Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Daisei Gama

With a 4-day Thanksgiving weekend ahead of us, and Jeff itching to get off the base, we decided to head north to Nikko, with a side trip planned to Mashiko.

I had been to Mashiko about 2 weeks ago (see previous entry), and when Jeff saw the photos there was some grumbling about “all the cool places you’re getting to see while I’m stuck here on base.” So I thought if we were headed to Nikko we could take a side trip over to Mashiko on our way. I sent an email ahead to the Daisei Gama Pottery – asking if it was possible for us to have a tour of the pottery studio. Not being sure if they had received my email we showed up hoping for the best.

When we entered the shop area it was deserted, but within a few moments Mosako Otsuka walked in and she remembered me and said that if we could wait until 1 p.m. that she and her son would give us a tour. We were served green tea with some little candies and crackers while we waited and Otsuka-san told us a little about the history of the Daisei Gama kiln and the different types of glazes that Mashiko is known for. It was all quite interesting.

The Daisei Gama has been in the Otsuka family for seven generations. They are the last pottery studio in Mashiko to continue using the wood fired kilns, with the other studios moving to either gas or electric. The area is known for their golden brown glaze, which she said is also known as the Persimmon glaze, for the fruit found in that area. There is usually a celadon glaze that is used as an accent or contrasting glaze.

With time to spare before our tour, we all carefully selected individual teacups and looked around the studio at the beautiful work. I found some gorgeous vases that I could envision Ikebana arrangements in – but as Jeff will clearly point out, I have a way of “falling in love” with the most expensive items on display. I will be saving my Yen from my teaching and will make a point of returning to Mashiko before our time here in Japan has ended. There is a beautiful vase there that has my name on it.

Seiichi Otsuka, the son, entered and with introductions made he took us on a tour of the stepping kiln. We learned about the firings – they are getting ready for their next bisque firing – and how when they are firing the pottery with the glazes they have these little “thermometers” that are inside the kiln. When the temperature reaches a certain point one of the peaks melts and with a very limited range of only a few degrees the second one melts – this very small range is where they need to keep the kiln at for the firing of their pottery. The picture shows what they look like after they come out of the kiln.

After the stepping kiln tour, we went behind the scenes to see one of their apprentices working on the wheel. He was making one of the parts to a traditional Japanese teapot. The kids each had a turn at sitting on the kick wheel, and getting a feel for what it would be like to use their foot power to spin the wheel. Mosako returned to guide us up the hill behind the studio and kiln where her husband, the master potter Kuninori Otsuka, was chopping wood for the kiln as well as burning wood for the ash they use to make the glazes. As Mosako Otsuka said, when it is a family run studio they have to do it all.

With the tour over we made our purchases and said our good-byes. My return trip to the Daisei Gama pottery studio was as wonderful as my first visit. It helps of course that both Seiichi and Mosako speak English, Seiichi is fluent having spent a year in the United States as an exchange student when he was younger. But not having the language barrier is only a small part of the delight in visiting this studio – the obvious joy they take in making their work and sharing their knowledge is infectious. This was my second visit, but it is most definitely not my last.

We headed back to the car and started the journey towards Nikko. With map in hand we chose to go the scenic route … mmmm, well we're not so sure we choose wisely. Look for the next posting to find out more.

Till next time, sayonara.

1 comment:

  1. Nice! I apprenticed in Mashiko and lived there for 8 years. My wife Jean lived there for 10 yeras, and just got back to the States the end of April. It is good to hear reports from Mashiko.

    Lee in Minneapolis, MN


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