Tobe ware Tobe yaki
To fulfill their duty and complete your soul
Tobe Ware is a form of porcelain produced around the town of Tobe in Iyo District, Ehime Prefecture. It was first produced in the middle of the Edo Period, and in 1976 the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry certified it as a traditional handicraft. Tobe is renowned for being Shikoku’s leading porcelain-producing area, and is located on the central construction line, which is rich in the raw materials used for porcelain. The porcelain culture expanded as high-quality porcelain stone was collected from mountainous regions, and many kilns remain even now.
The characteristic of Tobe Ware is its beautiful white porcelain texture, which appears to let light pass through. Compared with Arita Ware, the white porcelain texture of Tobe Ware has a slight grayness, and the coloring changes as the porcelain stone, which is the raw material used in Tobe Ware, contains components such as iron. To that extent, various solutions have been applied, with Tobe artisans improving the glaze, design artisans drawing patterns by hand, and so on. Tobe Ware continues to be loved as a familiar form of porcelain that is handmade and hand-drawn.
Tobe Ware was created in 1777, when the Oozu Domain of Oozu in Iyo Province independently researched porcelain. Originally, a grindstone called iyoto was established as a special product, but this fell into economic difficulties, and so Tobe Ware was developed as a new special product built with the scraps of Iyo grindstone as raw materials. In the Edo Period, since there was little information from other domains, Tobe Ware was produced using only proprietary technology. After the abolition of feudal domains in the Meiji Period, it became possible to import technology from famous production areas such as Karatsu and Seto, leading to rapid development. As technology enabled mass production, Tobe Ware was produced for export to Southeast Asia.
Moving from the Taisho Period into the Showa Period, porcelain-producing areas such as Seto expanded their production volumes by adopting modern technologies such as mechanical lathes, but there was a slump in handmade Tobe Ware. However, Muneyoshi YANAGI, who was famous for his folk art activities in the postwar period, highly valued the skills of producing and baking by hand, which remain as part of the appeal of Tobe Ware even today.
General Production Process
- 1. Clay production - from quarrying to production of potter’s clay
The first process carried out is quarrying. In the terrain around Tobe, porcelain stone with high iron content is often collected, and trachyandesite from the Uebi Ridge is converted into porcelain stone and used as raw material. Once porcelain stone has been quarried, the next step is to sort the stone and remove poor-quality pieces through fine grinding.
A process called elutriation is carried out to purify the porcelain stone. Gravity separation can be carried out by putting the stone into water, and the potter’s clay is completed by removing moisture and adding clay, etc. At this time, it is also essential to remove iron from the porcelain stone with a magnet. The porcelain stone is smashed over a period of 25 to 45 hours with a magnet called a “ball mill”. Once ground to a fine powder, it is put into a filter press and impurities are removed over a period of approximately 2 hours, producing pure potter’s clay.
- 2. Clay production/clay kneading
A clay-kneading machine is used to knead the potter’s clay to a homogeneous hardness. This work is carried out carefully to remove air from the soil and thereby prevent holes from opening when baking. Before mechanization, clay was kneaded by hand, but it is said that even training to perform such work would take 3 years.
- 3. Lathe casting
Lathe casting is often used as the method of casting. Since potter’s clay from Tobe is hard and is not softened by adding water, casting demands strength. The lathe is used by first placing clay onto the lathe and then striking it by hand so that the clay stays central. The next process is called tsuchikoroshi, which involves kneading while rotating the lathe and moving the clay up and down. Next, in the process known as tsuchitori, unnecessary clay is cut off so that wrinkles are applied as much as possible. A gauntlet or spatula is used as the tool for casting, a “dragonfly” gauge or surface gauge is used to adjust the size, a piece of chamois leather is used for finishing, and a potter’s wire is often used for removal from the foundation. Finally, the vessel as a whole is planed. Other types of casting that are carried out in Tobe include hand forming, mold casting where clay is poured into a plaster cast, string casting, and slab casting.
Once casting has been carried out, decoration is carried out by engraving at the half-dried stage. In order to prevent cracks from occurring in the vessel, it is important to thoroughly dry the pieces before moving on to the bisque stage.
- 4. Bisque
After checking that there are no cracks, etc. before bisque, pots are lined up inside the kiln. Once the temperature has reached 950 degrees after 18 hours, the pottery is fired for around 2 hours and the remainder is baked while reducing the temperature.
- 5. Undercoating
Undercoating is the process of drawing handwritten patterns from time immemorial. After glost firing with a special pigment called gosu, parts in which branches have been inserted become indigo blue.
- 6. Glazing
This is the process of glazing vessels that have been undercoated.
- 7. Glost firing
The final process is glost firing. Pots are fired for 15 to 24 hours at 1,300 degrees, and are removed from the kiln as finished articles after adequate cooling.
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