Mashiko ware Mashiko yaki
Familiar vessels for everyday use
that bring out the soil's feeling
Mashiko ware is produced in the area around the town of Mashiko in the Tochigi prefecture. The clay used in Mashiko ware is rich in silicic acid and iron with a high plasticity, making it is easy to shape and highly fire-resistant. Unlike other potteries, no extra ingredients are added to the clay; this is the secret behind Mashiko ware's thickness.
Some point out that this pottery is heavy and fragile but we can also say that this familiar feeling which can only be found in Mashiko ware is what makes it so charming.
Mashiko ware's glazes are made with stone powder and scrap iron powder and the colors are laid on with dog-hair brushes. This creates a round look as well as giving depth to the colors.
Mashiko ware is easy to glaze which enables the artisans to use various traditional techniques, such as white engobe or brush marks, to create unique powerful pieces.
Mashiko ware was created at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). It is considered to have begun in 1853 when Keizaburo OTSUKA set up a Mashiko pottery business in what is now the borrow of Negoya in Mashiko. Otsuka had studied in the domain of the Kasama clan in the Hitachi province, which is now the city of Kasama in the central region of Ibaraki. With support from the clan, Mashiko ware was produced for everyday use and items such as water jars and pots were so popular in Mashiko that they were even used in Edo (Tokyo's ancient name).
During the Showa period (1912-1988), a man from Mashiko named Shoji HAMADA began to make vases and tableware. His goal was to develop the idea of an "useful beauty" and that actually using artworks makes them even more beautiful. The people at the time were not used to that kind of thinking but they came to recognize and enjoy that artworks can be used in the daily life. His ideas influenced many young potters and helped make Mashiko ware what it is today.
1951 saw the start of the "Tochigi Prefecture Ceramics Land Industry Cooperative", now renamed "Mashiko ware cooperative". In 1979, Mashiko ware was designated as a national traditional craft.
Mashiko also keeps on evolving as a pottery producing area, where a pottery market is held every year in the spring and in the fall.
General Production Process
- 1.Mining the clay
The clay that is mined must be of the right plasticity to be used in Mashiko ware. It cannot be too sticky or too weak, or it will develop cracks as it dries or fail to maintain its shape during the biscuit firing.
The quality of the mined clay has a great influence on the quality of the final product.
- 2.Elutriation This is the process of refining the mined clay so it can be used to make Mashiko ware. The clay is dried and pulverized; after that, it is put into a tank of water, where it is stirred, and any impurities like dirt or sand that come to the top are removed. What remains is transferred to another tank and allowed to settle; then it is dried again.
- 3.Kneading the clay
This process, in addition to removing impurities and air, makes the clay uniform and easy to handle and mold on the potter’s wheel.
Since the form of the clay resembles a chrysanthemum while it is being kneaded, the process is called "chrysanthemum kneading".
It involves repeated rough wedging and fine wedging. Depending on the state of the clay, two types may be kneaded together to compensate for any defects.
After pugging, the clay is allowed to rest for several days to stabilize it.
Using a potter’s wheel is the main way of forming Mashiko ware. After being formed, the pottery is dried in the sun until moderately hard, and then the shape is fine-tuned and finished by trimming on the wheel.
After the piece has undergone this process, it is allowed to dry in the open air until there have been enough days of good weather for it to become sufficiently dry; this completes the forming process.
A piece may also be formed by die-molding, using plaster to make a mold and dispensing with the use of a potter’s wheel, or by slab-building, using clay shaped into a flat slab.
- 5.Biscuit firing
The biscuit firing is the first firing of the pieces. It is done in order to better absorb pigments and glaze and prevent the dried clay from becoming weak, strengthening it and preventing damage.
In many cases, the same kiln is used for biscuit firing and glost firing, and the biscuit firing is done at a low temperature between 700 and 800℃.
If the drying is insufficient, it may break or crack.
- 6.Underglaze painting / Glazing
The pigments and glazes used on Mashiko ware contain metals such as iron, copper, manganese, cobalt, and chrome, which undergo a chemical reaction when pieces are fired at a high temperature.
The base of Mashiko ware glazes is a clear glaze consisting of feldspar material to which charcoal or coal and clay have been added. There are five main types of glazes, which are used selectively, lending special flavors to the product. There are persimmon glazes and black glazes with natural red powder or ocher, bran-white glazes with straw ash, wood ash, rice bran ash, etc.
Some pieces of Mashiko ware, after being decorated, are glazed using a method called nurikake, which involves applying the glaze with a dog-hair brush.
- 7.Firing and unloading
After the glazing comes the process called firing, which consists in baking the pieces in a kiln for 48 to 72 hours at 1200 to 1300℃.
This firing is also called glost firing to distinguish it from biscuit firing. Wood was formerly used as the fuel for firing; but more recently, gas kilns have come into wide use.
The results of firing differ depending on the type of firing: it can be oxidation firing, in which the amount of oxygen is increased, or reduction firing, in which the amount of oxygen is reduced for a set period of time.
The pieces are then unloaded after being allowed to cool for about two days.