SHODAI-YAKI POTTERY & KILNS
Shodai-yaki takes its name from Mt. Shodai (Arao City, Kumamoto Prefecture) where the indigenous clay has a rich iron content, perfect for sturdy pottery. Kilns in the area date back to the Nara (710 - 794 AD) and Heian (794 - 1192 AD) periods when there were about 100 Sueki kilns. During the "Pottery Wars" between 1592 - 1598 AD, Korean potters were captured, or willingly came, to Japan at the end of the 16th century and established various kilns under local daimyo rulers. For Shodai-yaki, the Kumamoto ruler was Kato Kiyomasa.
From Korea to Japan - Ko-Shodai's Roots
These various kilns -- such as Hagi and Takatori -- were under direct control of local daimyo and served as a way to establish their Tea name as well as to bring tax revenues into the fief.
Shodai employs iron-rich clay, over which a dark brown iron glaze is applied, and then over it rice-straw ash-glaze is either ladled or dramatically dripped on.
In the book "Folk Kilns ll" (Okamura Kichiemon, Kodansha, 1981) he writes that: "During the middle of the Edo period (18th century), a number of Kyushu kilns developed the technique of pouring an ash glaze over the iron-bearing clay body and then trailing a second opaque glaze over this. The only kiln where this tradition has survived is Shodai."
There are different names given to the glazing such as Ki-Shodai (Yellow Shodai), Ao-Shodai (Blue Shodai), Ame-Shodai (amber Shodai), and Namko ( a blue-purplish style). The range of colors is truly captivating.
Potters today fire in different ways, from the traditional wood-burning noborigama (firing for two days) to more convenient electric or gas kilns. See Kilns Guidebook.
In the past Shodai-yaki was also known as Hinnokoji-yaki, Gotoku-yaki or Matsukaze-yaki. Early Shodai pieces are referred to as Ko-Shodai ("ko" means "old") -- just like Ko-Bizen or Ko-Garatsu.
Shodai, like many other "folk" kilns, has had a hard time to meet the changing times. With daimyo protection there really were no worries, yet, as with everything, that did not last long. Shodai had to compete against porcelain from Arita and Imari, which was not easy, as these wares were viewed as more "sophisticated" than "dirty" stoneware clay jugs. At one time in the early 20th century, the flames no longer burned for Shodai, and the tradition was literally extinct.
After WWll though, a few potters rekindled the flames, mainly Chikashige Jitaro. At present there are 12 active kilns. Most of the kilns stamp or sign their works Shodai to show unity and also to make folks aware that Shodai is alive and well! It is, without doubt, one of the most important Mingei kilns Japan has ever known.