In the past few years since I moved to Taku, I’ve been around to some of the various kiln ruins in Taku, Arita, and Takeo. I’ve collected various shards that have been laying on the ground or falling down a slope after a good rain. Here are some of the things I’ve picked up along the way.
Since there were no Advancer shelves around 400 years ago, everything sat perched on these pieces of furniture, or perched on each other. Remember, the split bamboo noborigama didn’t have a very high ceiling.
The capital I shaped things are called ‘tochin’ down here, though I think they may have a different name in other areas of Japan. But, you know what they say: ‘ A tochin by any other name…’ The squat, fat thing is called a ‘hama’. This one has a really beautiful white/light blue opalescence , especially when it’s wet, but unfortunately it doesn’t come through in the photo all that well. It has a big old bowl foot attached to it, porcelain from Arita, and as my mentor says, is ‘fairly young, maybe 300 years old or so’.
The two tochin both came from kilns in Taku, as did the inverted cup sitting on the tall one. By inverted I mean it is right side up the way you see it, but it turned nearly inside out in the firing. I thought it was too cool, so I found a tochin of the size it originally sat on to display it. It is Kurogaratsu (black Karatsu), a semi matt black glaze there are many recipes for, though I have found one type of stone on top of the mountain behind my house that makes a beautiful kurogaratsu glaze all by itself, and I’m probably not the only one to have figured that out.
The bottom 3 pieces are my sentimental favorites. They are pieces of the first kiln (a waridakeshiki nobori) built in Japan, by Ri Sanpei, the Korean potter credited with discovering porcelain in Japan, and responsible for the subsequent boom in Arita. He first came to Taku and built 2 kilns here. These wall chunks came from the Tojinkoba Gama ruin, which was excavated and cataloged several years ago. Now, it’s difficult to tell there was anything there in the first place, but some of these crusty old pieces still can be found laying around. The ruin is a few hundred yards from my house. When we built this house we found LOTS of shards of various styles laying around under the rice field. A couple of weeks ago I found a porcelain shard with a basic gosu underglaze design, stuck firmly to another piece of porcelain, and both with lots of sand and chunks stuck to the base. It really gets me to thinking. Here is a piece that is an obvious throw away, no one ever used it. Yet, the excavation at Tojinkoba showed no evidence that porcelain was fired there. I doubt that Ri Sanpei picked up his house and moved to Arita when he found white clay, without testing first. I believe that this piece was a test piece done before he moved to Arita. I spoke recently with the curator of the Taku city historical museum, and he hinted that they believe they haven’t discovered all the kilns that Ri built, and that the area around our house was the center of activity 400+years ago. This makes me wonder if maybe there was another kiln closer to our site (there is a river nearby) that the test was done in. Unfortunately I can’t show the test piece because it disappeared from in front of my workshop, with 8 neighborhood kids running around that seems to happen frequently.