The pottery of Shigaraki
Shigaraki pottery originated in the region of the same name in what is now the Kōka district of Japan’s Shiga Prefecture. Its kiln, which is one of the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan, has been in production for hundreds of years.
The history of pottery production in the city is more than a thousand years old. In 742 AD, Emperor Shomu briefly moved to the area. Local kilns then began to produce tiles.
Many of the most popular pieces of Shigaraki pottery today are their tanuki figures.
Shigaraki pottery and the Tanuki figures
Today, Shigaraki is known for these beautiful pottery figures. Takuni or Bake-danuki figurines represent chubby raccoon-like animals that are part of Japanese folklore.
They are very popular in contemporary Japanese pottery. They can be found on the doors of houses and stores in many places in Japan. They are cute creatures with magical powers.
Handcrafted Tanuki figurines of good fortune made by From Tokyo Store
If you’ve ever been curious about Shigaraki pottery, you’ve no doubt come across the town’s traditional Nobori-gama kilns. These kilns, related to the Anagama kiln have several chambers and are built into the side of a steep hill. This method allows for faster and more efficient firing. Traditionally, a craftsman would fire the lowest chamber of the kiln and let it burn all the way to the top. Usually, the entire kiln was left to burn for a few days before the next firing.
Today, many nobori-gama kilns are still standing, although most are no longer in use. One of the largest, located in Shigaraki’s Soto-en, has eleven chambers and is more than 15 meters long and wide. At the time of traditional Shigaraki pottery, the nobori-gama was used to fire Sue pottery.
The clay used in Shigaraki is rich in quartz and coarse feldspar. The quartz content in the clay allows it to self-glaze, and the feldspar adds white flecks to the surface of the clay. The use of wood in the kiln also contributes to the aesthetic appeal of the pottery. Soto-en uses only local wood in the firing of its pottery.
The Takahashi family has been making Shigaraki pottery for nearly 180 years. In 1951, the Detroit Institute of Arts hosted an exhibition of Japanese pottery. The exhibit featured a variety of Shigaraki wares, including rustic pieces. This exhibition sparked interest in Shigaraki pottery throughout the United States and Europe. It has been used for tables, hot spring baths and traditional tsubo storage jars. Today, you can find Shigaraki pottery everywhere, including in museum collections around the world.
This city has a rich tradition of craftsmanship, which is reflected in its abundance of unique clay. Many potters set up their kilns and studios in the region. These artisans use a variety of techniques to create their works. Some artists focus on free-form, non-functional pottery, while others do a mix of traditional and modern techniques.
Takahashi Rakusai is a multi-generational pottery tradition from Shigaraki, Japan. The art of Takahashi Rakusai has been passed down through several generations and is an integral part of Japanese culture. a commission by the youngest member of the Takahashi family, Yoshiko Takahashi.
The simplicity and humble beauty of Shigaraki pottery is evident in its pieces. The pots are not overly luxurious and do not need much adornment to complement Japanese food. In addition, the potters place great value on the pots being used by the people. The pots become even more beautiful and unique when they are held in the hand of the person who will use them.
Takahashi Rakusai teacup.
Contemporary works in Shigaraki
Takahashi Rakusai IV inherited the family business in 1976. This renowned potter is recognized by the Japanese Ministry of Economy as a Traditional Craftsman. His son, Takahashi Rakusai V, now continues his father’s work. His work is notable for its angular forms and organic qualities.
The Takahashi family has been active in Shigaraki since the end of the Edo period (1615-1868). Their pottery is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is included in several museum collections around the world. The work of Takahashi Rakusai III is represented in the Brooklyn Museum.
The Shigaraki Valley is known for its ancient craft tradition and abundant supply of unique clay. Several potters have established their studios in the region. Their artistic practices vary, with some resorting to more modern techniques and glazes, while others stick to traditional methods.
Japanese sake cup by Takahashi Rakusai IV
© Sencha House
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