The Shokunin (Craftsmen)

Fukuyan and Sabuyan use a very old pugmill to prepare clay for production of pots. We wedged clay by foot and hand as well.


Wares laid out on the ground by the kiln shed. Fukuyan in one of his rare moments of stillness.


Fukuyan looks up after stoking firewood into a stokehole in the kiln during a noborigama firing.


The eternal and classic Fukuyan shot. Finishing a batch of kakuzara, or square plates.

Hiroshiyan producing scroll end pieces.


Shochan lifts another vase from the wheel onto a wareboard, using flexible bamboo lifters.

Tami Chan nearly completes trimming of a large vase.


Yoshisan slowly and carefully trims away at a large osara.


Mitsuyan trims a foot onto the bottom of a large osara.


Hiroshiyan takes a break in between stokes of the noborigama firing.

Throwing the components for kyusu, or side handled teapots, Mitsuyan scarcely gets any clay on himself.


Shochan rolling rope impressions onto the side of a teacup.

Mr. Shimaoka's Shokunin

Upon arriving at Mr. Shimaoka's home and pottery in Mashiko, I immediately noticed the group of craftsmen & women he had working with him. Firing a large four chamber noborigama, or hill climbing kiln, almost once a month, required an enormous amount of effort. From clay preparation and pot production, to assembling glaze materials into batches of various glazes and the glazing of hundreds of pieces for loading into the kilns and firing, this was a studio that required the help of many hands.

During my time there, these shokunin included seven people:

Fukuyan Kamiya, next to Mr. Shimaoka, was the head man, the foreman so to speak. His huge list of duties included ordering and securing clay and glaze materials, and firewood, mixing of the glazes, including tests for all new materials, making the press molded square plates and square vases, pulling handles for all items that received handles, loading and unloading the kilns, overseeing the firing of the kilns, and just plain over all management of the day to day operations. As of this writing, though officially retired, Fukuyan still works at the pottery on a regular basis.

Mitsuyan Ohbuka started at Shimaoka's when he was fifteen years old. When I was there he was perhaps forty. Mitsuyan's duties included throwing of the large osara, or platters, and many of the more difficult to throw items. At this time Mitsuyan is the official foreman.

Shoichi Kamiya (unrelated to Fukuyan) was perhaps five years younger than Mitsuyan, and also started working at the Shimaoka Pottery when he was about fifteen years old. Shochan's skills at the time were in throwing of the middle size forms on the kickwheels used at the pottery (everyone used kickwheels there). Although hired on as a shokunin originally, Shochan eventually left Shimaoka's studio to open his own pottery, sometime in the 1980's.

Hiroshi Kamiya (Shochan's father), worked at the wheel next to mine and Fukuyan's. His duties included press molded work of many types, and trimming and finishing as well. Hiroshiyan was a very kind man (as was everyone at Shimaoka's), and he regularly helped me with my Japanese, and was a good companion. Unfortunately, he died in the 1980's.

Sabuyan (last name unknown) was the woodcutter, and general do it all guy at the time. He did not work with clay in the studio with the rest of us.

Sabuyan's wife, Yoshisan, was one of two older women who worked with the rest of us in the studio at that time. The other was Tami Chan, who was Fukuyan's wife. The job of these two women was to carefully trim the jomon zogan, or rope impressed slip inlay that was to be found on most of the pottery produced at the Shimaoka workshop. Trimming of the slip inlay was a most tedious task. The slightest excess pressure could remove not just the surface slip, but take away part of the design as well.

So these were the shokunin who worked there alongside me for those two years. They, along with the two other apprentices, and Mr. Shimaoka's son Ryuta, were my constant role models and companions for the duration of my stay.


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This Page Was Last Updated on December 02, 2016