I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shiga Pottery

Over the years I've been building up a small collection of pottery. For me it's a pretty recent development; I was never really into ceramics much back at home. Katie's expertise (she focused on ceramics at UGA's School of Art during her undergrad years) has really rubbed off on me, and she's shown me different aspects of pottery making––glazing, clay selection––that I've come to really appreciate.

Speckled egg holder? This is supposed to be for tea ceremony, for mixing/stirring the matcha tea until it frothens (becomes frothy?). I use it for mixing eggs, eating soup, but seems close enough...

My first piece of pottery. A gift from Katie, my pottery muse, and the beginning of a more profound appreciation for the artwork that went into it.

On top of this, Shiga is home of one of the major six pottery towns of medieval Japan: Shigaraki.
Japan's Rokkoyo (in English)
Shigaraki Guide (in English or Japanese)

These sites have some more info about Shigaraki's history and importance in Japanese culture. One of the most significance that I find interesting is how influential pottery has been on Ikebana (Flower Arrangement) and Sado (Tea Ceremony).

A tea pot, unfortunately I didn't buy this directly from the maker, but from a tea shop in the neighborhood where I used to live.
Because the vessels that held flowers and tea in these arts were intrical to the atmosphere a host desired to create, which pieces should be used in a given ceremony was the subject of deep contemplation. Often the subject of conversation during a tea ceremony revolved around the character of the dishes guests used.

Just picked these up from a man who works out of Omi-Maiko (Otsu, Shiga--on the other side of the lake from me). I'm pretty sure he said he gets his clay from Shigaraki though.
Ideas of wabi (austere beauty representing Zen-like solitude) or sabi (elegent simplicity, often refferred to in something that evokes the feeling of passing one's prime into gentle decline, like a waning moon or an untended garden). Artists often attempted to replicate these emotions through their pottery. (If you want to know more about the wabi-sabi relationship...)

Japanese cooking knives are also impressive--these are all hand-cut. Katie originially convinced me that we should buy the top one in Tokyo at the Tsukiji Fish Market. While I didn't think it was worth the $70 at the time, I can humbly say I was wrong. I just bought the bottom three at a flea market in Kyoto last week.
Here I want to take a minute to show some of the pieces in my collection that I'm proud of. Also, I really enjoy looking over and pondering over, talking with the artists who create, and understanding the process by which the pottery I come across in Kyoto and Shiga is made, so if anyone sees anything they like and would be interested in purchasing for their own collection, please email me and I can hopefully help find you something here to ship back home.
A gift from a local restaurant owner. I was talking to him about Shigarakiyaki (Shigaraki pottery) and commenting on the Shigaraki dishes he used to serve food at the restaurant--he gave me these tanuki cups.
As you can see, there is a wide range of possibility, although I do prefer to work exclusively with potters who hand-craft all of their pieces without the assistance of a mold or replicatory pattern. My favorite cups and bowls are actually those with marked distinctions or imperfections, perhaps a blast of red or black, a "schorch" I suppose, due to the filtering of air into the kiln as it's burning.
My most recent addition. This picture is an injustice to the piece's stunning colors and sabi-esque cracks--if you can look closely, it appears as if during a coat of glaze the creator touched up the mug with a cloth or screen to make it appear shattered. Asymmetry is a key distinction I look for in some of my favorites. You can see the finger grooves at the base and handle as well.

One of my favorite finds: a donburi-wan (fairly large bowl for Japanese rice dishes). I found it in Shigaraki last summer, struck by the shape, solidarity, and spots of iron that was naturally mixed in with the clay and baked into it--nutritional, I wonder?


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