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Article by Robert Yellin, e-yakimono

Shodai-yaki takes its name from Mt.Shodai (Arao City, Kumamoto Prefecture) where the indigenous clay has a rich iron-content, perfect for sturdy pottery. Kilns in the area do date back to the Heian and Nara periods when there were about 100 sueki style kilns.

During the 'Pottery Wars' between 1592-98, Korean potters were captured, or willingly came, to Japan at the end of the 16th century and established various kilns under local daimyo rulers. For Shodai-yaki, the Kumamoto ruler was Kato Kiyomasa These various kilns--such as Hagi--were under direct control of local daimyo and served as way to establish their Tea name as well as to bring tax revenues into the fief. Shodai uses, as mentioned, iron-rich clay over which a dark brown iron glaze is applied, and then over it rice-straw ash-glaze is either ladled or dramatically dripped on.

Above: Ko-shodai platter/Fukuda Kakue bottle

In the book Folk Kilns ll (Kodansha, 1981) Okamura Kichiemon writes that, "During the middle of the Edo period (eighteenth century), a number of Kyushu kilns developed the technique of pouring an ash glaze over the iron-bearing clay body and then tradition has survived is Shodai." The glaze colors on Shodai run from ivory white to energetic ambers to namako purplish blues; the ranges of colors are truly captivating. In the past Shodai-yaki was also known as Hinnokoji-yaki, Gotoku-yaki or Matsukaze-yaki.

above: Shodai kiln interior

Shodai, like many other 'folk' kilns, has had a hard time to meet the changing times. With daimyo protection there really were no worries, yet, as with everything, that did not last long. Shodai had to compete against porcelain from Arita and Imari, which was not easy, as these wares were viewed as more 'sophisticated' than 'dirty' stoneware clay jugs. At one time in the early 20th century the flames no longer burned for Shodai, the tradition was literally extinct. After WWll though a few potters rekindled the flames, mainly Chikashige Jitaro. At present there are 12 active kilns. All of the kilns stamp or sign their works Shodai to show unity and also to make folks aware that Shodai is alive and well! It is, without doubt, one of the most important mingei kilns Japan has ever known.

The eStore is offering works from five of the current Shodai kilns and these are the Fumoto kiln (Inoue Taishu), the Mizuho kiln (Fukuda Loui), Taihei kiln (Sakai Hiroki), Iisaki kiln (Yamaguchi Kozo) and Takemiya kiln (Chikashige Jitaro ll). I did visit other kilns yet some were in between firings and there was thus little work available, or for some reason I just did not connect with the pieces. In any event, we hope you enjoy another world's first online: the simple, deep beauty of Shodai-yaki.

Article and images courtesy Robert Yellin. ©

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