Tokoname-yaki – a traditional Japanese ware carving out a future


Ware should be made as natural as possible


I asked about the Japanese teapots and tea cups being displayed in the workshop, which were made by Hokujo Shimizu. They have deeper vermilion color and more interesting than the colors normally known as Tokoname wares. How had he created such color and texture? Hokujo replied, “The slower a wheel rotates, the more my hands tend to leave traces on exterior and interior of the product. Such fine unevenness can be expressed as the unique texture of the pottery.” He also added, that is why the monthly number of products is limited to only one hundred.


A teapot showing a pattern as if covered by natural soil


Fine evenness on the pot surface gives an impact on convection of tea leaves inside pot when hot water is poured into. Tea leaves don’t simply circulate in a pot but they are engaged with a rough surface part inside, by which component of green tea can be extracted for longer minutes to give out stronger flavor of the tea. Internal structure of the pot draws out delicious tea flavor like this. Also the collected soil is the key factor to produce the beautiful texture. Hokujo continues, “I used to try finishing my pottery to keep the vermilion color as it should be as well as the white as it should be. However one day when I was digging in the ground I realized how beautiful is the color spectrum of the soil fault, and I wanted to express such fabulous impression of the natural soil on my pottery. I almost determined to do it. Since then I have been attempting various methods in shaping by wheel or baking in kiln until now, so say it’s been for thirty years to establish my own style.” While talking he poured another hot water with a temperature at 50 degree and served us the second cup of Gyokuro —- This is the best of green tea as the second cup.


Japanese tea cup specially designed for drinking Gyokuro


What kind of technique is used to deepen vermilion color among the same color type teapots? Hokujo said, “It’s crucial to go through the process ‘yakishime’, baking at higher temperature in kiln. Soil contains iron content and we apply reduction firing, which means inside kiln becomes lacks of oxygen.” The color of soil will be finished in austerely elegant orange-tan color, which still appears pretty natural. Fire condition inside kiln can’t be checked from outside, so the expert skills and techniques depending on experience would be required.


Tea strainer holes are provided manually inside teapots.

A teapot by Mogakeyaki utilizing eelgrasses


The cheap teapots are often equipped with metallic mesh strainer, but the ones made by Hokujo Shimizu don’t possess such attachment. The strainer part has meshed holes in size of several millimeters, which are arranged in the interval of several millimeters as well between one hole and the next. Those holes are made using iron ware called Shippo (literally means the tail in English), and holes are not formed in flat but in hemisphere. This is because if the holes are made in semi-round shape, the opened tea leaves won’t be caught by meshes, so that they are structured to be naturally flown to outside the mesh along with hot water poured into. The holes are provided manually, not by machines, each by each, being calculated the intervals to be applied.


Hokujo Shimizu, the Potter, talks in his gallery surrounded by his works.


Among the teapots arranged in the workshop, my eyes are caught by the one uniquely decorated with a red thread pattern on its surface. “This is called Mogakeyaki, one of the Tokoname baking techniques, which has been established around 1830, Edo period, in Tokoname, Japan.” The potters have collected eelgrasses from sea to cover the pottery surface after untangled them, and then they fired those earthenware in kiln. Today’s science categorizes eelgrasses into marine plants that are grown by seed, not by spore for alga. As eelgrass disappears at the time of firing completed, but salt and other content remained burn patterns on the surface of pottery. “I presume, this is due to the location of Tokoname that is situated near the sea where they were privileged to be able to develop such technique.”



I was admiring each teapot having a different expression of eelgrass pattern (Mogake) and couldn’t stop letting out a sigh. “All works can be masterpiece.” Hokujo said with a smile, “Well, I doubt it. I have hardly made tea utensils with which I was satisfied enough.” He sipped green tea, gyokuro. Still for me everything here looked like a masterpiece, so I judged that he was rather being modest. Again he replies quietly, “I desire to achieve that goal, if I can, really. I am thinking that all the time when I shape the body with soil or put the fire on kiln. I wish if I could do it with this hand.” The B. G. M has turned to the symphony by Sibelius in the workshop.


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