Tobe ware

Tobe ware Tobe yaki

Fine, delicate patterns
handmade using traditional techniques


What is Tobe ware ?

Tobe ware is ceramic produced around the town of Tobe in the Iyo District of the Ehime Prefecture. The production begun in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868) and it was registered as a traditional handcraft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1976. Tobe is renowned for being a leading ceramic ware producing area in the Shikoku region, which is located in central construction line fulfilled with raw materials used for its production. The ceramic ware culture expanded as high quality porcelain stone which was mined in the mountainous regions, and many kilns remain today.
The characteristic of Tobe ware is its beautiful white ceramic texture, which appears to let light pass through. Compared to Arita ware (made in Saga prefecture), the white ceramic texture of Tobe ware has a slight grayness touch and the coloring changes as the porcelain stone contains components such as iron. To that extent, various solutions have been applied by Tobe artisans such as improving the glaze, design drawn by design artisans, and so on. Tobe ware is still loved by people as it is a handmade traditional ceramic with familiar features.


Tobe ware - History

Tobe ware was established in 1777, when the Ohzu domain in the Iyo province independently committed to the study of ceramic ware. Originally, a grindstone called iyoto was a local specialty but suffered economic difficulties. Therefore Tobe ware was developed instead as a new local specialty made with the scraps of Iyo grindstone as raw materials.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), Tobe ware was produced using only proprietary technology since there was not enough information from other domains. After the abolition of feudal domains in the Meiji period (1868-1912), it became possible to import technologies from famous production areas such as Karatsu and Seto that led to the rapid development of Tobe ware. As technology enabled mass productions, Tobe ware began to be exported to Southeast Asia.
During the Taisho period (1912-1926) and Showa period (1926-1988), porcelain producing areas such as Seto expanded their production volumes by adopting modern technologies such as mechanical potter's wheel, while handcraft Tobe ware stagnated. However, Muneyoshi YANAGI (1889-1961), who was famous for his folk art activities during the postwar period, valued its high quality handcraft technique. Since then the fascination for Tobe ware has not faded.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Clay production The first process carried out is quarrying. In the area around Tobe, porcelain stones with high iron content are often mined, and trachyandesite from the Uebi ridge is converted into porcelain stone and used as a raw material. Once porcelain stone has been quarried, the next step is to sort the stone and remove low quality pieces through fine grinding.
    A process called elutriation is carried out to purify the porcelain stone in the next step. 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 25 to 45 hours with a magnet called a \"ball mill\". Once it is ground to a fine powder, the pure potter"s clay will be produced by putting into a filter a filter press and impurities are removed over a period of approximately 2 hours.
  2. 2. Clay production and 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 the mechanization, clay was kneaded by hand, but it is said that even training to perform such work would take 3 years.
  3. 3. Potter"s wheel forming Potter"s wheel forming is often used as a method of forming. Since potter"s clay from Tobe is hard and is not softened by adding water, molding requires power. The potter"s wheel is used by placing clay onto the potter"s wheel at first and then striking it by hand so that the clay stays central.
    The next step is pugging which involves kneading while rotating the potter"s wheel and moving the clay up and down.
    Next, in a 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 forming; 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 whole surface of the vessel gets planed. Other types of forming 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 forming has been carried out, the vessel gets decorations by engraving when it is half dried. In order to prevent cracks on the vessel, it is important to thoroughly dry the pieces before moving on to the bisque process.
  4. 4. Bisque After checking that there were no cracks, pots are lined up inside the kiln.
    When the temperature reaches 950℃ after 18 hours, the pottery is fired for around 2 hours and the remainder is baked while reducing the temperature.
  5. 5. Undercoating Undercoating is the process of drawing handwritten patterns on the item.
    The color would turn to indigo in the parts where a branch has been installed after the glost firing with a special pigment called gosu.
  6. 6. Glazing Undercoated vessels are then glazed.
  7. 7. Glost firing The final process is glost firing. Pots are fired for 15 to 24 hours at 1,300℃, and are removed from the kiln as finished articles after an adequate cooling.

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