Sotoen pottery center in Shigaraki
Earlier this month in August 2012, I revisited Shigaraki in Koka, Shiga Prefecture. I went with a large group and we visited a pottery center called Sotoen (宗陶苑). Shigaraki has a number of private pottery centers and Sotoen is one of the largest. It is in a ceramic park-like area with all kinds of pottery pieces large and small spread over a wide area. All for sale. Sotoen also boasts Japan’s oldest noborigama kiln dating from the Edo Period.
Talk about a photo op with Shigaraki pottery, especially the tanuki raccoon dog. The giant tanuki is priced as much as 700,000 yen. The building on the right has the pottery classroom on the 2nd floor.
Before having a bento lunch at Sotoen, a veteran potter gave a talk about Shigaraki pottery which has a 1,200-year history. Shigaraki ware was especially favored for the tea ceremony. It is also very strong, suited for large pieces and outdoor pieces.
Sotoen’s main attraction is this noborigama or sloping kiln. Japan’s oldest noborigama. The bottom chamber is the furnace where they burn many bundles of wood for seven days and nights. Sotoen’s noborigama kiln is 15 meters wide, 30 meters long, and 3.5 meters high. It has eleven chambers going up a slope. The heat from the furnace at the bottom chamber rises and seeps into all the chambers above. 登り窯
A noborigama chamber. The chambers get larger toward the top of the noborigama kiln. It takes 40-50 days to fill the kiln, and 7-10 days to fire.
Another highlight of Sotoen is the pottery lesson for beginners. They have this huge pottery classroom. First, an instructor demonstrated the basics of pottery making with a block of clay. Easy enough for anyone to make a simple bowl or cup. They offer a 90-min. class three times a day. It costs around 1,500 to 2,100 yen for an 800-gram block of clay, basic instructions, and firing in a kiln. Reservations required. Web site: http://www.shigarakiyaki.co.jp/
First, they teach you to make a flat round base of clay placed on the turntable. Then you make short ropes of clay which you lay around the edge of the base. Make more clay ropes and one by one you lay them around on top. Smooth out the sides and the top edge with a wet cloth. After maybe 20-30 min., my little bowl. I have to wait until autumn to see my fired bowl (photo below).
Sotoen is accessible by taxi from Shigaraki Station. See map below.
View Koka, Shiga Prefecture in a larger map