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Girljin in Japan By Rachel Tranter Davies
Notable Ceramics
Shigaraki, a small town in the countryside of Shiga to the east of Kyoto, is famous for its ceramic production. With a tradition stretching back over 1250 years, it's the oldest of Japan's ceramics-producing areas and one of the country's most respected.


©Risa Sekiguchi

Rich clay, ritualistic design and deep tradition have made Shigaraki a notable spot on the Japanese ceramics scene, but it's their openness to change that has really put them on the international map. Beautifully simple contemporary pieces belie the diligent hands of the town's skilled ceramicists and the years spent honing their craft.

Originally, around the end of the Heian period (794-1185), Shigaraki was producing ceramics known as yakishime, an unglazed, high-fired ware that was tough and durable. However, from the latter-half of the Muromachi period (1185-1568), the way of tea ''chado'' was at the forefront of people's minds and designs quickly changed to more delicate and beautiful ceramics for use as a form of visual art within the tea ceremony.

During the Momoyama period (1568-1615), with such close proximity to Kyoto and the birthplace of the tea ceremony, it was a natural step that Shigaraki became synonymous with production of tea bowls and utensils, prized by both tea masters and the art world. By firing their wares in ana-gama or nobori-gama wood-firing kilns, stunningly warm, red hi-iro hues, deep ash-green biidoro and burnt black koge colours are engrained into each vessel. Now recognised as a form of art, Shigaraki ceramics truly communicate the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, beauty in imperfection, to the modern world.

The rustic artistry of Shigaraki-yaki isn't just confined to tea ware. Everyday items from sake jugs to tableware and ornaments, particularly the famed tanuki raccoon dog statues for which the area has a penchant for, are crafted using the area's exceptional clay and expertise.



One company doing things a little bit differently, fusing modern methods with Shigaraki's technological traditions is NOTA&design, founded by designers, Shunsuke and Kayoko Kato. Nota is Shigaraki dialect for ''glue'', with the company's ethos being on connecting people with people, with things and with ideas, their wish is to produce items that are the glue between being not only functional, but beautiful and a joy to use: nota-and.com

For travellers who are short on time or can't make the journey to Shigaraki, head over to ceramic shops Wakabaya or Kusaboshi within Kyoto City for a great selection of both Kyoto and Shigaraki yaki, or visit one of the temple markets to find lesser known artists and producers for a fraction of the price. This month, don't miss the chance to take a look at the Gojo-zaka Pottery Festival with about 400 stalls selling pottery on both sides of Gojo Street between Higashioji and Gojo bridge.



Rachel is a food, drink and travel writer. Originally from England, she recently relocated to Japan and is now finding her feet in Kyoto. You can find her blogging tweeting and instagramming her experiences at Girljin in Japan.




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