This site introduces various types of pottery in Japan. This article is about Shigaraki ware. It is well known for the “Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) figure” you surely have seen before once or more.
What is Shigaraki ware?
Shigaraki ware is a type of pottery produced in and around Shigaraki Town, Shiga Prefecture. Along with Bizen, Tamba, Echizen, Seto, and Tokoname, it belongs to Japan’s Six Ancient Kilns.
Features of Shigaraki ware
Shigaraki ware is featured by a number of simple works that avoid painting on them and make use of natural colors given by the firing process. The shape and color depend on temperature, the way of firing, and soil conditions, so every work becomes different and unique. Shigaraki ware has been used regularly by tea ceremony masters since a long time ago. When a Shigaraki-ware work is fired, its parts covered by ashes turn blackish brown. This is called “Koge (burned)” or “Hai-kaburi (ash-covered)” and appreciated with curiosity for its subtle atmosphere in pottery.
Shigaraki ware is famous for the “Tanuki figure.” Shigaraki Town, the producer of Shigaraki ware, has a famous tourist attraction “Tanuki-mura (Raccoon dog village),” where as many as 10,000 variously-sized Shigaraki-ware Tanuki welcome tourists. Tanuki has been considered a lucky charm since a long time ago, so the ceramics of Tanuki have already existed as tea utensils in the Edo period. However, it was in the Meiji period that the production of Tanuki figures started on a full scale. It is said that a potter named Tetsuzo Fujiwara produced the first Tanuki figure wishing to recreate a Tanuki drumming its belly he had seen by chance before. The completion of the figure owed the fact that Shigaraki ware is cut out for big pottery.
The Shigaraki-ware Tanuki suddenly became popular in 1951. Emperor Showa was moved by many Shigaraki-ware Tanuki figures lined up along the roadside during his royal visit to the area. Even a poem was composed by the emperor. The scene was broadcasted by many newspapers and TV news. The Shigaraki-ware Tanuki immediately became popular all around Japan. Now, for Japanese people, “Shigaraki ware = Tanuki” almost stands.
History of Shigaraki ware
Back in the Nara period, Emperor Shomu built a capital named Shigaraki Palace. Shigaraki ware is said to have originated from the event where clay roof tiles were burnt then. The name “Shigaraki” has two possible origins. One says it was named after “Shigeru ki (lush trees in Japanese)” because the area had thick lush forests deep in mountains. Another possibility is a Korean word with a similar sound that means a place surrounded by mountains. There were many potters summoned from Korea back then.
In the Azuchi-momoyama period, more focus was put on the production of tea utensils, which resulted in the creation of many Shigaraki-ware masterpieces. The period saw the birth of the Shigaraki-ware wabi-sabi, which has been passed down well to the present. In the Edo period, they started producing daily goods such as Donabe (earthenware pot) besides tea utensils. In the Meiji period, Hibachi (brazier) of Shigaraki ware became very popular and accounted for more than 80% of the domestic production volume. Also, the Tanuki figure was born and spread all over Japan in this period. Shigaraki ware developed a lot in the Meiji period. Afterward, the production of Hibachi ended because electricity and gas grew popular in the Showa period. However, they have been making a wide range of products including tiles, bowls, Tanuki figures, and eating utensils.