Hidden deep inside the mountains in a small valley of Oita Prefecture, Onta is a pottery village which became a Cultural Landscapes of Japan in 2008.
Upon entering the area you hear a peaceful and rhythmic sound that echoes throughout the village. It is sound of the karausu, large wooden mortars powered by the flow of stream water pounding the clay. This is the sound Bernard Leach who stayed there also heard in 1954 and 1964.
Karausu: large wooden mortars powered by the flow of stream water pounding the clay
Pounded clay then mixed with water in a sink, then put through a sieve to remove impurities. All these preparation jobs are done by women in the family.
Clay settled at the bottom of the water sink is then dried under the sun till it gets to the right hardness before turned into a shape by men
Potteries in Onta do not take apprenticeship and run on the basis of primogeniture. This way, traditional techniques are well preserved. Distinguish characteristics of Onta Potteries are for the surface patterns created by tools such as tobikanna (chatter marks), hakeme (brushed marks) and kushigaki (combed marks).
Men turn kick wheels, and women do the rest
There were lots of potteries dried under the sun, making quite a view.
Before start making tablewares, large pieces like these pots used to be made in the village
Only restaurant in the village, serving noodles in potteries made in the village
Living National Treasure Shoji Hamada, a significant influence on studio pottery of the twentieth century, established the town of Mashiko as a world-renowned pottery centre. As a young student, Hamada was deeply impressed by an exhibition by Bernard Leach. They were introduced to each others by Soetsu Yanagi, the founder of the mingei (folk craft) movement, and found much in common. They traveled to St. Ives in 1920 to work for three years together. After returning from Britain, Hamada began creating Mashiko-yaki in 1924.
Leach and Hamada
Mashiko pottery is usually simple and rustic in style, but many of modern Mashiko Pottery is found in various styles because of the creative freedom brought by Hamada. Unlike other traditional kilns around Japan, Mashiko is open to newcomers letting anyone to be a potter.
Shoji Hamada’s Pottery Workshop
Hamada’s house filled with English furniture
An old English chair brought back by Hamada in 1923
An old church chair from England, one of Hamada’s world collection