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The Outline of Shodai-yaki
Shodai-yaki is Japanese traditional pottery from Kumamoto Prefecture. Its name comes from the mountain located in the northern part of the prefecture – Mt. Shodai. The foot of this mountain has suitable soil for pottery, and the soil gives the pottery unique tastes, such as the smoothness and a beautiful dark color. Because of the good soil, a region around the mountain has been thrived since they started to bake pottery. It is considered that Shodai-yaki was started in the Edo Era (ca. 1600-) and now it has around 400 years of history. In 2003, Shodai-yaki is authorized as a Japanese traditional craft by the governments.
The Processes until Shodai-yaki Is Created
In this paragraph, we take a close look at how Shodai-yaki is made. As mentioned in the beginning, clay for Shodai-yaki is from Mt. Shodai, and the clay is firstly dried. After the process is water elutriation. Potters smash dried clay finely, mix with the water, and stir well to get rid of unnecessary sand and stones. Muddy clay gets dry again in the sun until it becomes moderate consistency. After that, the clay gets stored indoor. By letting it sit for a while, the number of bacteria in the clay increases, and the bacteria make the clay sticker to make it easier to shape details. As the clay still contains air inside, potters let it out by stepping on it. After using their feet, they use their hands and keep tempering with scrupulous care until it gets more flexible. When this process finishes, potters shape pottery, add some simple decorations, such as patterns curved out with pallets or combs while the pottery still wet enough. After that pottery gets dried completely in the shade. At last potters bake it as the first time with 800 degrees Celsius before the glaze. After the glaze, it is fired at 1300 degrees for about 45 hours. To prevent it from having cracks because of a rapid drop in temperature, pottery gets cool down in kilns for about 48 hours. Only the pottery, which can be sold or sent to the exhibitions, will be kept, but others will be smashed completely. This prevents defective pottery from appearing in the market and keeps the average quality of Shodai-yaki high.
Glazing Techniques of Shodai-yaki
Shodai-yaki is famous for its glazing techniques. One of the most famous and outstanding techniques is called Uchi kake nagashi. The technique is splashing glaze on the surface of pottery. In other words, this technique is rather drastic than delicate. Incidentally, the name means strongly (Uchi) splashing (kake) and flowing (nagashi). It sounds very simple, but it requires quite a lot of experience to create decent patters or designs. Before potters apply the glaze, they imagine designs and the finish roughly. However, it is impossible even for skilled potters to estimate how the glaze would look like after glazing. Splashed glaze drips and flows on the surface of pottery to create more tastes by itself. The beauty of Uchi kake nagashi is that its unpredictability. When skilled potters win over Accident to their side, they finally become able to create breathtaking one and only patterns. Potters can get limitless possibilities to design the pottery because they take advantage of the accident. This makes Shodai-yaki unique and fascinating. Potters often add a white glaze on dark color pottery so that the color contrast is very strong. Besides that, its drastic strokes of glaze create a strong impression and make us feel the energy of it. We can see this technique especially in the early stages of Shodai-yaki, which called Ko-Shodai (old Shodai-yaki).
Colors of Shodai-yaki
Shodai-yaki is divided into four types by colors – White Shodai, Yellow Shodai, Blue Shodai, and Amber Shodai. The variation of colors is created by glaze and fire in kilns. The main ingredients of glaze are plants ash (straw, bamboo leaves, and miscanthus), tree ash (evergreen oaks, Japanese cedars, pine trees, and miscellaneous small trees), finely smashed feldspar, and ore containing iron. Potters can create different colors and shades by combine these ingredients with perfect balance for each type. White Shodai is mainly made of straw ash. On the other hand, Yellow Shodai contains more tree ash compared to White Shodai. The Blue color in Shodai-yaki is created when straw ash gets fused with iron in the soil.
Interestingly, even if pottery gets the exact same glaze, how the color comes out varies according to the way the pottery is fired. In kilns, there are many factors that create unique tastes on pottery. The main factor is a position of firewood. Needless to say, the amount of firewood affects how much fire a spot gets. The amount of fire affects the color and the shape of pottery in the end. When one side of pottery gets more fire and the other side does not, you can see distinct tastes on the same pottery. This is another point that makes pottery interesting. Potters place firewood in kilns one by one. Besides this factor, what kind of pottery is baked together or where to place pottery also have a big effect on the finish because the temperature inside of kilns is neither stable nor uniform. Finding ideal places for each pottery highly depends on potters’ experiences.
Charms of Shodai-yaki Created by Skilled Potters
As we looked through, Shodai-yaki has many faces to entertain us. While it makes a powerful impression with Uchi kake nagashi, it can create delicate shades of colors. People can never get tired of appreciating the uniqueness each pottery has, and they can enjoy searching for pottery that suits their tastes perfectly. Taishu Inoue, one of contemporary Shodai-yaki potter, said that the best way to extract the beauty of Shodai-yaki was creating very simple pottery and expressing the charm throughout it. The main reason why he focuses on the simplicity is because too much decoration makes people hang back to use pottery. Especially, he focuses on baking pottery which makes people feel the warmth and convenient to use. Nothing can make him happy but customers’ comments mentioning how comfortable to use the pottery or how long they keep using it. As soon as you hold Shodai-yaki, you will get a special feeling from it. Very powerful yet gentle to users – this unique pairing of features cannot be found in other pottery.