Posts Tagged ‘Japan’


August 23, 2011

Monotsukuri is an interesting term. It can be translated as, read more







May 29, 2010

I spent the day in Tenri,  at the 23rd. annual Wanpac sumo tournament. Wanpac translates roughly to energetic, rowdy boy. This year  there were about 87 boys, way off from the high of 231 in 1992. Attendance hit a peak in 1992, stayed there for about 12 years and has decreased since then. The organizers are very dedicated and appreciative of the boys that participate. They go out of their way to make contact with the parents and boys to make them feel welcome. Girls are welcome to join but this year there weren’t any. My son loves to go and take part in this. He usually wins his first match, loses his second.

I sat next to a family that has 5 boys. 3 of them participated this year. The oldest is the same age as my son, 5th. grade. The oldest of the 5 boys is in the last video against the much larger 6th. grader. The father is the head of a temple near my house.

It is an interesting place to spend 1 day a year people watching.

Making clay.

April 19, 2010

Here is what everyone else is doing in my village.

Here is what I am doing.

When I finished my kiln I was so excited to get back to making things I went in to my studio and set it up to make large pots. I finished that and then realized I didn’t have any clay.

I use clay straight from the pit. I have about 30 tons of it stored in two locations. The pictures show a mix I will use for flat ware.  It has a type of clay from a place called Ishibe that splits very easily. In the photo I have about 360 kilos. For one kiln load I need about 1.3 tons.

The pug I bought new. Now, Japanese customer service is generally good. I bought the pug, used it for about 3 months and the motor burned out. It is a 600,000 yen machine with a guarantee. What kind of guarantee I will never know. I called the company up and they were offended I had broken their machine. They told me they had never had a motor burn out in the history of the company and they had been in business since the Edo period.  They then sent someone out to fix it and then presented me with a bill, telling me how lucky I was as I only had to pay half the actual cost. I was a little miffed and asked them exactly what good their guarantee was. I then got a call a couple of months later from a guy who apprenticed with the same guy I did. He wanted to buy the same kind of machine from the company, what was my opinion. I gave him the unvarnished story. I then got a call about a week later from the company asking me why I had bad mouthed the company. Yes, Japanese customer service.

European Wood Fire Conference

March 2, 2010

I am confirmed as a panelist and presenter at the first European Wood Fire Conference, see below for the link, the second one takes you to the page that has my entry.

I will be on the opening panel representing Japan,  giving an overview of the wood firing scene here. Very interesting topic. I am going to go talk to Shiro Tsujimura and incorporate his comments into the discussion. That should be very interesting as Tsujimura doesn’t use wood, in fact fires in electric for a lot of his work, but he has been very influential to Western wood firers. I will also break down what is going down as far as traditionalists and more independent firers.

I will give a talk on Nanban firing. The thrust of that talk will be giving history and comparison between Nanban and other types of unglazed styles in Japan. The talk will include work from 4 different potters in Nanban style. Tsujimura fires Nanban in an electric kiln so I will try to get photos of some of his work.

Old Karatsu kilns compared to newer kilns.

January 13, 2010

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.


November 22, 2009

I finally finished my show at Joyusha . For all my complaints it was a pleasant experience. I learned a few things about what it takes to sell at shows. Number one is that talking to the people who come to the show is not only important to the sales end of the equation but I felt strange if someone bought something and I hadn’t talked to them. The gallery is small, about 10 tatami mats, roughly 11.5 square meters.  The roof is low and the floor creaks with every step anyone takes. The total effect is of a delicate space that is too small for my towering 5 foot 5 inch  pacing presence.

I went to the gallery for a total of 5 days, two weekends and one weekday. The days I wasn’t there I had almost zero sales, the days I was there the sales were enough to make it worthwhile. The last hour of the last day a very attractive woman walked in, without hesitation took one long-necked bottle I had made that others had religiously ignored  and said she would buy it.  She then picked up a long narrow plate and said that since she had ordered tea she had to go downstairs and drink that and that if anyone came in to buy those two items I should come down immediately and tell her. I didn’t bother to tell her that even though those two pieces were among my favorites I seriously doubted anyone would swoop in to buy them.  She did buy them and in talking to her more found out she is a designer of commercials and was on a site hunting trip in Nara.

