Discovering Shigaraki Ware: The Charmed World of Raccoon Dog Pottery

Discovering Shigaraki Ware: The Charmed World of Raccoon Dog Pottery

Shigaraki-ware raccoon dogs are known as lucky charms. It is loved by people today as a lucky charm that brings good luck. How was Shigaraki ware born and what is its history? Let's check it out.

What is Shigaraki ware?

Shigaraki ware is a pottery produced in Shigaraki Town, Shiga Prefecture, located about an hour's drive from Osaka. It is one of the "Six Ancient Kilns of Japan" with the longest history among Japanese pottery, and Shigaraki ware has been produced for a variety of uses throughout its long history. This pottery is characterized by its sticky, high-quality clay, and a wide range of items have been produced, from small to large. Today, Shigaraki ware is best known for its raccoon dog figurines, but over the course of its history, it has evolved from jars, pots, and mortars to, in recent years, brazier, umbrella stands, bathtubs, and tiles, as tools and vessels that support people's lives according to the times.

In particular, pottery from the Middle Ages onward has been fired without glaze to bring out the texture of the clay and create beautiful artistry. The beauty created by the interaction of clay and fire, such as fire color, scarlet color, and natural glaze, is a highlight of this pottery, which has long been a favorite in the world of the tea ceremony.

History of Shigaraki Ware

Shigaraki ware is one of the Six Ancient Kilns in Japan, classified as the oldest pottery in Japan. Over its long history, the role demanded of Shigaraki ware has gradually changed with each era. The following is a detailed description of the history of Shigaraki ware.

Kamakura and Muromachi Periods

Shigaraki ware began in the 13th century under the influence of Tokoname ware, and its unique style was established in the 14th century. Seto, Tokoname, Tanba, Bizen, Echizen and Shigaraki ware, which opened during this period, are collectively called the "Six Ancient Kilns of Japan. During this period, the production of daily necessities such as jars, pots, and bowls flourished, as demand increased with the development of agriculture.

Azuchi-Momoyama Period

Shigaraki ware attracted the attention of tea masters for its simple texture and was appreciated as tea utensils. Gradually, Shigaraki ware came to be used in tea ceremonies, as its simple beauty was in keeping with the spirit of Wabicha (tea ceremony). Shigaraki ware became as popular as Bizen ware as tea ceremony utensils during this period.

Edo Period

In the Edo period, the introduction of climbing kilns made large-scale production of Shigaraki ware possible. Although the original characteristic of Shigaraki ware was to be produced without glaze, glazed production began around this time to meet the nationwide demand for glazed ceramics. While tea jars were the main products of the time, a wide variety of miscellaneous daily utensils were also produced to support the daily lives of the common people.

Meiji - Showa Period

With modernization, Shigaraki ware began to produce new products such as acid-resistant ceramics for the chemical industry. In the late Edo period, Shigaraki-ware braziers became popular for their resistance to rapid heating and cooling, and Shigaraki-ware boasted the largest market share in Japan. During the war, Shigaraki-ware was also used as a substitute for ceramics due to the shortage of metal. Shigaraki-ware raccoon dogs became famous when the then Emperor Showa visited Shigaraki in 1951, and many raccoon dog figurines were displayed. This was reported in the media, and Shigaraki ware raccoon dog figurines began to attract attention throughout Japan.

Showa Period to the Present

In the Showa 20s, the "hibachi (brazier) economy" boomed, and the production of flowerpots increased in line with the popularity of ornamental plants. Later, production of architectural ceramics and tiles also began, and were used for the roof of the National Diet Building. Various products were produced to meet the needs of the times, including ceramic baths and works of art, and the "Tower of the Sun" produced for the 1970 Japan World Exposition continues to shine as a masterpiece of Shigaraki technology. Shigaraki ware continues to demonstrate its appeal in the modern age as well as throughout its history.

Characteristics of Shigaraki Ware

Shigaraki ware has changed into various forms according to the trends of the times and the demands of the time. Raccoon figurines are said to bring good luck by merchants as they are believed to bring good fortune. Let us dig a little deeper into the characteristics of Shigaraki ware.

Eight-phase auspiciousness (Hassou-Engi)

The Shigaraki ware of raccoon dogs represents the eight-phase lucky charms, and the shape of the raccoon dog and the objects it carries all have their own meaning. The eight phases of good luck have a total of eight meanings.

  • Hat(Kasa): to protect one's self from calamity and evil.
  • Eyes: With large eyes, you pay attention to your surroundings and make the right decisions.
  • Smile: Always smiling leads to prosperous business.
  • Sake botteles(Tokkuri): to acquire human virtue.
  • Passbook: to build a good relationship of trust with customers
  • Big belly: to have calmness and boldness in decision making
  • Money bag: for good luck with money
  • Tail: All's well that ends well. Everything ends well.

It is a good omen for those who want to bring good luck.

Used in the Japanese Diet Building

Shigaraki ware is used not only for familiar daily necessities, but also for roof tiles of the Japanese Diet building. This is surprising, isn't it? The reason why Shigaraki was adopted for the roof tiles of the National Diet Building is that terra cotta, which was developed in 1988 by Otsuka Ohmi Toki Corporation, a production base in Shiga Prefecture, was highly evaluated for its wide range of color tones that can be specified, water resistance, and freeze protection. The roof tiles were constructed with great attention to detail, including the use of different shades of pink to blend in with the surrounding stone, and they continue to protect the roof of the National Diet Building to this day.

Artist Taro Okamoto also used the material for the Tower of the Sun

Do you know the artist Taro Okamoto? He is the artist who produced the Tower of the Sun, the symbol of the 1970 Osaka Expo. The "Black Sun" on the back of the Tower of the Sun, measuring approximately 8 meters in diameter, is made of Shigaraki porcelain tiles, and it is known that he also held Shigaraki porcelain in high regard. Taro Okamoto was also very fond of Shigaraki and left the following words.

In the quietly vacant space of Shigaraki 

The echoes of an ancient and fragrant life are alive.

The pottery here, too, has a simple feeling 

The pottery here, too, has a simple feeling and its robust flavor evokes the depth of history.

I lay in the ruins of Shikaraku's palace

Lying in the sun

I am often gripped by a feeling that never ceases to move me.

The times are moving on and on

This old kiln town

must be transformed into a modern production

It is difficult to do so in a place with tradition

Not only the people of Shigaraki, but also the outsiders who love Shigaraki

It is difficult to do so in a place with tradition Not only the people of Shigaraki, but also the outsiders who love Shigaraki. 

To make the most of the charm of this town.

These words show that Shigaraki was a special place for him. Behind the charm of the Tower of the Sun, which is still talked about today, the Shigaraki area was deeply involved.