Lee Yukei, a Korean potter, brought over the technology of a multi-layered chamber in 1599. This would be called a climbing kiln (noborigama). The climbing kiln would first be used to make pottery. This was until the discovery of natural deposits containing materials that could be used to start making Hasami porcelain during the beginning of the Edo Period.
In the Beginning
Hasami is one of Japan’s premier pottery towns. With over 400 years of history, this town has continued to innovate and create beautiful pieces of work. There are many kilns in Hasami, each having their own unique styles. Many of these kilns are family operated, and their techniques have been passed down from generation to generation.
An Innovative Process – The Climbing Kiln
The climbing kiln consists of kiln chambers, a firebox, flue channels, and a chimney. The firebox is where the main source of heat came from. Firewood would be placed here to start the process of making Hasami porcelain. From there, heat would pass through the flue channels until it is dispersed through the chimney at the very back. Heat in a climbing kiln can reach temperatures of up to 1200 degrees Celsius.
The climbing kilns that Hasami utilized are what gave them an edge in porcelain production. Some of the climbing kilns in Hasami would reach upwards of 24 chambers, which meant that the amount of porcelain that the townspeople of Hasami could produce was enormous.
In the beginning, Hasami was a sublet for other porcelain companies. Hasami porcelain was initially thought to be Arita porcelain or Imari porcelain because it used to be shipped out of the port in Imari. However, because of the large amounts of climbing kilns, Hasami started to become the leaders in the mass production of porcelain in Japan and started to make a name for themselves.
The porcelain makers of Hasami were able to do this by creating a division of labor that would make each piece of the process more streamlined. This included specialists for areas of manufacturing such as forming, raising, glazing, and kilning. This system created a highly specialized workforce.
This technical workforce of pottery makers in Hasami meant they were able to fully produce quality porcelain in large quantities. With the help of climbing kilns, this meant that Hasami porcelain was the most affordable option. Because of the quality of Hasami porcelain, and the lower cost to produce these goods, Hasami has inserted itself as one of the forerunners in Japanese pottery.
Hasami porcelain focused on the everyday needs of the Japanese people as well as those from foreign countries wishing to do trade during the Edo period. This led to the creation of two products that helped solidify Hasami town into becoming a top porcelain producer. Those two products are the kurawanka bowl and konpura bottle.
Kurawanka and Konpura
The kurawanka bowls were sturdy and durable porcelain bowls that could be used for almost any type of meal. Because Hasami porcelain was able to be mass-produced, this meant that the common people of that time were able to afford them and use the bowls for a long time.
The konpura bottle was a dyed white porcelain bottle usually used to store soy sauce, but was also used in storing Japanese sake. These bottles were almost entirely used for shipping overseas.
Remnants of these items can still be seen at various museums and locations within Hasami, so don’t be surprised if you run into some while strolling through the town. Modern versions of these are also still being made and the uses for these products are endless.
Today, Hasami stands as Japans most popular producer of porcelain and continues to make an impact with potters not just in Japan, but with the rest of the world as well.
The Historic Pottery Town of Nakaoyama
Within a 10-minute drive from the center of Hasami, a small town begins to form and expand within a mountain valley. This town is called Nakaoyama. Nakaoyama began in the mid-17th century to create porcelain for use in everyday life. When entering Nakaoyama, you will be able to see a large climbing kiln (second largest in the world) that was used for the mass production of Japanese porcelain. Continuing along the road, chimney stacks from the Taisho and Showa period begin to sprout out and come in to view. Within Nakaoyama, one will still be able to find remnants of porcelain from the past.
Built into the mountainside, Nakaoyama consists of a small, winding road, with many kilns and stores branching off of it. Here we can get the sense of a town unchanged by the years and feel the natural countryside.
Walking along the road we can see people hard at work making Hasami porcelain, we can hear birds chirping, feel the fresh mountain air, and hear a natural stream that runs through the town.
To read more about Nakaoyama, CLICK HERE.
From Past to Present
Unlike the ornate porcelain that was being made during the 17th century, Hasami porcelain took another approach. Hasami got rid of the idea that porcelain is expensive and for the high-class of society. Instead, they worked on dishes that were convenient and of good quality. Hasami porcelain was not put under the same pressure to create lucrative designs or use expensive colors for their dishes. They instead created affordable and sturdy dishes that everyone could use for their meals.
This way of thinking is still present in Hasami today. Even though Hasami porcelain is still created for convenience, each kiln offers their own designs and patterns that make Hasami tableware enjoyable for everyone.
Hasami porcelain is starting to spread worldwide and becoming ever more popular. As the town is expanding and the influence of Hasami porcelain starts to blossom, people are starting to become more excited about seeing Hasami or using the porcelain made here. Many people aren’t just buying products from Hasami online either, but taking trips to Hasami to see the way that their porcelain was made, to take tours, and to have their own experience in making pottery.
Hasami still has its small-town feel, uniqueness, welcoming townspeople, and quietness that is alluring to people from near and far. Everyone is happy to say, “Welcome to Hasami!”