, its distribution expanded mainly in Kyoto. When people began using Shigaraki ware as tea ceremony utensils, it earned the favor of tea masters in Nara, Sakai (Osaka), Kyoto, and other regions. In the Edo period, production began of smaller Shigaraki ceramics, including teapots to fill tea offerings to the Tokugawa shoguns. At this time, pottery was supplied in large quantities, especially to the Edo castle town.
Aside from its pottery, Shigaraki is also known for its tea. In the early 15th century, Shigaraki pots were used as containers for tea leaves, and in the 16th century, these pots were highly regarded alongside Chinese and European imports. In the latter half of the 15th century, Shigaraki began producing new tea utensils, such as tea caddies, water jars, and flower vases, in response to commissions from tea masters, ushering in a new era of creativity. In the Edo period, Shigaraki began producing imperial teapots for tea offered to the shogun, and later on, in that period, glazed ceramic tea utensils were produced when tea ceremony was booming. As described, Shigaraki pottery evolved alongside tea ceremony.
Shigaraki ware is also well known for the tanuki figurines made from the early Showa period. There were already potters who specialized in making tanuki figurines, but its popularity boomed when Emperor Showa visited Shigaraki. The emperor was greeted by Shigaraki tanukis carrying flags of the rising sun as well as an arch made of braziers, one of Shigaraki's main products. The emperor was delighted, and thanks to the event's news coverage, Shigaraki-ware tanukis became the center of Japan's attention. These tanukis serve as good luck charms, often placed under the eaves of stores as a symbol of prosperity, as tanukis are associated with surpassing others.
Today, Shigaraki ware continues to inherit and pass on its history and traditions while incorporating new ideas and techniques, earning the love of many people inside and outside Japan. The beauty and functionality of Shigaraki ware are the result of its rich history, and it continues to occupy an important place in Japanese ceramic culture.
Shigaraki ware works
Shigaraki ware climbing kiln
Shigaraki ware tanuki figurines
A general term for six representative pottery kilns that have been in production from the medieval period (late Heian period) to the present day among Japan's ancient ceramic kilns.
Hyogo prefecture: Tamba ware, Aichi prefecture: Seto ware, Aichi prefecture: Tokoname ware, Shiga prefecture: Shigaraki ware, Okayama prefecture: Bizen ware, Fukui Prefecture: Echizen ware