|Traditional Pottery for the Ordinary People
The pottery known as Shigaraki-yaki comes from Shigaraki Town and its surrounding area in the south of Shiga Prefecture. It has a long history and commercial pottery started in Shigaraki some time around the 13th century. Shigaraki has long specialized in larger items: since the clay produced in the area is high quality and resilient, it is well suited to large items. Initially, items such as large storage vessels and bowls for the home were made.
Originally no glaze was used; instead, the potters relied
on the natural properties of the clay. During firing the iron in the clay,
it was oxidized and produced a red coloring and the heat drew out
a greenish vitreous substance from the clay, which left an interesting
natural glaze on the surface. These two features have given Shigaraki-yaki
its characteristic and distinctive appearance. In the 16th century the
attractiveness of this simplicity caught the attention of the leading tea
masters of the time. As a result, a large number of superb-quality tea
cups and utensils have been masterfully created, and the town gained a
national reputation for its wares.
From the 17th century glazing and coloring techniques were introduced, and production shifted towards various kinds of ceramic items for daily use. Today a wide variety of products in different sizes and designs are manufactured, including household items such as flower vases and tableware, and other products like tiles, pots and planters. Shigaraki is particularly famous for the big, humorous Tanuki (Raccoon Dog) figures that are placed outside Japanese taverns called izakaya, and these have been made in the town since the beginning of the 20th century. As soon as you step off the train at Shigaraki Station, one of these Tanuki, wearing a hat, is there to greet you on the platform.
Photo: (Top) Herds of raccoon dogs at a kiln in Shigaraki; (middle) the ceramic figure of a raccoon dog greeting on the platform of Shigaraki Railroad Station (Shiga Prefecture).
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