Shodai ware

Shodai ware Shodai yaki

Strong, bold compositions expressed within simplicity
Pottery overflowing with 400 years of history


Shodai Ware is a form of pottery baked mainly in the northern part of Kumamoto Prefecture, in places such as Nankan Town, Arao City, Nagasu City, Kumamoto City and Matsubase-machi.
The characteristics of Shodai Ware are its simple texture, strong form and bold design, thanks to the pouring of enamel. Rough Shodai clay with high iron content is used as the potter’s clay, and this is covered with dark reddish-brown enamel, but its characteristic design is produced by pouring differently colored enamels such as yellow and white enamels produced from the ash of straw or bamboo grass. There are three categories depending on differences in the mixture of enamel: blue Shodai, yellow Shodai and white Shodai. Shodai Ware has also been called “gotoku-yaki“ because of its five virtues: it does not corrode, does not transmit odor, is protected from moisture, has anti-poison effects, and a long life span. This makes clear the reasons why Shodai Ware has become popular not only as tea utensils, but also as highly practical tableware for daily use.


Shodai Ware is said to have begun in 1632, when Tadatoshi HOSOKAWA, who was relocated from Bungo Province to Higo Province, took up a new post alongside potters Genshichi (founder of the Hinkoji family) and Hachizaemon (founder of the Katsuragi family), and started baking earthenware at a kiln opened at the base of Shotaizan. As the official kiln of the Hosokawa family, this kiln was in old times used to bake articles for daily use (mainly tea utensils) and braziers. Thereafter, due to the Domain’s policy of promoting industry and the patronage of the Hosokawa family, the Senoue Kiln was established by the mountain magistrate Rin-emon SENOUE in 1836, and the number of potteries increased and developed as the Shodai Ware techniques were inherited. However, after the Meiji Restoration, the rise of Arita Ware and Seto Ware led to a period of decline as kilns were abandoned in succession. In the Showa Period, Chitaro CHIKASHIGE and Heijiro JOJIMA made additional efforts to revive Shodai Ware, and as a result it returned to the limelight.
The number of Shodai Ware kilns around the base of Shotaizan has also increased, and today there are 12 potteries producing Shodai Ware.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Collection of base clay The base clay of Shodai Ware is collected from clay beds around Shotaizan in Arao City, Kumamoto Prefecture. This clay, which is known as Shodai clay, contains a large amount of iron and pebbles, and produces Shodai Ware’s characteristically coarse, simple disposition.
  2. 2. Drying The collected clay is dried outdoors under sunlight. Excess alkali is removed by thoroughly drying under sunlight, and this also makes it less likely to develop cracks.
  3. 3. Elutriation The dried clay is ground and then stirred with water in a water tank for elutriation. At this time, any deposited rubbish, grit or stones are removed and muddy water is filtered into a separate water tank. Clay that has been left to settle is removed, and is dried under sunlight in a bisque pot.
  4. 4. Laying Once clay has been dried and has reached a moderate hardness, it is moved to indoor storage. “Laying” refers to leaving the pieces untouched for a while, and this process increases bacteria inside the clay, and their secretion results in a finer grain of clay, producing smooth, soft clay with strong viscosity. If the clay has a fine grain, its rate of shrinkage will become small, which will make it difficult for cracks to appear, and craft will become easier to perform when there is strong viscosity. Therefore, the “laying” process is an important process in the production of ceramics.
  5. 5. Clay kneading Clay that has been laid and cured is then kneaded thoroughly, and moisture is removed from inside the clay. There are two clay kneading processes: wedging, and chrysanthemum kneading. Firstly, in order to make the softness of the clay even, wedging is carried out by foot or with a clay kneading machine. Next, steady “chrysanthemum kneading” by hand expels air from inside the clay. By repeatedly kneading, the hardness of the clay is evenly spread, and a good condition is achieved with excellent extension and no air bubbles. This process also makes pieces less likely to scratch and easier to cast.
  6. 6. Casting There are various casting techniques. These include lathe casting, mold press casting using a plaster mold, hand twist casting in which models are produced by hand, slab casting in which clay is shaped into slabs and joined, and forming with coils where clay is shaped into coils and modeled.
  7. 7. Unglazed pottery finishing Finishing is then carried out once a half-dried, moderately hard state has been reached 1 to 2 days after casting. Other decoration is also performed such as cutting the base, attachment of spouts and handles to teapots, beveling, fretwork and inlaying.
  8. 8. Drying Pieces are naturally dried in the shade, slowly removing their moisture. If moisture remains inside the clay, the pieces will break when firing inside the kiln, and sudden drying could cause moisture to remain inside without drying uniformly, bending, distortion, or the appearance of cracks. It is important to dry the articles slowly in an environment with stable humidity and temperature.
  9. 9. Bisque Bisque firing is carried out at 800-900°C for around 8 hours. Thereafter, the pieces are left inside the kiln without opening the lid until the temperature naturally becomes cool. Bisque firing makes it possible to improve the application of enamel.
  10. 10. Enamel mixing Enamel is the glass-like part that covers the surfaces of ceramics and porcelain, and is used to impart water resistance, lustre, color and patterns. It is produced by mixing clay dissolved in water with ash or finely ground feldspar, or with ore containing iron. The ash that is used is derived from plants such as straw, bamboo grass or hay, or from sources of wood such as various small trees, evergreen oak, Japanese cedar or pine.
  11. 11. Glazing The enamels used with Shodai Ware are charcoal enamel, straw ash enamel, bamboo grass ash enamel, hay ash enamel, and iron enamel. Subtle differences in the composition of enamel or the temperature or conditions when firing will produce changes to color, and there are three characteristic color groups: blue Shodai, yellow Shodai, and white Shodai. There are also various glazing techniques that are said to be characteristic of Shodai Ware, including hitashi-gake (dipping), shaku-gake (ladling), uchinagashi (sprinkling), fukikake (spouting), nurikake (coating), icchin-gake (slip trailing), janome (bullseye), and niju-gake (double-layer application).
  12. 12. Loading pots into the kiln Pots to be fired are loaded into the kiln. Loading requires thorough consideration of adhesion between fired containers, the state of ash application, shrinking and softening, the height and direction of containers, and the area around the fire and its passage.
  13. 13. Glost firing While bisque firing was carried out at around 800-900°C, pieces are now baked for around 10 hours at a high temperature of 1,300°C. Depending on conditions such as the season and weather, the way in which the kiln burns will change, so it is important to carry out work in accordance with the conditions.
  14. 14. Removal of pots from the kiln After firing, items are removed from the kiln after having waited for the temperature to cool naturally. Pieces may break if the kiln lid is opened before the temperature has cooled. It is necessary to wait for around 10 hours for the kiln to cool completely.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kumamoto Perfectural Traditional Craft Center

Kumamoto Perfectural Traditional Craft Center Photo:Kumamoto Prefecture