Does the characterless make it characteristic? The secret of Akahadayaki pottery, having captured deities to warlords Mr. Rakusai Onishi from Kohakukama kiln
Hi, I’m Kanako from SUNCHI editorial desk.
We live with pottery like rice bowls and decorations at the alcove in a traditional Japanese room and the entrance. The production area of pottery is scattered all around Japan. Recently, people who visit their favorite kilns and try to find favorite pottery are increasing. The kiln that we visited this time was “Akahadayaki” pottery located in Nara, the Japanese oldest capital. The name isn’t so familiar and Mr. Rakusai Onishi, who owns the kiln named “Kohakukama” told us the reason for it. “I guess it’s because Akahadayaki pottery has been used only in the local.” The customers in the local are the big names peculiar to the old capital Nara. We took a closer look at Akahadayaki, that pottery lover or Japanese history lover has to know.
The kiln is in Yamato Koriyama City in Nara which is famous for the goldfish scooping contest. We have a typical image to a kiln that it’s located deep in a mountain, but Mr. Onishi’s Kohakukama kiln is just a minute walk from Koriyama station.
To our surprise, the pottery which will be dedicated to the World Heritage Site Kasuga Taisha Shrine was being made just a stone’s throw from a station. It was during the height of making.
“This year falls on the “Shikinen Zotai” ceremony which takes place every 20 years at Kasuga Taisha Shrine. This is a memorabilia for the ceremony. And this is the pottery made with the soil beneath the base stone of Yakushiji Temple East Pagoda, which is being under repair work. I asked them if I could use the soil for the pottery…”
The big name such as Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Yakushiji Temple and Todaiji Temple came out from his mouth one by one. Actually Nara is the best Prefecture in Japan which has The World Heritage Site most. Off course, three heritage sites above are among them. Mr. Onishi is one of the representative craftspeople of Akahadayaki, given the title of “Kasuga Ondokishi” which means the designated potter for Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
“There used to be the oldest capital in Nara. Where there are the Imperial Court and the Capital there are big temples and shrines, and in that place pottery will be needed. That’s the pottery for the ritual. We still make pottery such as the bowl for “Omizutori” ritual at Todaiji Temple and the rice bowl for Great Buddha.”“Omizutori” is a ritual held in the early spring every year wishing for people’s perfect health.
Generally, it’s said Akahadayaki as the local industry has its origin during the period of 1573 to 1593, when Koriyama castellan Hidenaga Toyotomi governed the land. He called on potters to make tea wares. Since the period of ruling by Nobunaga Oda, tea wares had been valued as a reward to warlords. But the root of Akahadayaki seems lie far back in the past when it started to have a relationship with the ritual.
Contrary to the massive history, “mamezara” or the tiny dish pattered with Nara’s motif and the small and cute container for the incense are lined along with the solid tea ware at the gallery neighboring to the workshop.
Looking over the work shop, there are pottery of various shapes and colors. Akahadayaki doesn’t have a specific definition for the soil and the way to be kilned.
“Originally, Akahadayaki is the pottery to try every measure. The potter who laid the foundation of the current Akahadayaki was Mokuhaku Okuda in the end of the Edo period. He himself made finely copied pottery of each district. He put up a sign, “Shokoku Utsushimono Dokoro”, so to say the copy pottery shop of each district. The soil in this area is thin layered. The color of the soil changes a lot depending on a layer. Even though I use the same glaze if the soil or the kiln changes, the pottery turns out to be a different one. The characteristic of Akahadyaki is the characterless.”
He showed us some bowls, with saying “Putting it that way is misleading”, a tea bowl with Red Fuji inside of it and a bowl with camellia pattern. The faint gray ground color is tinted by the straw ash glaze called “Akahadayu” which Mokuhaku Okuda adopted. This is the glaze representing “Akahadayaki” pottery.
“The unglazed part will be colored in red. This is one of the prevalent theories to the origin of the name “Akahadayaki”, “aka” means red.”
The red color of the ridge line and the petal were expressed by the use of the character of “Akahadayu”
Akahadayaki has been developed flexibly according to the needs of the times, sometimes for the ritual, sometimes tea wares for praising warlords. Akahadayaki has been nurtured by taking in the constant change, being free from “likely to be” and “has to be”.
“Even now, I will be most nervous and most thrilled when I pull out the pottery from the kiln. My teacher is my grandfather and he worked so hard until around his 85. He used to put a trial piece every time he fired the kiln.”
I felt like seeing the past and the future of “Akahadayaki” which has been changing while being rooted in the oldest capital.
Address: 117 Takatacho, Yamato Koriyama City, Nara Prefecture
Writer: Kanako Ojima
Photographer: Masashi Kimura