Shigaraki ware

Shigaraki ware Shigaraki yaki

One of Japan's Six Ancient Kilns
Specialist of the firing deformation


What is Shigaraki ware ?

Shigaraki ware is a type of pottery made around the town of Shigaraki in the Shiga prefecture.
Clays such as kibushi, mizuchi, gairome and other materials are kneaded together to make a strong potter's clay that can be used to make thick pottery and large pottery vessels.
One characteristic of Shigaraki ware is that it is made using coarse soil so it is highly fire-resistant. In the firing process, it acquires pink or other shades of red, becoming red with scarlet and brown overtones.
Its white clay takes on a scarlet glow called kamaaji. It is kamaaji that gives Shigaraki its unique warm coloring, thanks to subtle changes that depend on the temperature and the method of firing.
The dark brown color that the pottery takes on when its bottom portion has gotten buried in the ashes that remain after the complete combustion of the wood in the kiln gives it a soft appearance. The fact that this pottery is glazed also helps giving the surface a smooth look. The rusty patina on the scorched portions of Shigaraki ware is prized in tea utensils.
Unlike other potteries, Shigaraki ware gives us a glimpse of a rustic warmth and rich expression like that of human skin.


Shigaraki ware is one of Japan’s Six Ancient Kilns : together with Bizen, Tamba, Echizen, Seto and Tokoname, it is considered to be one of the most oustanding Japanese kilns with traditions that remain down to this day. It is said to have originated in the Tempyo period (729-749), when the Emperor Shomu had tiles fired for the construction of the Shigaraki Palace.
Up until the middle of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), its main products were things like water jugs, but with the development of the tea ceremony in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1600), the production of tea utensils increased. Excellent tea utensils such as those used in the tea ceremony were produced, and the qualities of wabi (quiet simplicity) and sabi (subdued refinement) that belong to Shigaraki ware are still present today. In the Edo period (1603-1868), the business of manufacturing various utensils for daily use expanded with the making of articles such as sake bottles and earthenware pots.
Many of the hibachi pots (traditional brazier) often used in most households are Shigaraki ware made from the Taisho period (1912-1926) until WWII. In fact, Shigaraki ware accounted for 80% of all the hibachi pots sold within the country.
People love its texture, reminiscent of the feeling and warmth of the soil; and a wide variety of the ware, from vases and tableware to ornaments and tiles, is now used as interior designs.
In 1976 Shigaraki ware was designated as a National Traditional Craft. Japanese raccoon dog (tanuki) figurines became a sort of synonym for Shigaraki ware, and Shigaraki is popularly referred to as “Shigaraki, the pottery town”.

General Production Process

  1. 1.Creating the form The clay used in Shigaraki-ware is taken from an ancient layer that accumulated at the bottom of the lake Biwa, at the North of Kyoto. The soil, which started building up around four million years ago, is refractory and can produce the rustic texture and the warm scarlet coloration of Shigaraki pottery. The soil that has been dug out is mixed to become a malleable potter’s clay. It is then crushed along with other materials and kneaded well with water to give it an even better texture. The resulting clay, depending on its type, is further wedged in a kneading machine.
  2. 2.Applying a design A design is applied to the molded vessel by carving, marking, or using other methods.
    Decorative patterns are applied too. Famous ones are matsukawa, a pine bark or inka, small flowers.
  3. 3.Underglaze painting In some cases, the artisan paints the decoration by hand. In underglaze painting, decoration is applied using iron sand or zaffer.
  4. 4.Glazing After the biscuit firing, the green body is glazed. Feldspar, limestone, silica and iron oxide are mixed together and an air gun, brushes or ladle are used to glaze the piece.
    During the firing, the glaze melts and gives a different impression as it takes on a bright color, revealing the skills and originality of each potter. When the glaze is too thick, it doesn"t melt, even when fired, and fails to take on a beautiful coloration, or it crawls. In the same way, when it is too thin, the color is "eaten by the raw clay" exposing the underlying color just as it is; so this is a process requiring experience and skills.
  5. 5.Glost firing The products arranged in the kiln are fired at a high temperature of 1200℃ or more. The special texture of Shigaraki-ware dates back to ancient times, when pottery was fired in a wood-burning climbing kiln and the ashes and soil vitrified in the flames, creating a natural glaze. Nowadays, there are potters who use gas kilns or electric kilns, which provide stable heat. Because the quality of the finished pottery depends on the environment (the temperature, humidity etc), the potter doesn’t know how it will turn out until the kiln is opened. Firing Shigaraki-ware requires to pay a lot of attention to traditons as well as modern sensibilities and techniques.
    After the pieces have been loaded and fired for more than 24 hours, the work of unloading begins. The temperature at the time of unloading is about 200℃, so the workers wear work gloves and may take other precautions to avoid being burned while doing the job. Each piece"s mouth and bottow is then polished again as a finishing touch.

Where to Buy & More Information

Traditional Craft Center of Shigarayaki

Traditional Craft Center of Shigarayaki ©Biwako Visitors Bureau

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