I have an old Mashiko-yaki teapot at my home.
I obtained it from a secondhand dealer at Mashiko, a long time ago. It has a roundish shape and has different expressions on the front from on the back. Every time I use it I feel very pleased by how attractive it is.
It is said that Mashiko Pottery has a “pottery district brother”. That is, its brother is Kasama Pottery, which developed in Kasama City on the border of Tochigi and Ibaraki Prefectures. Since I am a person who is not so familiar with pottery-making, the concept of a "pottery district brother" was something that, when I first heard it, came as a surprise.
These days, the two areas have come to be called Kasamashiko, the name coined by combining the names of the two areas, "Kasama" and "Mashiko". It sounds great.
I have been using my Mashiko-yaki teapot for a long time. I said to myself, “If I come to know more of the history of Kasamashiko and learn about Kasamashiko Pottery in more detail, I will probably become even more fond of my teapot.”
So, I've decided to set out on a trip to learn about these Kasamashiko brother pottery districts.
Kasama Inari Shrine is a “must-visit”, if you go to Kasama City
This is how I came to embark on a trip to learn about the history of Kasamashiko Pottery. However, since I had traveled all the way to Kasama City, I thought I should visit the Kasama Inari Shrine, one of the three great Inari Shrines in Japan. I walked at a leisurely pace along the approach to the shrine. Casting a sidelong glance at the inari sushi shops along the street (Kasama is said to be the birthplace of inari sushi), I finally arrived at the Kasama Inari Shrine.
In olden times, the Shrine was fervently protected by successive lords of the Kasama clan, including the Sadanao Makino, who designated Kuno-Tōen Pottery Studio (the birthplace of the modern Kasama Pottery) as one of the clan's official pottery studios.
Legend holds that the Shrine was originally founded in the second year of the Hakuchi era (651). Since then, not only people in Kasama but also those around the nation have worshipped devotedly at the Shrine, as the abode of the deity who is responsible for the promotion of various types of human effort, including agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, and fisheries.
During its long history, in particular in the Edo period (1603 - 1868), the Shrine was especially patronized by the Makino family of the Kasama domain, in the form of contributions of a lot of land and Shinto ritual materials. As the lords of the Kasama domain, the Makino family may have prayed to the deity of the Kasama Inari Shrine that the people of the domain would be prosperous, receive a sufficient amount of food, and live peacefully. If so, they must have been good lords whose prayers were answered. I walk in the precincts of the Shrine, thinking about such things.
I also prayed at the outer oratory for safety on my trip and moved toward the inside of the Shrine along a lane on the right side of the outer oratory. There, the Main Hall came into view.
The Main Hall was re-constructed in the Ansei and Man-en eras (1854 - 1860) in the late Edo period. The Main Hall building is tile-roofed with formed copper shingles and the building itself is made entirely of hinoki cypress. What an imposing hall! And the carvings ... Those on both side walls and the rear of the Main Hall are particularly magnificent. I cannot find words to express my feeling of excitement.
Elaborate and delicate, yet altogether splendid carvings are close to one another on the walls of the Main Hall. The carvings include dynamically-depicted dragons and lions that seem to be protecting the Main Hall, and others that depict the Banquet by Meandering Waters.
According to Mr. Ueno, the priest of the Kasama Inari Shrine, the carvings of dragons and lions were made by Nuinosuke Goto, the master sculptor of that time. It took 12 years to finish them. The carving of the Banquet of Meandering Waters was made by Otohachi Mirokuji and Mangoro Moronuki, who were also master carvers in that period.
In particular, the Banquet of Meandering Waters was carved all across the surfaces of the Main Hall’s outer wall. The flowing water may have been carved with the intention of protecting the building from fire, Mr. Ueno says.
What a splendid idea!
The residents of Kasama lived peacefully and in comfort under the protection of the deity of the Kasama Inari Shrine. In the meantime, they themselves protected the Main Hall by making a fire-fighting carving on its walls! Of course, this is just a product of my imagination, but this thought makes me rather happy.
Today, there are lots of visitors to the Shrine, but few come to the Main Hall located on the far side of the Shrine. That’s a great pity.
I think, from the bottom of my heart, that if you come to the Kasama Inari Shrine, you should come to the Main Hall to see the magnificent carvings on the outer walls, after offering a prayer at the outer oratory, of course.
I suppose the deity of the Shrine does not care about such a small thing, though.
Hōdai-in Temple and the originator of Mashiko Pottery
After seeing the magnificent carvings at the Kasama Inari Shrine, I visited the Hōdai-in, a Buddhist temple of the Sōdō Buddhist sect. The temple has one of the world largest statues of Bodhidharma. Why did I come to this temple? I had two purposes.
One was to take a close look at the carving on the front gate of the temple. It is said to have a different quality of beauty from those dynamic carvings seen at the Kasama Inari Shrine. The other was to learn about the relationship between the Hōdai-in temple and Otsuka Keizaburo, the originator of Kasama Pottery.
I decided to have a look at the front gate of the temple first, before seeing Mr. Uchiyama, the sub-priest of the temple, to learn about the originator of Kasama Pottery from him.
It seems that the gabled roof on the front gate was originally grass-thatched, but after a time it was changed to the current copper tile roofing. What an elegant sight it must have been!
The four-legged front gate is made entirely of hinoki cypress. The pillars of the gate are decorated with exquisite relief work from top to bottom. You can see the excellent skills of unnamed craftsmen.
