Mashiko Ware

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The charm of Mashiko ware lies in its simplicity. It is thick and rustic, and looks like it still holds the shape of the sands that it came from.

Although pottery had already been present in Haga-gun, Tochigi prefecture, it was not until the period between the 19th century and the end of the Edo period that Mashiko ware began to dominate the craft landscape in the area.

It is said that Mashiko ware history can be traced back to the Year 1853, when Keisaburo Otsuka built a kiln as a side business from his farmlands in Mashiko. Keisaburo Otsuka was born in 1824 and was trained in Kasama city, which is located to the southeast of Masuko city.  Then, he discovered clay suitable for pottery in the Ootsusawa area of Mashiko, and decided to move to the town. You can thus say that Mashiko ware and Kasama ware are something like relatives.

From that point onwards, Mashiko developed into a production site of pots and other daily-use items with help from Otsuka’s clan, who took the craft on as one of the clan businesses. Mashiko wares were shipped to and sold in Edo, where they were mainly used as kitchenware. The ware sales were fairly decent up until around 1900, but their popularity then began to slowly decline due to changes in people’s lifestyle. However, when the Great Kanto Earthquake hit the area in 1923, many kitchen wares were broken, and demand increased suddenly, helping Mashiko pottery revive itself on the market.

The following year, Shoji Hamada, a ceramic artist who had studied in the United Kingdom, returned to his home nation of Japan. He went on to study pottery nationwide, eventually settling down in Mashiko because the glaze and soil there were of good quality, and the old-fashioned way of producing pottery had been well preserved by the locals. Muneyoshi Yanagi and Shoji Hamada were encouraging a Japanese folk movement at the time, and they recommended Mashiko ware as a folk art. The name came to be known throughout the country, leading to a sudden increase in ceramic artists who specialized in the style. Nowadays, Mashiko ware is not only poplar domestically but also abroad as well. There are about 30 master craftsmen around the world today, including people of Australian and American nationality.

What’s attractive about Mashiko ware is that it has both beauty and practicality for daily necessities. The soil of Mashiko is rich in silicate and iron, which makes it easy to shape and fire-resistant. As no extra ingredients are added to the clay, these wares can be a bit on the thick side, but this is seen as another unique aspect of the style, and it makes the pottery easy to hold.

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Photo by Mashiko Town Tourist Association

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