About  Agano ware, a favorite of tea masters

About  Agano ware, a favorite of tea masters

Agano ware has a 400-year history. Its trajectory was traced back to the world of tea ceremony ceramics and the existence of a kiln supported by the clan. We will take a closer look at this traditional craft born in Fukuchi Town, Fukuoka Prefecture, and its charms.

What is Agano ware?

Agano ware is produced in Fukuchi Town, Fukuoka Prefecture, and is recognized as a national traditional craft. Today, various types of ware are produced, including tableware such as teacups, small plates, and mortar bowls, as well as sake cups, tokkuri, and other drinking vessels. Agano ware originated when the potter Son Kai, who was brought back by Kiyomasa Kato during Hideyoshi Toyotomi's invasion of Korea, was invited to Kokura and opened a kiln. The first three kilns, Sarayama Kiln, Kamanokuchi Kiln, and Iwaya Korai Kiln, are called Agano Kogama(oldest klins). In the Edo period (1603-1867), these kilns were favored by Enshu Kobori, a tea master, and were selected as one of the Enshu Seven Kilns (Enshu Shichi-yo) as seven kilns that are particularly outstanding in the tea ceremony.

The seven Enshu kilns are: Shidoro ware, Zesho ware, Asahi ware, Akahada ware, Kosobe ware, Agano ware, and Takatori ware. Although Agano ware has a 400-year history, it faced a crisis of extinction when production was temporarily halted, but it has successfully recovered and is now being produced by about 20 potteries.

History of Agano ware

Agano ware began with an encounter between Hosokawa Tadaoki, the feudal lord of Kokura at the time, and Song Kai, a potter invited from Korea. In 1602, the shogun invited Songkai to open a kiln under the shogun's direction, and the production of Agano ware began. Since then, the kiln's fire has been kept alive by continuing to offer ware to the clan. However, the kiln fire temporarily ceased when the clan was abolished in 1871. Although Agano ware had continued to be produced under the protection of the clan, the change in administrative structure made it impossible to continue production.

In 1902, Agano ware was restored by the Kumagai and Takatsuru families with the support of the clan. The fire was lit again at the kiln. The fire was passed down from generation to generation, and in 1983, the kiln was designated as a traditional craft by the national government. Today, the kiln continues to preserve its traditions and produces a succession of elegant and prestigious vessels backed by 400 years of history.

Characteristics of Agano ware: Thin Fabric with Tea ware Roots

Agano ware is characterized by its thin fabric and light weight compared to other ceramics. As its history shows, it has its roots in tea ceremony ceramics, so it can be said that it has been used as a favorite vessel in the tea ceremony scene. The swirl pattern called "hidari tomoe," which is a characteristic of Agano ware, was created when scraping the base of the potter's wheel, and spread as a ware mark.

The variety of glazes is another attraction of Agano ware. Blue-green, white-brown, and yellowish-brown glazes create a unique texture that produces kiln changes. The greenish-blue glaze, which is particularly representative, uses copper oxide and emits a brilliant blue color. The iron glaze produces a reddish-brown, lustreless finish, while the mushigui glaze brings out a rustic, simple flavor with a unique texture.

The secret of making thin Agano ware, which was highly regarded as such a tea ware, lies in the preparation of the clay. Using a highly pure clay, the clay is carefully watered and processed over time. The clay, which is like a living organism, is left to rest for several months to reach the optimum state for ware. Thin making in particular requires clay that can be melted for glaze at high temperatures. Glazes are also used, in the early days ash glazes derived from plants were used, but today glazes containing copper or iron are used. Even with the same material, the vessels show different expressions depending on the firing temperature and kiln conditions. These processes shape the depth and beauty of Agano ware.

About Agano Kogama: Three kilns that supported the beginning of Agano ware

The kilns built in the early days of Agano ware production are called Agano Kogama. Near the locations where these three kilns were built, about 20 kilns continue to produce Agano ware today.

Sarayama Kiln

The Sarayama Kiln was established around 1625. By this time, other kilns were already successfully producing Agano ware, and the Sarayama Kiln was opened because the other kilns alone could not hold the potters. In 1632, Tadatoshi Hosokawa, the feudal lord of the clan, was transferred to Kumamoto, and a new feudal lord, Tadamasa Ogasawara, was transferred from another clan. Under the Ogasawara clan, production continued under their protection for about 240 years, but history came to an end with the abolition of the domain in 1871. After that, some potters tried to continue production and used various glazes. However, the kilns were closed due to a lack of successors and the inability to make a business out of it.

Kamanokuchi Kiln

Kamanokuchi Kama" is one of the largest kilns in Japan and one of the oldest kilns in Agano ware. The kiln was opened in 1602 and closed when Hosokawa Tadatoshi moved to Kumamoto in 1632. The style of this kiln was meticulous and influenced by Chinese style, which is said to be Son Kai's own ware technique. The kiln site of Kamanokuchi Kiln does not have the "greenish blue sink" that is representative of today's Agano ware, and no kiln mark or Tomoe pattern can be found. Therefore, even if ware from the kiln period is found, it may not be considered as Ko- Agano, but as Ko-Karatsu. This kiln is the origin of Agano ware of the Hosokawa and early Ogasawara periods, and its pieces are still very valuable today. The reason why Sonkai built the kiln in the Agano area is not clear, but the secrecy of the kiln and their status as foreigners may have led them to take refuge in the local temple, Koukokuji. The reason for the remote location of the kiln may also be due to the secrecy of the kiln or to avoid their status as foreigners.

Iwayai Korai Kiln

The Iwaya Koraigama kiln is said to have opened later than the Kamanokuchi kiln. It is thought that the Iwaya Koraigama kiln was built around 1607, after the confusion of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 had been recovered and the situation in the domain had stabilized. It is said that the style of the Iwaya-gama was to produce products for the private sector because of the free and unrestrained handiwork that could be seen in contrast to the uniform beauty of the kamanokuchi kiln. The Iwaya Korai Kiln continued production in this way, but in 1632, when Hosokawa Tadatoshi was transferred to Kumamoto, the kiln's role came to an end.