Back to building my kiln.


November 16, 2009

Today I went to a kimono auction in Kyoto. Take a look at the pictures to see some of the treasures I picked up. The auction itself was held in a shop, very small, fast and fun. Faster even than the last kimono auction I went to. Everyone had about 30 seconds per lot to decide the quality, price, etc. The bidding lasted at most 5 seconds. The bidding wasn’t really bidding as the word is understood in English. Each lot went on the block the same way. The pieces were laid out, one on the bottom serving as a “wrapper” for the pieces on top. When the full lot was decided, that is all the pieces in the lot had been shown front and back and put together, the “bidding” started and stopped in a couple of seconds. You were supposed to say your maximum price the first time, the highest bid won, no second bids allowed. If, as often happened, two or more people said the same price a dice was rolled and the number was used in a fashion that was unclear to me to determine the winner. I lost a number of times because I barked out my bid a second too late.

Now to sell all this. I would like to set up a live auction. If anyone has an idea on how to set one up, say on Ning or somewhere, please let me know. I would like some people interested in Japanese textiles and that have some computer skills to help me if there are any out there.

First full day at Joyusha.

November 15, 2009

I spent yesterday from about 12:00-4:30 at my show, talking to people who came by. Very interesting. The “buy” rate was about 90%. Extremely high I think. Overall visitor count was low but those that came seemed ready to buy. There was a group of about 7 women that dropped in because they had seen the poster out on the street. The only reason it is worth mentioning is they are all from my immediate neighborhood. The way life in this village works even though they represent more than 50% of the total of my closest neighbors not only didn’t I recognize 4 out of the 7 I haven’t talked to the 3 I recognized for more than 6 years. Only 2 of the 7 bothered to say hello while they were in the gallery. Welcome to Japan.


The right price.

November 10, 2009

I went to a shop that carries antique kimonos today. It is run by the second daughter of a major figure in the antique fabrics world in Japan. The first daughter runs a shop in Tokyo while the third daughter is still learning the trade. The mother and father of the three run a shop in front of the oldest wooden building in the world, Horyuji temple. The shop I visited is directly in front of the train station in Horyuji.

The first thing I noticed was the beauty of the shop. It was just redone a couple of months ago. There was incense burning and the overall effect was of a very well-run, nicely decorated small shop. I would guess it is about ten tatami mats in all, roughly 15 square meters.

The selection was really nice. Limited but very nice. There were  maybe 40-50 pieces total in the shop, kimonos, obis, purses, etc. Very old pieces to post war but probably nothing newer than 1955 or so. A lot of antique fabric swatches, enough to make any lover of fabric drool.

The next thing I noticed was the prices. I sell antique kimono and obi on my Etsy site. I do it mainly because I like kimono and obi, less to make a profit. I saw today I am selling for less than 1/4 market price. If you look at my site you will see some great deals. I don’t think I will raise my prices but I was surprised to see how much things cost in the real world.

Yamaguchi Art and Craft Fair.

October 19, 2009

I am attending the Yamaguchi Art and Craft Fair or here for the second time. This time I will be going with my 9 year old son. Last year it was interesting to get out and see some of Japan.

I did a volunteer event last weekend where I met a potter that lives close to the guy, you will need Japanese fonts installed to properly see the link, I apprenticed to. The potter wasn’t selling his work but he was selling shishinabe, wild boar stew. The fact he was there selling that stew let me know how sales were this year. He went to the Matsumoto Craft Fair, the king of craft fairs here in Japan. I asked him how it was and he said he sold almost nothing. I later heard through the grapevine, i.e., he told my wife, that it really got him down to not sell at the MATSUMOTO CRAFT FAIR.

Here are some pictures of my preparations.