Karatsu ware Karatsu yaki
Fill these potteries with flowers or food
To fulfill their duty and complete your soul
Karatsu ware is a form of porcelain produced in the Saga and Nagasaki prefectures. This traditional handicraft has been produced since the 16th century in various forms, including tea bowls. One of the most noticeable characteristics of Karatsu ware is the way in which it retains the flavor of the clay in a simple manner, without looking too rustic.
During the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1600), Karatsu ware was treasured for its vessels, which were famously used in tea ceremonies along with Raku ware and Hagi ware, which were respectively produced in Kyoto and Yamaguchi. Both Raku ware and Hagi ware have a history of around 400 years, making them more recent potteries than Karatsu ware.
Karatsu ware fits well in the traditional concept of wabi-sabi: an imperfect, impermanent and incomplete simple beauty. The preference for simple, deep sensations in tea ceremonies is well represented with Karatsu ware, although there are many other pieces than tea bowls.
Designs such as flowers, birds and trees are drawn on a certain type of pottery called e-karatsu (literally, "picture Karatsu").
Korean Karatsu, which is said to have been handed down from the Joseon dynasty, is also popular for its attractive expression combining black iron glaze and white straw ash glaze.
Various other styles also exist, such as speckled Karatsu.
Karatsu ware is said to have first been produced by Korean artisans around the year 1592, when Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI took part in the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598). However, recent researches suggest an alternative theory that Karatsu ware was first created around the year 1580.
At first, Karatsu ware was used as tableware for daily use, but as the simplicity and sense of wabi-sabi (see top parapraph) inherent in Karatsu ware became more and more popular, it gradually came to be used for tea ceremony vessels as well. Its position as a famous tea ceremony product was established in the Momoyama period (end of the 16th century), and in western Japan it became so famous that "Karatsu ware" was even synonymous with the term "porcelain".
However, from the Edo period (1603-1868) onward, the mountain was ruined by a flood of kiln sites and the Saga domain began to take control. By demolishing the flooded potteries and concentrating on Arita, the Saga domain caused a drastic reduction in the number of potteries.
During the Meiji period (1868-1912) too, potteries continued to dwindle, but the technology was later restored by Muan NAKAZATO, a Living National Treasure artist.
General Production Process
- 1.Mining the potter’s clay
Since the appeal of Karatsu ware is that the characteristics of the clay appear in the finished article, to the extent that pieces are described as being "determined by the clay", the first and most important process is to find and mine clay that is suitable for the desired style.
The mined clay is first shaved with a sickle. After the clay has been piled in a mountain shape, it is shaved and smoothened with a typical hammer called a donjii. By carrying out this work with care, the earthenware itself will have superior quality finish.
- 2.Pressing the clay
Water is mixed with the shaved clay and the whole is pressed as it is. Once it becomes disk-shaped, the clay is cut and pressed again.
Since it takes a certain amount of time to imbue the sense of hardness of the clay, this process is very demanding in terms of intuition and experience of the artisan. Pieces are modified by relying on internal intuition, and the clay is repeatedly pressed before being shaped into balls for casting.
- 3.Kneading the clay
This process is about carefully kneading the clay to remove air from inside it as a thorough kneading produces an even grain.
The kneaded clay is molded into a shell shape.
There are various methods of casting, but the most common one is by using a potter’s wheel. This is also known as "water grinding", as hands can be smoothly applied to a potter’s wheel by wetting the hands with water. Electric potter’s wheels are also used, and before, traditional forms of them such as kick potter’s wheels were used too.
Another technique used is known as tataki and involves turning the clay into a tall cylinder form, placing wood on the inside of the cylinder, and striking it from the outside.
Other techniques exist but in any case, casts that are suited to the particular form of earthenware are used.
Once the casting has been completed, the feet are cut and the pieces are dried naturally.
Decoration is carried out using traditional techniques such as engraving, combing and brushing.
Bisque (the first firing before any glaze is applied) is sometimes also carried out at a low temperature prior to decorating.
The main tools used for painting are writing brushes and painting brushes, but some artisans also draw with their fingers or bamboo.
In this process, where vessels that don’t have flat surfaces are painted onto directly, it is difficult to apply designs exactly as intended because there is no opportunity for retouching, so this work requires a lot of experience and dexterity.
Once painted, the pieces are glazed and dried.
- 7.Glost firing
This is the final process of making Karatsu ware. The works are loaded into the kiln and the glaze is fired.
Once the firing begins, the pieces are baked at a high temperature of around 1250 to 1300℃. Concentration and skills are required, as the firing process has a large influence on the texture of the finished articles.
Where to Buy & More Information
Kyushu Ceramic Museum
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