Old Karatsu kilns compared to newer kilns.

I am reading Karatsu Yaki no Kenkyu, Research about (into) Karatsu Ceramics by Nakazato Hoan, 中里 逢庵, see here or here. I thought Nakazato Hoan was the Living National Treasure for Karatsu but it doesn’t appear he is. If I read his history right he is the Living Prefectural Treasure for Saga Prefecture.  He is also the 13th. Tarouemon. I think that is how you pronounce 太郎右衛門.  note 1 below. If you are interested in more on these kilns please see this post.

Nakazato Hoan carries the two titles above and is also a full time potter as well as the author of many books. The book I am reading focuses on the period between1624-1644, note 2 below  even though the term Kogaratsu, old Karatsu, extends up to the end of the Edo period, 1867 or 8 depending on who you read.

The book contains very detailed descriptions and drawings of kilns from the period covered. The picture below is of the kiln called Handokamekamigama.

kiln from page 38 of book.

kiln from page 38 of book.

The picture above is as it is in the book.

Red line added as a guide to the rough center of the kiln.

I have added a red line that runs roughly through the center of the kiln. The kiln is from the period of the 16th to the beginning of the 17th. century. There is a little uncertainty on the exact date as the dates given are for the “shita”, lower kiln and the drawing above is for the “kami”, or upper kiln if the kanji is translated literally. The general time period should be the same. The kiln was used for warabaiyu, rice stalk glaze, madara Karatsu glaze, chosekiyu, feldspar glaze, takiyu, at least I think that is how it is pronounced, tetsuyu, iron glaze or kaki temoku,  and dobaiyu in reduction. Towards the end of the 16th. century it fired Shino and Oribe tea bowls. The point being it was a kiln for glazed work.

The thing that really jumped out at me is how asymmetrical the kiln is. The red line I drew starts at the center of the front and ends at the center of the back. The drawing shows the flues between the chambers. There are 8 flues. The red line shows 5 on one side, actually 4 and the line goes through one and 3 on the other. By my estimation that would be a very sloppy job at kiln construction. I spent a lot of time and energy on my new snake kiln getting the alignment as close as my “used to be a land surveyor” self could get. One of the reasons I took so much care is my Karatsu style noborigama is far more similar to the drawing above and it has a lot of character as far as firing. That is to say there are cool spots and hot spots.

The picture below is from the same book, page 134 and shows the design for the “shita” kiln on the same site in the top drawing. The kiln’s name is Handokameshimogama. It is similar to a modern kiln so the builders had the ability to build straight kilns. The overall length of the kiln below is 6.8 meters, The scale is in  shaku, one shaku is 30 cm. height is about 1.20 meters. The drawing for the bottom is for a kiln called Michinayadani.

Newer Karatsu noborigama from page 134.


1= If I knew the difference I could write a whole paper on the difference between the third character in 太郎右衛門,  to be exact 右. If it is changed to 左 as in 太郎左衛門  it is a different title and the difference between the right and left which is the meaning of 右 and 左 is very important. In hina dolls, here or here, the “Empress” sits to the right of the “Emperor”. There is a major difference between the right side and left in Japan.

2 = pg. 16 of book.


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3 Responses to “Old Karatsu kilns compared to newer kilns.”

  1. eric Says:

    Very interesting, Dave
    Thanks to share.
    Best wishes.

  2. togeii Says:

    Hello Eric,
    Thank you. The book is very interesting.

  3. Hondokameshimogama. Handokamekamigama. Two old Karatsu kilns. « Togeii's Weblog Says:

    […] Togeii's Weblog Japanese ceramics, kimonos, antiques and life in a small village in Japan. « Old Karatsu kilns compared to newer kilns. […]

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