Takashi Shinohara—Suzu Ware

Takashi Shinohara and some of the copious amounts of Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) needed to fire the kiln for five to six days.
Of Earth and Fire
Honestly speaking, pottery is something of a mystery to me.  I see it as a kind of alchemy, of which I know very little.  That, however, does not interfere with my appreciation of the craft and art of earth and fire.  In a sense, it is similar to looking at a starlit sky—I stand in awe and wonderment but have very little real understanding of what I am looking at and would almost prefer it that way.

Despite my lack of knowledge, I have a particularly great admiration for Japanese pottery.  It always seems to be so perfect, in the sense that it appears to be a consummate marriage of materials, the laws of physics and the creative ability of the potter, who not only can imagine how things will turn out, but is also ready to accept “happy accidents” which occur in the kiln.

Takashi Shinohara, however, really knows pottery and for him the making and firing of pots became a discipline that gave him a deep satisfaction and a way of “finding himself”.  Now he even says that his kiln and workshop are his “temple”, although things could have been very different.

Takashi usually firs his kiln twice a year.  Situated deep in the woods the smoke does not
cause any annoyance.
He was born and raised in Suzu located on the eastern shore of the Noto peninsula.  Being the elder sibling, he was destined to take over the running of the Buddhist temple, of which his father was Chief Priest.  Regardless of the fact that he was a self-confessed “naughty boy” as a child, when the time came Takashi resigned himself to the inevitable and went to Kyoto to learn the ways of the priesthood.  After graduating from university he took up a position at one of Kyoto’s prestigious temples.  He remained there for six years before returning home to Suzu and devoting himself to the day to day running of the family temple.  All was well for a time but then he found himself remembering the happy days of this childhood.  As a young boy he had often played outdoors and had been happiest when he came home hot and muddy and beaming with satisfaction.

I imagine there were some difficult times before he finally decided to leave the priesthood and to hand over his responsibilities to his younger brother.  For Takashi it was a pivotal moment in his life allowing him to re-connect with the happy days of his childhood and to begin doing something he really wanted to do.

The characteristic colouring and finish of Suzu ware as a 
result of reduction firing…..
Pottery peculiar to Suzu dates back to the mid-12th century and thrived for some 400 years.  As a utilitarian ware it found its way to coastal areas along the Japan Sea as well as north to Hokkaido.

It was storage jars and crocks that were mostly made, so Suzu ware needed to be a robust and thoroughly fired earthenware.  To 

…..and the brick red colouring generated from
a oxidation firing
achieve this required a large amount of wood to raise the kiln temperature to more than 1,200C˚.  The local clay has distinctive qualities, which are enhanced by the method of firing.  The amount of oxygen entering the kiln is limited and toward the end of the firing the kiln is starved of oxygen.  This form of reduction firing gives the ware its highly characteristic dark grey gritty finish as the iron in the clay blackens and the wood ash forms a natural glaze.  However, when more oxygen is allowed into a kiln during a firing of the same kind of clay, pieces take on a warm brick-red colour.

Just imagine how good food looks on one of Takashi’s platters.
Although Suzu ware was distributed widely and extensively used for many hundreds of years, it suddenly disappeared during the 16th century.  It was not until the early 1960s that interest in this ware was revived and then research over the next twenty years resulted in the first firing of a new Suzu kiln in 1979, to fire pots using the same local clay of old.

The simple flowing forms of Takashi’s work are a perfect 
foil to the firm, hard and gritty appearance of the surface finish.
Takashi became one of the second generation of potters to inherit the traditions of Suzu ware but he was almost entirely self-taught.  His informal training began simply by watching.  He attended kiln firings but was literally only allowed to watch.  He was not even allowed to handle the firewood and in his words “stole what I needed to know” about the techniques involved.  Finally he was ready to go it alone and in 1995 he built his own kiln named the Yuge kiln and went to work.

Since then he has managed to build up a fine reputation and exhibits all over Japan and even abroad.  He is never happier, however, than when he gets back to Suzu, his homeland and source of what he likes to do best—making pots.

Some of Takashi Shinohara’s work is on show at the Funa Asobi Gallery.  Details in Japanese at f-asobi.com.  For more details call +81 (0)768-82-3960.
Address:  41 Wakayama-machi Sutta, Suzu City, Ishikawa Prefecture 927-1233, Japan

Suzu Ware Museum
1-2-563 Takojimamachi
Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture 927-1204

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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Yuka Funami and Takashi Shinohara at the entrance to Funa Asobi Gallery in Suzu.

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