Tokoname ware Tokoname yaki
One of Japan's Six Ancient Kilns
Loved throughout Japan for over 1000 years
What is Tokoname ware ?
Tokoname ware is a form of ceramic pottery that is produced in the area around the city of Tokoname in the Aichi Prefecture. This traditional handicraft comes from one of the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan and was created in the latter part of the Heian period (794-1185). It is renowned as a form of porcelain produced over a long period of time ever since the Middle Ages.
It uses potter's clay containing a large amount of iron collected from the Chita Peninsula. Its unique color is produced by using the chemical behavior of the iron which appears in red and is called shudei (the unglazed reddish brown pottery). Various articles such as teacups and flowerpots have been produced, but the small iron teapots are favored today because the iron is said to smoothen the bitterness and astringency of tea.
There are many kilns on the hills of the Chita Peninsula in the Aichi Prefecture, and since the ancient times artisans have been working there using traditional techniques. These artisans, who produce high quality articles, have inherited their skills from a 1,000 year old history. They are still using traditional techniques such as "hand twisting casting" which has been used from the Heian period. A technique called yoriko tsukuri is used when producing large items such as large jars. Other techniques include pressing when producing tray planting pot (bonsai pots) and potter's wheel casting with an electric potter's wheel.
The origin of Tokoname ware goes back to the end of the Heian period (794-1185). It is said that at that time Tokoname had approximately 3,000 cellar kilns called anagama formed by digging holes in the hillside. Tokoname was the biggest pottery producing area even among the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan.
Old Tokoname ware produced during this period is the prototype of the Tokoname ware we know today, and its products have changed over the course of Japanese history. The main products were large containers such as large bottles and pots, but also small items such as containers used in tea ceremonies and flower arrangement as well as daily necessities that appeared in the Edo period (1603-1868).
Tea utensils called shudei were also produced from the end of the Edo period to the early Meiji period (1868-1912). The most popular small teapots of Tokoname ware were also first produced during the Edo period.
Moving onto the Meiji period, modernization has progressed with the change of lives of Japanese people influenced by other countries. As railroads started running, strong raw materials were in demand for waterway construction work between the lines, and the demand for tightly packed Tokoname ware earthen pipes increased accordingly.
During the Taisho period (1912-1926), buildings were frequently designed with tiles and architectural ceramics was very demanded.
The techniques of Tokoname ware were preserved over the generations and are nationally registered as traditional handcrafts.
General Production Process
- 1. Kneading the clay
Since there are various Tokoname ware products, this explanation covers only the work processes of shudei small teapots.
The first process is to extract finer clay from the collected clay. The finest selected clay is kneaded thoroughly until it reaches a muddy liquid state.
- 2. Work on a Potter's wheel
Small teapots are cast one part at a time: the trunk, the lid, the handle and the spout.
First, the body is placed on the potter's wheel and rotated. Little by little, using a spatula or a similar implement, an oval form is smoothened. Once the body is finished, the artisan moves onto other parts which will be finished on the potter's wheel as well. The pieces are dried and smoothened with care to ensure that each piece is dried to the same extent.
- 3. Finishing each part
As the drying progresses and the pieces become hard, unnecessary parts are removed to make them neat.
Minor adjustments are made in order to ensure the body and lid perfectly match.
The tip for producing a high quality product is to finish the pieces as finely as possible in this step before the product is dried.
- 4. Assembly
The spout and handle are attached to the body. Circular openings are made in the body using a special tool, and the other parts are then joined.
The finished state will be affected if these parts do not fit together perfectly so this process requires high skills.
The state of drying and hardness must also be carefully checked during this step.
- 5. Drying
Cracks or deformations may occur during this step if the artisan is not careful. This is an important process before moving on to the final one.
The pieces are dried slowly over time. The state of drying will be altered with even slight changes of temperature or humidity, etc., so the pieces must be dried uniformly while making adjustments.
- 6. Polishing of unglazed pottery
Polishing of unglazed pottery is a work process that involves polishing with a cloth or anything for polishment until gloss appears on the surface.
A beautiful gloss is ultimately produced by polishing the pieces many times.
- 7. Engraving
This process involves patterning before placing the pieces into the kiln.
This is when the craftsmanship of the artisan stands out the most, as various engravings are made using a seal engraving knife.
- 8. Firing
Small teapots that have been dried and engraved are loaded inside the kiln. Once piled up, the kiln door is closed and the pieces are fired for around 12 to 18 hours at a temperature of approximately 1,100℃.
In the old times, it was necessary to manually adjust the kiln temperature in order to maintain a stable temperature, but today it is controlled by computer technology. The fire color changes drastically depending on this temperature adjustment.
After the firing, the pieces are removed from the kiln after about one day. The small teapots shrink to about 80% of their pre-firing size.
- 9. Inking and rising
In this process the small teapots are given one last polishment.
Then, the outlines of the patterns engraved on the small teapots are clearly expressed by applying ink to the engraved parts.
Once the ink has been washed away, the pattern comes to the fore and looks beautiful.
- 10. Finishing
The final process is precision surface finishing. One of Tokoname ware's selling point is its excellent airtight quality, so the lid and body are carefully given precision surface finishing.
By producing one piece at a time, the lids and body fit together perfectly, so slight gaps can be seen when paired with different lids. The shudei small teapot is now complete.
Where to Buy & More Information
Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum
ClosedMondays (open if holiday and closed on Tuesday) December 29 to 31
Business Hours9:30am to 4:30pm
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