On a recent trip to Japan, I was very lucky to have the opportunity of spending some time with Robert Yellin, an expert in Japanese ceramics. He took me to meet a number of potters in Shigaraki near Kyoto, an area famous for its ceramics and having one of the six oldest kilns in Japan.
Shigaraki ware is traditionally high fired in an Anagama kiln (tunnel kiln) built on a slope or into a hillside. The ceramics are unglazed but ash deposits are introduced that settle, melt and create a natural glaze that can’t be achieved by any other method of firing. The kilns can take many days to fire with the wood being constantly supplied to achieve high temperatures.
One of the potters I met who really impressed me with her work not only because she makes astonishingly beautiful pieces, but also with her life story. Kiyoko Koyama demonstrates an intrinsic need to work with clay even though she encountered much opposition and hardship. She struggled to such a degree that there has been a Japanese film made about her called ‘Hi Bi’.