Archive for December, 2022

Earth and Fire: Riki’s Tours Japan.

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2022 by brunyfire

Day 5: Thursday 10th November: Up early this morning after a fabulous shabu-shabu dinner last night at our lovely ryokan, Yōyōkaku. Brunyfire heads off towards the beach to catch the sunrise. It’s all quiet in the town (save for a single resident sweeping leaves outside his gate) – through Nijinomatsubara Pine grove (said to have been planted 400 years ago to help tackle erosion) and onto Higashinohama Beach………

…………..towards a glorious morning sunrise, then a hasty walk back, a quick onsen and breakfast.

Once again, the food is a feast for both eye and stomach – with what was fast becoming a firm Brunyfire favourite – chawanmushi – which literally translates as ‘teacup steamed egg custard’. A classic Japanese savory custard that’s steamed and served in a delicate porcelain lidded cup, comprising of tender chicken pieces, colorful kamaboko fish cake, and/or shimeji mushrooms in a smooth and silky custard seasoned with dashi soup stock.

A particular thrill was to realise that we were being served with some of Nakazato Takashi’s work. Below – a pair of yonomi cups by Takashi from a display of work the Yōyōkaku exhibits.

Takashi Nakazato was born in 1937 in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture as the fifth son to a family with a long storied history of pottery work. His father, Muan Nakazato, is a national treasure in Japan. An excellent account of Takeshi is to be found here on the ryokan’s site, along with several rooms dedicated to his work at the inn.

We leave the ryokan…….

……..board our bus once more, and head for Karatsu Castle, situated a short distance away on a small hill above Karatsu Bay in Saga Prefecture, Kyūshū. As we walk under a main arterial road, the subway walls are lined with ceramic tiles depicting the Karatsu Kunchi Festival……

…….that is held annually from November 2-4. Huge, decorated floats are hauled through the streets by participants in Edo Period garb to the accompaniment of drums and flutes, and when not in use, the floats can be seen at the Hikiyama Festival Float Exhibition Hall. We walk up and around Maizuru-Koen Park to a spectacular view overlooking Matsuura Bay towards Karatsu town……….

……..and then head on to check out the castle itself.

With its chequered history, Karatsu Castle was built and dismantled during its time leaving only the original stone walls and foundations. The present five-story Castle, a ferro-concrete structure built in 1966 in the style of the original 17th century castle, rises up from these original foundation stones. Of particular interest to Brunyfire however, is the collection and story of the local ceramics, Karatsu-Yaki held inside the castle.

There are various theories regarding the origin of Karatsu ware, but it is generally accepted that it began under the auspices of the Hata family, from the late Muromachi period (1336-1573) and into the Momoyama period (1568-1600). During Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasions into Korea (1592-1598), many Korean potters were brought back to Japan and proceeded to build kilns throughout the region. With the introduction of the climbing kiln, the kick wheel and glazing technology from the Korean Peninsula, the variety and style of Karatsu ware grew and was traded extensively throughout the country. Karatsu tea bowls in particular were to gain great status during the Edo period (1603-1867) until the late 1800s.

(Top left: dish with stamped and slip inlaid flowers – Mishima style, 17thc. Top right: plate with iron painted grasses and flowers, 1590-1610. Bottom left: ash glazed, Tataki style jar, 16-17thc. Bottom right: bowl with inlaid clove pattern – Kenjo Karatsu style, 18-19thc).

However, at the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1867), the Nabeshima clan (see previous post about Okawachiyama village) came to power and exerted their influence towards producing porcelain in Arita and Imari. Such was the power of porcelain and celadon glazes that Karatsu ware, with its rustic dark bodies, slip inlaid motifs and simple ash glazes, and despite being produced as tribute to the Emperor, finally fell into decline.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that Karatsu ware made a come back and this was due to Nakazato Taroemon (Muan) XII (1895-1985). Muan Nakazato was awarded the title of Living Cultural Asset (Living National Treasure) for his role in reviving traditional Karatsu pottery techniques and rejuvenating the Karatsu ceramic tradition. (See also Robert Yellin’s article).

Not far from the castle, and a little further south, our tour bus takes us to the Choda district of Karatsu to visit the kiln of Nakazato Taroemon, a 14th generation potter from the Nakazato lineage, whose family has long specialised in tea ware. We wander up a paved path with the occasional ceramic embellishment……

…….and past the new museum (opened in March 2020) that features three generations of Nakazato Taroemon Karatsu-yaki…….

…….to their wood fired climbing kiln. (Photo of museum entry above from Jigsaw Japan site).

The kiln (again – read the use of ‘kiln’ as also referring to the workshop or studio) is known as o-chawan-kama (honorable tea bowl kiln). This is a big business with a staff of about twenty, and in addition to the original Taroemon work, which is boxed, signed and expensive, the studio also produces more marketable products that are sold in the showroom. Like the nifty packaged biscuit plate with real cookies (iced in true Karatsu brushwork style) and carrying the all important Taroemon name!

Further up the road is the site of the original climbing kiln built in 1734 by the fifth generation Nakazato potter, and while no longer in use, it is the oldest surviving climbing kiln in Japan. Currently, Nakazato Taroemon the XIV’s private workshop overlooks the old kiln which is where he does his one off pieces, using a 200 year old foot-operated wheel, rather than a mechanical one.

(Bottom right photo from Jigsaw Japan site).

Once again, we board our bus, this time heading for the hills once more to spend the afternoon at Onta village.

To be continued……