Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Tosa Masters - Shinichiro Tani (The Porcelain Craftsman from Kochi City)

Clay-making.
The clay passes through the waterway from right to left,
where it is deposited.
   Shinichiro Tani began his porcelain journey when he was 15 years old. At first he wasn't satisfied with his works, so he would remake items over and over to practice. About four years later, he was finally able to sell his first cup. He said he’ll never forget the joy he felt that day. Currently he is carrying on five generations of tradition since the Edo Period at the Tani Porcelain Manufacturers in Kamobe, Kochi City.

   The kilns for odoyaki pottery were opened in Ozu, Kochi City in 1653 by decree of the ruling Yamauchi Clan. Porcelain was first produced to be presented to the daimyo, or feudal lord, but the industry was later privatized after the Meiji Restoration. Even at their most numerous there were only 6 kilns open for producing odoyaki pottery, so it was a small-scale operation compared to the rest of the nation. Division of labor is fairly common for pottery making, but Tani does everything from clay-making to finished product in-house. His ceramics are hand-made with methods from the Edo Period.
 
   Odoyaki pottery is made from the clay-like soil of Mt. Nousa and can withstand temperatures of 1250ºC. Over several months, pebbles and sand are removed from the clay, and it is placed in a fired bisque pot to dry it. This is a clever technique that utilizes the permeability of fired bisque pottery to seep the water from the clay. Next the air is removed from the clay through a technique called “chrysanthemum kneading” that requires strength and skill. It was amazing to watch Tani rhythmically rotate and press about 10 kilos of clay to make waves that looked like chrysanthemum petals! The actual shaping is done on a potter’s wheel. We were transfixed at how easily he created a chawan bowl and a vase. We also got to see more of Tani’s delicate techniques like using deer skin to smooth the surface of the pottery and using the balls of his fingers to create unique patterns.
Tani creates shape through elegant control of strength.
 
   When firing the clay, Tani gradually adjusts the temperature of the kiln with its handle, and he controls the airflow by moving the boards placed around the chimney millimeters at a time. He has no instructions to follow; all his actions are based on the experience he has built up over the years. This is the mark of a true artisan! There are two types of firing: oxidation and reduction. Reduction occurs when oxygen in the kiln is limited, causing incomplete combustion and a very beautiful pink pattern on ceramics that have been previously covered in white glaze. Next gosu (a blue pigment made from cobalt) is used to paint the mountains, waters, flowers, and birds of Kochi, capturing our prefecture’s essence. The most common customer order the Tani Porcelain Manufacturers receives is for bekuhai sets (sake cups that have a hole in the bottom or a round bottom so that you can’t set them down until you fully drink them), giving us an interesting peek at how Kochi people love to have drinking parties.
 
   Tani felt encouraged by those around him after he got selected as a Tosa Master, so he strived to be even more diligent in his work. One thing he said was particularly memorable: “Commercial products are a reflection of the times. That’s how porcelain is connected to the Edo Period and current times. My methods are the same old traditional methods, but I create products for the present.” Tani hopes that odoyaki pottery can spread through people’s lives as a part of Kochi culture and that some foreigners take interest in it as well.
The water container used to dilute ink during Japanese calligraphy.
 

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