Tamba-tachikui ware, also known as Tamba-tachikui yaki in Japanese, is a distinctive pottery style hailing from Konda, located in the city of Sasayama, Hyogo prefecture. This pottery holds a prestigious position as one of Japan’s Six Ancient Kilns, alongside Bizen, Tamba, Echizen, Seto, and Tokoname. Throughout its eight-century history, Tamba-tachikui ware has continued to produce ceramics for everyday use.
What sets Tamba-tachikui ware apart is its unique coloration, achieved through a firing process lasting approximately sixty hours in a climbing kiln. Operating at temperatures around 1300°C (2372°F), this kiln facilitates a chemical reaction involving the ash of pine firewood. This ash is intentionally sprinkled onto the pottery, fusing with the enamel and iron present in the clay. As a result, each ceramic piece becomes a one-of-a-kind creation, showcasing various patterns and hues depending on the application of ash and the interaction with flames.
In contrast to many other pottery styles crafted using clockwise-turning lathes, Tamba-tachikui ware employs lathes that rotate in a counterclockwise direction. This subtle difference adds to the distinctive character of the pottery.
It’s worth noting that climbing kilns, like the one used for Tamba-tachikui ware, trace their origins back to ancient pottery kilns brought to Japan from China and Korea. These kilns have played a vital role in shaping the rich heritage of Japanese ceramics.
Even today, Tamba-tachikui ware stands as a testament to the enduring craftsmanship and artistic prowess of its creators. Its ash-covered beauty continues to captivate and inspire, preserving a tradition that has spanned centuries.
The Evolution of Tamba-Tachikui Ware: From Onohara to Tachikui
The origins of the Tamba-tachikui kiln can be traced back to the end of the Heian period (794-1185). During this time, the pottery produced in the region was known as Onohara ware. Skilled artisans crafted large pots, jugs, mortars, and kneading bowls by hand, using a technique of layering clay strands without the use of a lathe. These creations were then fired in ascending kilns dug into the hillsides, without the application of glaze. By the end of the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), the repertoire expanded to include large sake bottles and buckets.
In the year 1611, a significant development took place with the construction of a climbing kiln at the base of the Tamba-tachikui kiln. This marked a transition, and the pottery became known as Tamba ware. The introduction of the climbing kiln enabled mass production, facilitating the creation of small pots like pepper pots, oil pots, and katakuri bowls. Katakuri bowls are a type of drinking bowl characterized by a dip in one side of the mouth.
During the mid-Edo period (1603-1868), the Tamba region flourished as it diversified its production. In addition to utilitarian pieces, the artisans began crafting a wide variety of products, including tea utensils like tea containers, pitchers, and tea cups. Small sake bottles were also among the items produced during this period.
With the advent of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the center of Tamba ware shifted to the neighboring Tachikui region. As Tachikui ware, the craft gained even broader recognition, expanding its market reach to regions as distant as Kyushu and Tohoku.
The evolution of Tamba-tachikui ware, from its humble beginnings as Onohara ware to its establishment as Tachikui ware, showcases the ingenuity and adaptability of the artisans throughout history. The transition marked an expansion in both the variety of products and the geographical influence of this renowned pottery tradition.
The Tamba-Tachikui Ware Production Process
Potter’s clay is sourced from either the Yotsuji or Benten areas of Hyogo prefecture. The clay is carefully selected to ensure it possesses the desired material properties. It undergoes purification at a pottery cooperative loam factory to remove impurities.
The purified clay is first kneaded using a machine to achieve uniform grain distribution and moisture density. Hand kneading follows to extract any trapped air, minimizing the risk of warping and cracks during firing.
Tamba-tachikui ware is created using a lathe, with each item cast individually. Circular items are crafted using either a foot-powered or electric lathe, while rectangular or complex forms are produced through mold casting. Mold casting involves pouring potter’s clay into a plaster mold. Other casting techniques include slab casting, hand forming, and pressing.
During the semi-dried state of the clay, shaping of the foot, exterior, and edges is carried out using a bamboo plane or iron strip. This step also involves opening the spout of teapots and attaching the foot of incense holders.
The pieces undergo a thorough drying process, traditionally done under sunlight over a period of three to four days. However, modern methods often involve indoor drying using excess heat from the kiln, allowing for more controlled conditions.
The dried pieces are subjected to a bisque firing at temperatures ranging from 700 to 900℃ (about 1292 to 1652℉). This firing ensures proper enamel adhesion to the pottery surface.
Following the bisque firing, the enamel is applied to the pottery. Tamba-tachikui ware employs various artificial ash glazes, including wood ash, straw ash, rice husk ash, chestnut case ash, and bamboo leaf ash glazes. Additionally, wood ash glaze, iron enamel, and white enamel are used to achieve specific effects.
The pieces are transported to the kiln site, where they are placed on a round shelf and lined up on the kiln floor. Small pottery may be positioned inside larger pieces or within a vessel called a saya. Fir tree ash or clay balls covered with fir tree ash are inserted between articles during the loading process. Once all the pottery is arranged inside the kiln, the entrance is sealed with clay.
The kiln is gradually warmed up for a minimum of twenty-four hours before the glaze firing begins. Pine tree firewood is then inserted as fuel from both sides of the kiln. Glaze firing occurs continuously at approximately 1300℃ (about 2372℉) for at least twenty-four hours.
Removal of Pots from the Kiln
Once the glaze firing is complete, the kiln is sealed with clay and left to cool for twenty-four hours. The finished pieces are then carefully removed. This final step typically takes about a week to complete, from loading to unloading the kiln.
The Tamba-Tachikui ware production process encompasses a series of meticulous steps, from clay excavation to the creation of beautifully glazed and fired pottery. Each stage requires precision and skill, culminating in the unique and cherished Tamba-Tachikui pieces.