Japanese pottery with a simple and natural texture | Traditional Japanese crafts in Hyogo


Tamba-yaki, One of the Oldest Pottery in Japan

Tamba Tachikui ware, made in the area of Imada Tachikui, Tamba Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture, is recognized as one of Japan’s Six Old Kilns (Rokkoyo) along with Seto ware, Tokoname ware, Shigarakiware,  Bizen ware, and Echizen ware, and is listed as a Japanese Heritage. Although its official name is “Tamba Tachikki-yaki,” it is also commonly referred to as “Tamba-yaki” or “Tachikki-yaki,” and is well known as one of Japan’s representative ceramic arts.

Tamba-yaki has unique features in its brownish-brown clay skin and rustic texture, which is produced by creating clay with a high iron content. Although rugged, Tamba-yaki is a pottery that fits comfortably in the hand and gives a sense of natural warmth. The red clay used for Tamba-yaki is limited in quantity and is not generally available. Craftsmen knead the red clay and form on a kick wheel, glazed naturally, and fired in a kiln. The kiln is for firing the vessels was anagama until the Momoyama period (1573-1600). However, the climbing kiln has been handed down to this day. In the climbing kiln, burning pine wood reaches to about 1,300 degrees Celsius. They burn it for about 60 hours, producing unique colors and patterns from the ash, glaze, and iron content of the clay.

Conventional Tamba-yaki does not use any dyes. But some products today have undergone a slightly modification to create modern-style pieces. For example, there are various dying technics to show light colors, patterns, and various designs.


What is the history of Tamba-yaki?

Tamba-yaki has two period: the anagama and ascent kiln periods. Anagama kilns were used for 400 years until the end of the Momoyama period. Later, after the early Edo period, they were replaced by the Korean-style half-ground “ascent kilns” still in use today.

Tamba-yaki have begun around the end of the Heian period. Until the Momoyama period (1573-1600). It has created large jars, pots, mortars, and kneading bowls. In order to realize such variety, cord making technic has been critical; string-like clay was piled up to form a shape and fired in anagama kilns without glaze. These were called “Onohara-yaki” (Onohara Pottery).

Changes in Edo period

In the Edo period (1603-1867), kick rokuro (a potter’s wheel) was used to make pottery, and glazes of ash and iron were also applied. At the same time, firing in Korean-style half-ground climbing kilns began in the Kamaya area. Pottery made at this time is called “Tamba-yaki”. This is when mass production of pottery using climbing kilns became possible. It became possible to produce small pots such as sansho jars, oil jars, and kataguchi, and by the middle of the Edo period, a variety of pottery was being produced, including small tokkuri, tea containers, water jars, tea bowls, and other tea utensils.

Furthermore, Tamba-yaki tea jars, which were made of bright red clay, were highly prized and spread widely in Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (present-day Tokyo) as valuable items. In the late Edo period (1603-1868), new glazes were developed and a wide variety of shapes and patterns were created using all kinds of techniques, further developing Tamba-yaki.

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Modern times of Tamba-yaki

After the Meiji period (1868-1912), the center of Tamba pottery shifted to the Tachigui area, and so it came to be known as “Tachigui Pottery. With the tailwind of the changing times, Tachikki-yaki spread further afield to Kyushu and the Tohoku region. In the Showa period (1926-1989), Tachikki-yaki read the social trends and began to produce flowerpots and other pottery that was in demand by people. It was also during the Showa period that Tamba-yaki received high acclaim as a folk art in the “folk art movement,” a movement that found beauty in everyday items produced by hand.

In 1958, a Tamba-yaki brazier won the Grand Prix in the pottery category at the World Exposition in Brussels, and Tamba-yaki became a globally recognized pottery. Tamba-yaki is also characterized by the fact that its name has changed over time. In 1978, Tamba Tachikake-yaki was designated as a national traditional craft under the name of “Tamba Tachikake-yaki,” which unifies Tamba-yaki and Tachikake-yaki.

Manufacturing Method and Process

1. Clay extraction (Saido)

Pottery clay is from Yotsutsuji clay and Benten black clay, or clay made from the same materials. The clay is refined at a clay factory in a ceramics cooperative.

2. Kneading

The refined clay is kneaded in a dredger to make the particles and moisture density uniform. The clay is then carefully kneaded by hand to remove air from the clay so that it will not distort or crack when fired.

3. Molding

The molding of Tamba Tachikake Pottery is done in the “one-piece production” method, in which each piece is finished one by one on a stand. Kick rokuro or electric rokuro is for molding round shapes. In “iinkomi molding,” in which ceramic clay is poured into a plaster mold, is used for rectangular or complicated shapes. Other molding methods include tatara, hand-binieri, and oshigata molding.

4. Shaving

While the pot is still semi-dry and viscous, a bamboo planer or obi-iron is used to shave the foot, shave the outer surface, and finish the edge of the pot. This process also includes drilling holes in kyusu (teapots) and attaching the feet of koro (incense burners).

5. Drying

The pots are dried in the sun for 3 to 4 days. Nowadays, most of the drying process is done indoors, using the residual heat from the kiln.

6. Unglazing

To ensure that the glaze adheres well to the base, the pots are unglazed at 700 to 900 degrees Celsius.

7. Glazing

After unglazing, glaze is applied. Glazes used for Tamba Tachikake Pottery include artificial ash glazes such as wood ash, straw ash, ash of fir, chestnut bark ash, and bamboo leaf ash, as well as clay ash glaze, iron glaze (tetsugusuri: black glaze), and white glaze (shiroguji: white glaze).

8. Kiln Filling

The pieces are brought to the kiln and placed on the floor of the kiln. Smaller pieces are placed inside larger pieces or in containers called “saggar”. When stacked on top of each other, a ball of clay called “hama” covered with fir ash or fir ash is placed between the pieces where they come in contact with each other. After placing the pieces in the kiln, the entrance is sealed with a “makura” (pillow) and sealed with clay.

9. Main firing

First, “nukume (aburi),” in which the temperature is gradually raised, continues for at least one day and night. After 30 to 40 hours of “Nukume”, pine wood for fuel is thrown into the kiln through holes on both sides of the kiln, and the firing process begins. The firing process continues at approximately 1,300 degrees Celsius for at least one more day and night.

10. Removing the kiln

After the firing is completed, the kiln is sealed with clay and allowed to cool for one day and night before the fired products are removed from the kiln. It takes about one week from kiln installation to kiln removal.

Tamba kiln
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Tamba-yaki is unique, attractive, and popular because of the free expression in which it is made. Furthermore, Tamba-yaki is a pottery that can be expressed in a variety of ways, which is why it is so popular that anyone can find a piece that suits his or her taste. The warmth of the clay can be felt in the rustic appearance of the bowls, and the individuality of each piece can be enjoyed as only handmade pottery can. Also, as you use them over the years, their texture will gradually change, making them truly one-of-a-kind. This is a quality that cannot be experienced in mass production.

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