Yes Way! – A Walk Along the old Tombai Walls

I decide to take a walk up to the old Izumiyama Quarry and visit the Folklore Museum that is situated just by its entrance. The upper part of the Kami-Arita street isn’t that interesting as most of the galleries and shops peter out towards the top of the hill and I’ve walked that way plenty of times. So I decide to detour off the beaten track and take a walk along the little stream and stroll what was once the old main street through the town. It winds and meanders its narrow way between the workshops, gardens and backyards, as it follows the course of the stream and its natural contours. There are several detours and by-passes, little bridges that take the walkway along the opposite side of the stream for a while, for no apparent reason.



These criss-crossings of the stream had their reasons in the deep past, but today just seem strange and quaint in a world of hi-tech engineering and straight lines conceived on paper and then engineered into reality, regardless of the local contours and conditions on the ground.



I really like the lovely, ancient, quality of the neighbourhood.  A lot of this area still has the old brick walls laid with mud called ‘Tombai’ walls. Tombai is the local dialect word for firebrick as a lot of the walls along this old road have been built from recycled

firebricks recovered from demolished kilns over the centuries. Their mottled surfaces variably shiny glazed, blistered and pock-marked from their years of productive work in the ancient wood fired kilns.



This old main road was little more than a walking track for people with baskets and hand carts and was so windy and convoluted that it was eventually replaced with a new road, capable of carrying traffic in the modern world. The old road remained because it wasn’t just a thoroughfare, but a vital constituent of the local economy, because all along the little stream, there were situated huge, water powered, timber stamp mills, called ‘Karausu-ato’ These mills were used for crushing the local porcelain stone that was the life blood of the local economy. At it’s peak, there were over two hundred and seventy of these water driven pounding mills, creaking, groaning and thumping their way through the day and night. siphoning water from the stream slightly higher up and directing it along leats to the mills, then discharging it back into the main flow to be used again lower down. In this way, the local economy was directly linked to the weather and rain fall patterns. There are no longer any working water-powered stamp mills operating along this stream. They have all been replaced by electrically driven machines. There are two of these mills preserved in the locality as educational tourists attractions. However, water powered clay crusher mills just like these are still in use in the pottery village of Onda, in the north of Kyushu.

see <“A Mecca called Onda” – revisited, for the first time Posted on 12/11/2014>

Not only are there no longer any water-powered stamp mills still working in Arita, but potters don’t do their own milling or clay prep at all anymore. That all finished a long time ago, with the specialisation of labour and business efficiencies. Just as all the pots are no longer thrown on foot powered, wooden, kick wheels, so all the clay for the potters of Arita is now made in just two large mechanised factories and one very small, husband and wife, family business.

It looks like I’m the anachronism. One of the last guys standing who chooses to try and do everything for himself, from digging the stone, through crushing and grinding the minerals, then ageing the clay and then finally throwing the pots on an antiquated, wooden, foot powered, kick wheel. Then firing the pots in a wood fired kiln, that I built myself with my own hand made bricks and fired with wood that I cut and split myself.

When the people here ask me how I work and I tell them. They shake their heads in disbelief. One looked gob-smacked and  just said “No Way”!

I reply “Yes way”!