By Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Double wall sake pots with horse design, Obori Soma WareOriginal Source: Obori somayaki kyodo kumiai
Thoughtfulness throughout history
Sōma Ware is a craft that has been continued for 300 hundred years since it was
first created and presented to the feudal lord of the Sōma clan during the Edo
period. In Fukushima there is beautiful nature, excellent foods cultivated within
such nature, and the daily life of people living in the blessed environment. Ōbori
Sōma Ware first began as pottery made for the feudal lord, but as the kiln
became public, potters began mainly making pottery and ceramic pieces designed
as gifts for someone in particular.
As a result, such pieces were decorated with auspicious horse motifs and drinking vessels were made with a dual layer to ensure that the person holding the vessel to drink something hot on a cold day would not burn their hands. Ōbori Sōma Ware is, therefore, pottery and ceramics "made with thoughts" given to the person receiving it.
It is every Ōbori Sōma Ware potter's hope that such thoughtful culture from Fukushima would be conveyed through their works.
1690: start of sales of Ōbori Sōma Ware
Ōbori Sōma Ware was known as Sōma Ware during the former domain administration era, but became widely known as Ōbori Sōma Ware (as the production site was at Ōbori) after it was designated a national traditional craft. In the Genroku era Hangai Kyūkan, a feudal retainer of the Nakamura clan, discovered ceramic pieces at Ōbori (in Namie-machi) and ordered his servant Sama to make pottery and ceramic wares for daily use; thus began the history of Ōbori Sōma Ware. While Sōma-koma Ware was known as gift items presented to the clan leader Sōma, Ōbori Sōma Ware became popular among the common people.
The agency of the Sōma clan officially decreed that “no Seto Ware artisans may leave the domain”. The Sōma clan established the Seto public office in a bid to promote Ōbori Sōma Ware as the domain´s special product and made efforts to protect and nurture the craft, such as by providing financial aid and procuring raw materials. Thanks to this, pottery firing at Ōbori as a side job for farms spread to neighboring Hakkamura and by the end of the Edo period there were over 100 potteries.
Hantani Takisaburo began studying about ceramic painting and this led to the practice of decorating pottery and ceramics using koma-e (picture of a horse). Designs of horses became widely used as auspicious motifs, as Nakamura clan traditionally practiced Sōma noma-oi (horse race) and motifs of tethered or galloping horses were motifs used in the family crest of the clan leader Sōma.
Several craftsmen set off to Mashiko to commence the production of Mashiko Ware to provide their expertise on pottery making. The sales routes further extended to include Hokkaido, Kanto region and even the Shin’etsu region, expanding to become a large production area. Consequently, production techniques were introduced and led to productions in other prefectures, such as Mashiko Ware and Kasama Ware.
The establishment of tradition
In 1863, Aohibi (blue crackled glaze) was created. In 1883, liquid gold koma-e application began under the recommendation of Miyauchi Matsugorō, a wholesale dealer in Tokyo. In 1899, Sakamoto Kumajirō created “double walls” pottery and ceramics.
With the end to subsidies from the clan as a result of the abolition of feudal domains and the establishment of prefectures after Meiji Restoration, as well as the fierce competition with other production sites due to better developed transportation system, Ōbori potteries made great efforts to differentiate themselves from other production sites. Their hard work gave birth to the characteristic features of Ōbori Sōma Ware known as Aohibi (blue crackled glaze) and nijūyaki (double walls).
Devastated by the impact of the war, Ōbori Sōma Ware fell into a dark period which lasted until the end of the Pacific War. After the war, however, the production site was quickly revived through exports to the United States. In 1950 double-walled yunomi teacups with the words "Made in Japan" shown were exported and brought on a great boom in the appreciation of the cups. In the States these were popularly known as "idea cups" or "double cups". In 1978 the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry (today’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) designated Ōbori Sōma Ware as a traditional craft. As it was difficult for anyone to enter and work at a traditional pottery run under the system of isshisōden (transmission from father to only one son) and that these potteries failed to follow market trends, sales decreased year by year after the bubble burst. In addition, with no successors to take over production, many potteries eventually closed down.
The sacred horse of former Sōma clan is depicted; it is also known as hidari-uma "horse facing the left" which in Japanese means “having no equal”) and thus popularly used locally as an auspicious motif. It is skillfully drawn by hand in the "galloping horse" style typical of the Kanō School.
Along with the kannyū (cracking sound heard when fired pieces are taken out of the kiln) a typical feature is the aohibi cracks that cover the entire vessel. Chosen as one of the “30 Sounds of Utsukushima”, the differences in the shrinkage of the kannyūon material and glaze when fired creates the fine cracks. This is called Kannyū and it is what makes the aohibi base pattern of Ōbori Sōma Ware.
The “double walls” structure allows the user of the vessel to easily hold the vessel with hot liquid inside and prevents the hot liquid from getting cold. This rare technique is only found in Ōbori Sōma Ware. The technique may well have been the result of trials and errors made to improve the ease-of-use of daily Ōbori Sōma pottery and ceramics.
In a bid to make Ōbori Sōma Ware easy to use and more familiar to daily life, various types of glaze have been used and through trial and error many types of products were created. Besides aohibi, characteristically colorful glazes are also used. This series consists of pieces that are designed for easy personal use.
The most important step in the making of pottery and ceramics is the shaping of the clay. Ōbori Sōma Ware is mainly shaped on a potter’s wheel.
shaving and carving
The shaped and dried piece is then carved according to the type of product it is going to be, such as cutting the base, shaving the surface, and decorative carving to make patterns like the tobikanna pattern. Depending on the design needed, a piece may be decorated by cutting out flower shapes, applying mud, pressing out chrysanthemum flowers; or carving designs once the clay is completely dry. The readied clay piece is first left in the shade to dry before drying under the sun. This is necessary because the clay will crack and deform due to contraction if rapidly dried.
firing and underglaze decoration
The completely dried clay vessel is placed in the kiln and fired between 900 and 950˚C. Pictures of a galloping horse, landscape, pine-bamboo-plum motifs and other designs are painted over the water-absorbent biscuit fired clay using gosu paints that contain iron.
Glazing is done with uwagusuri glaze using various methods such as by immersing the biscuit-fired vessel in the glaze, by pouring the glaze around the vessel, or by allowing the glaze to flow down the vessel.
Once glazing is complete, the vessel is then placed in the kiln and baked between 1250 and 1300˚C.
As a final touch, liquid ink is rubbed into the surface and cleaned off with a cloth to enhance the appearance of the cracks of the baked vessel.
Images provided and Text provided by:
Obori somayaki kyodo kumiai
English Translation by:
Eddy Y.L. Chang
This exhibition is created by:
Maezaki Shinya, Professor, Kyoto Women's University
Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University