I noticed something interesting while passing through the gate and taking a close look at the relief work. In the upper part of the relief work on the pillars, the Chinese character denoting "ishi (stone)" is inscribed.
What is "ishi" and why is it inscribed here?
According to Mr. Uchiyama, the relief work on the front gate was a contribution of the Ishii family, who lived in Kasama City. That design word "ishi" was the family crest of the Ishii family and was inscribed in the relief work as the token of their contribution. At present, too, when people donate some money to temples or shrines, something created using the money carries the name of the donor on it. In the same way, the family crest was skillfully engraved as part of the design on the front gate, worked into the relief work. That shows the wisdom of skilled craftsmen, doesn't it?
Then, next was to clarify the relationship between the originator of Mashiko Pottery and the Hōdai-in temple. Keizaburo Otsuka, the originator of Mashiko Pottery, received his education at a private elementary school that held classes within this temple.
It is said that this is because he came from the same village as Yuzan Taishu, the 21st chief priest of the Temple.
Mr. Uchiyama says:"The priest, Yuzan Taishu, would often visit the Kuno-Tōen, which was a famous pottery studio. He may have introduced Keizaburo Otsuka to the Kuno family. There may be someone at the Kuno-Tōen who is knowledgeable about the details of the story."
It’s getting interesting!
So, I decided to visit the Kuno-Tōen Pottery Studio, the birthplace of Kasama Pottery, to listen to the stories about the relationship between the originator of Kasama Pottery, Keizaburo Otsuka and Kuno-Tōen.
Following Keizaburo Otsuka's experiences at the Kuno-Tōen
The Kuno-Tōen Pottery Studio is located at the far end of a side road branching from Highway 1, which connects Kasama City and Mashiko town. At present, the Studio is operated by Mrs. Keiko Ito, the 14th head of the Studio. Visitors can try their hand at ceramic-ware making, and do it right at the birthplace of Kasama Pottery! I, too, absolutely want to do that.
But first, I decided to ask her to tell me the story of the birth of Kasama Pottery.
According to her, Kasama Pottery’s origins date back to the An-ei era (1772 - 80) of the middle Edo period. During that era, Han-uemon Michinobu Kuno, the head of Kami-Hakodamura village (now Hakoda in Kasama City) started making pottery after learning ceramic techniques from Chōemon. He was a potter from Shigaraki in Ohmi Province, where pottery was flourishing at that time. Kuno then constructed pottery kilns under Chōemon’s guidance. We can conclude from this that Han-uemon Michinobu Kuno, Mrs. Ito's ancestor and the founder of the Kuno-Tōen Pottery Studio, possessed wisdom and great foresight.
Mrs. Ito said: "It is said that at that time there were skilled itinerant potters who, relying solely on their skill, traveled from one pottery producing place to another. Chōemon may have been one such wandering potter."
Anyway, this is how the Kuno-Tōen began operating, using climbing kilns constructed under the guidance of Chōemon, who had come from Kami-Hakodamura village. The Studio was later designated by Sadanao Makino, lord of the Kasama clan, as one of the clan's official pottery studios, and he established its presence as a pottery studio under the Kasama clan's protection.
By the way, I was wondering how the Kuno-Tōen was related to Keizaburo Otsuka, the originator of Mashiko Pottery.
Mrs. Ito said: "I hear that the priest of the Hōdai-in temple was a pottery lover and he often came to the Kuno-Tōen together with Keizaburo Otsuka, who was a child at that time. Soon, Keizaburo Otsuka started receiving training in making pottery here."
The story as told by Mrs. Ito is almost the same as that provided by Mr. Uchiyama. Therefore, we can feel pretty confident in reporting that Mashiko Pottery was born as follows: First, Keizaburo Otsuka, who was attending a private elementary school held at the Hōdai-in temple, was often taken to the Kuno-Tōen by the 21st chief priest of the Hōdai-in; Then, since he often came to the Studio, he learned ceramic techniques; and finally he launched his own pottery studio in Mashiko, and it became known as Mashiko Pottery.。
Well, so Kasama Pottery is finally connected in my mind to Mashiko Pottery.
Now, having gotten a clearer understanding of the relationship between the two pottery districts, I headed for the studio to get my own pottery-making experience.
Inside the studio is a fireplace which is burning brightly. By the fireplace, Kuno-Tōen's pet dog, "Gabu", is stretched out comfortably, looking at me as I work busily on my first pottery-making attempt.
In spite of being a beginner, I took on making a chamfered bowl that requires me to form it by carefully trimming the edge.
First, make a round bottom for the bowl with clay; then build up the walls with a series of clay coils, while smoothing the surface with one’s fingers. This process is rather difficult.
However, don't worry! Mrs. Ito is kind enough to give appropriate advice to suit the degree of skill and the progress of the individual participants.
Perhaps, when Keizaburo Otsuka was an apprentice he may have been given this kind of guidance.
Of course, I understand that a pottery apprenticeship is totally different from a mere pottery-making tour, so I don't mean to suggest that his training was as much fun as my brief adventure. That said, I believe that Keizaburo Otsuka must have felt pleasure in using and touching clay, in addition to a sense of mastery from learning advanced pottery techniques at the Kuno-Tōen.
I thought about him in that way, when I was feeling fed up with myself because I could not even make nice clay coils.
Well, now let's go to Mashiko town!