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A Japanese traditional craft ~ shigaraki-ware~

What is shigaraki ware?

Shigaraki ware is a traditional Japanese craft, made in the Shigaraki region of Shiga Prefecture, next to Kyoto.
The region produces very high quality clay, so the industry of making ceramics and other items has flourished in this area since ancient times.
These days, raccoon dog pottery symbolizes Shigaraki ware and is used as objects in front of houses and stores throughout Japan.

In this article, we interviewed Mr. Ueda, who is actually a Shigaraki ware craftsman and the president of Sotoen, and summarized what we heard about the unknown charms of Shigaraki ware, challenges as a traditional craft, and various other topics.

Charms of Shigaraki Ware

1. High-Quality Clay

The clay from Shigaraki is of very good quality, making it easy to bend and stick together, and also allowing for the creation of relatively large pieces of pottery.
A huge figurine like the one in the photo is placed at a station in Shigaraki!

Also, the clay does not contain much metal, so the finished product is white. This makes it easy to produce beautiful colors such as scarlet without the use of glazes.

2. Huge Staircase-Shaped Kiln

Shigaraki ware is made by kneading and shaping clay, which is then fired in a huge stepped kiln called a climbing kiln. While most pottery today is made using electric kilns or other easy methods, Sotoen is the only one in the Shigaraki area that uses a traditional climbing kiln.  

The wood-fired kilns, which require traditional techniques to fire the ceramics, allow for the creation of unique pieces, with each piece having a different hue, unlike modern electric kilns.

The kiln in Sotoen is fired once every six months, and the pieces are kept on fire for the entire week.

Issues Related to Shigaraki Ware

1. Decline in demand

Today, many households use homogeneous and inexpensive glass cups and dishes made by electric kettles and other means. We want things that are light, strong, and inexpensive. For this reason, fewer and fewer people every year want to go out of their way to use heavy and expensive pottery in their tableware.
Sotouen makes various types of pottery to meet such changing demands. For example, raccoon dog figurines are made as prayers for prosperous business, car tire stoppers, umbrella stands, etc. are being introduced to the world as a new form of Shigaraki ware.

1. Decline the number of craftsmen

In the past, many people in the Shigaraki area were naturally interested in Shigaraki pottery and made it their profession, but today, the number of people who want to work as artisans, a job that requires a lot of labor and is physically demanding but does not pay well, is decreasing.
Especially since this kind of traditional craft has been handed down for hundreds of years in the past, Mr. Ueda of Sotoen has been holding pottery classes to get more people interested in Shigaraki pottery and to show the appeal of Shigaraki pottery as a recreational field trip for elementary school students as well as adults.

In recent years, the TV drama “Scarlet,” featuring Shigaraki ware, has been broadcast throughout Japan, and many people have become interested in Shigaraki ware and would like to participate in pottery classes. We need to communicate the attractiveness of Shigaraki through social media and other means.

Acknowledgments

Mr. Ueda of Sotoen
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to conduct this interview.

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