Amakusa ceramics Amakusa tojiki
Ceramics and porcelain overflowing with individuality while retaining tradition
Attractive design also suited to modern living
Amakusa Ware is a form of pottery or porcelain baked in the Amakusa region of Kumamoto Prefecture. The name “Amakusa Ware” was newly applied when it was designated as a national traditional handicraft. In Amakusa, which produces good quality Amakusa porcelain stone, ceramics and porcelain have been produced for a long time, and even today the area is known as being a home to earthenware.
The characteristic of Amakusa porcelain is the beauty of its clear white porcelain. On the other hand, pottery using island clay has a characteristic individuality and simple texture. One of the four main potteries, Takahama Ware uses porcelain stone of high purity together with modern-looking, impressive coloring that combines transparent whiteness with the deep indigo blue of asbolite. Uchida-Sarayama Ware is baked not only with white porcelain, but also with celadon porcelain and dyeing. Mizunodaira Ware, which is said to be the origin of sea cucumber glaze, has unique picture patterns and attractive glossiness. Maruo Ware has a characteristically simple texture using red clay collected around the area of Maruogaoka, and various items are baked such as vases and pots, although tableware is the main item produced.
There are records showing that Amakusa Ware was already being baked when porcelain stone was discovered in about the year 1650. In Amakusa, which was under direct control of the shogunate in the early and middle parts of the Edo Period, villagers on the island supported themselves by baking ceramics and porcelain.
In Amakusa, where large quantities of quality porcelain stone are produced, ancient documents show that porcelain was being baked in Uchida-Sarayama in 1676. There are also records showing that porcelain production started in Takahama village in 1762. Furthermore, in 1765, Mizunodaira Ware was established in Mizunodaira, Hondo Village (today known as Hondo City) in Amakusa District.
Ceramics and porcelain leveraging various resources were inherited by kilns that are in use today, and in 2003 Amakusa Ware was designated as a national traditional handicraft. Today, there are 11 potteries that continue to produce ceramics and porcelain with various appearances matched to modern living while maintaining tradition.
General Production Process
- 1. Elutriation
Various forms of pottery and porcelain are produced in Amakusa using quality porcelain stone and potter’s clay collected locally. Below are the processes for production of porcelain.
First, the excavated Amakusa porcelain stone is finely ground. After adding water and stirring, the mixture is moved to a precipitation tank, where pebbles and grit settle on the bottom, and the muddy water is sieved. The mixture is then moved to another tank while removing iron content with an iron remover. This work is called “elutriation”.
- 2. Dehydration
Clay mud, which has settled at the base of the tank containing mud after removing iron, is poured into a bisque pot or a plaster pot. The clay mud is left like this until the moisture is moderated and a clay form is reached.
- 3. Rough kneading
The original clay, which has been turned into clay by foot, is kneaded and air is extracted. This makes the hardness uniform.
- 4. Laying down
In this process, clay is stored and cured in a cool, dark place with a high level of humidity. Curing is performed with organic bacteria in order to boost viscosity and improving its casting properties.
- 5. Chrysanthemum kneading
Air contained in the clay is extracted. This process makes a final adjustment to the hardness of the clay to suit the production and preferences.
- 6. Casting
In the casting process, the clay that has been formed in this way is shaped into the form of the article.
There are various casting methods such as lathe casting; slab casting, where shapes are formed using clay spread out in a sheet; forming with a coil, whereby a form is produced with string-shaped clay; mold pressing, where clay is formed by pressing against a mold; and forming by hand, where shapes are cast solely by hand.
- 7. Finishing of unglazed pottery
Unglazed pottery cast using various techniques is placed on a lathe while in a half-dried state, and planing is performed on the feet and sides. In the case of mold finishing, gloss finishing and wiping with a damp cloth are also performed to smoothen the surfaces.
- 8. Decoration
After finishing the unglazed pottery, articles are sometimes decorated. There are various decoration techniques such as inlaying, where patterns are engraved; engobing, where the surface is made white and smooth; and slip trailing, which produces a line drawing that rises by means of enamel.
- 9. Drying and bisque firing
After finishing/decorating, the unglazed articles are dried naturally indoors. Once they have been dried to a certain extent indoors, they are placed outside to dry completely.
After drying is the process of bisque firing at a temperature of around 900℃.
- 10. Undercoating
After bisque firing, asbolite paint or iron paint is used to draw pictures or patterns on the unglazed pottery.
- 11. Enamel mixture
This process involves the mixing of enamels such as transparent glaze (which brings out the color of the undercoating), iron glaze (for dark colors) and straw ash glaze (for light colors). Pigments that can be collected locally are used whenever possible, and unique enamels are mixed at each kiln.
- 12. Glazing
Glazing is the process of applying enamel to articles. There is a wealth of different techniques, including dipping articles into enamel, dripping enamel onto articles with a ladle, spraying of enamel, and paintbrush application.
- 13. Loading pots into the kiln
Glazed articles are places inside the kiln. Shelving and braced shelves are assembled, and articles are lined up in between. A trial sample is also placed inside the kiln together with the other articles.
- 14. Firing (glost firing)
Firing is carried out at a temperature of around 1,300℃. Firing time varies depending on the article. The conditions inside the kiln are observed through a window, and the sample trial piece is removed to check the state of the glaze once the enamel has melted.
After maintaining the temperature for a fixed period of time, the kiln is cooled. Articles are removed from the kiln once the temperature of the kiln reaches about 100℃.
- 15. Overcoating
Porcelain that has been through the firing (glost firing) process is decorated with paint used for overcoating.
- 16. Overcoating and firing
Articles that have been decorated are placed inside the kiln again, fired at around 800℃, and then overcoated with paint and baked.
- 17. Removal of pots from the kiln
Pots are removed from the kiln once the kiln reaches a temperature of about 100℃.
- 18. Inspection
Articles are carefully inspected for their coloring and the presence of any cracks or defects.
- 19. Completion
Articles that have passed the inspections without problems are complete.
Where to Buy & More Information
Kumamoto Perfectural Traditional Craft Center
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