A memorable tour of traditional Japanese pottery towns in the Mino area: Tajimi, Seto and Tokoname. Without a car this kind of trip is logistically very challenging but we managed to cycle our way through the mountains in search for the next kiln. Just outside Tajimi city we were pleasantly surprised to find a little gem. The Suigetsu-gama was founded in 1946 by pottery legend Arakawa Toyozo, one of the leading potters and revivalists of Medieval ware in 20th c. Japan. Now in its 3rd generation, the kiln continues to produce the same traditional range of tableware Arakawa made many decades ago.
You simply never know what to expect when you visit Japanese kiln sites, no matter how much research you do beforehand. The 'feel' of the place, the landscape in which kilns are located, the friendliness of the local residents and the actual quality of the pots are big variables which I find hard to predict. One of the three potters working at the Suigetsu-gama welcomed us and showed us around without expecting anything from us. The kiln was one of the most traditional I have found so far in my numerous visits to Japanese potteries. It simply ticks all the boxes: local clay thrown on a stick wheel, fired in a medieval-style noborigama. The building was old and beautifully layered with dirt, a workplace in constant use for over 30 years. The potter was a professional worker for Arakawa, probably in his late 50s. We first spotted the usual boards of pots drying in the sun outside. The dark interior had an adobe floor and the bamboo ceiling was black with smoke. We found him crushing overglaze powder on a sheet of glass and painting some square bowls with a squash pattern in red and green, over a blue on white body already fired once.
He told us they only fire the noborigama every 3 years, and that would be next week! No wonder there were so many saggars, logs and boards of pots everywhere. This was the second kiln founded by Arakawa and was dedicated to the production of everyday tableware in the attempt to support the making of his more individual pots. This 'business model' will resonate with many studio potters today, only on a slightly larger scale.