I decide that today is my only chance to go and visit Mr Norito, or Noritou, or Noritow. I’ve seen it written in different ways. In Romanji it’s written as Norito, His web site is , but on his card, the hiragana ends in a ‘u’. So I think that Noritou is the best approximation that I can make.
I first met Noritou san when I was taken to his workshop for a brief mid-week visit. He is in his late 80’s I think, although he doesn’t look it. He’d pass for 60’s any time, but I’m told that he was selected as a very young kamikaze pilot at the end of the war. Not unlike my former teacher Shiga Shigeo, they only survived, because the military ran out of planes.
Noritou san is a very gentle character. I can tell from his manner and tone of voice.
He is also a very interesting potter. He is the only person that I have been introduced to so far that makes his own single stone porcelain body for his pots here in Arita. Regrettably I can’t speak Japanese well enough to understand any of the technical information that he is offering directly from him. However, I have Miyuri san with me on my first visit and she is a very competent translator. It was she who brought me here and told me that I really ought to meet this guy. “He’s a bit like you. he makes his own clay from stone”. So of course I had to come. He has no machinery, it’s all very hands on and time-consuming, as all clay making is, but he selects the softest, kaolin/sericite material that he can still find – I didn’t ask where, directly, but I got the impression from Miyuri san that it is from the old Izumiyama quarry. Even though it is now a preserved Historical site, apparently, there is a group of potters who want to preserve the old traditional ways, and Noritou san is one of them. They appear to have privileged access to collect small quantities of porcelain stone from the site. The archaeologist at the Historical Museum on site, maintains that there is still plenty of material in the quarry. This fits with my understanding of the nature of hydro-thermal weathering. it creates an inverted cone shape of ore body. So it should go down a long way, like an inverted image of the mountain that was formally there, now all mined away
Noritou san simply slakes his collected material in water and ashes for a year. Yes, that’s right ashes! He is telling me through Miyuri san that the ash-water, lye perhaps? is necessary to break down the clayey particles and remove the iron staining from the various contaminants? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me – but!
That is what I was told, or what I think that I heard, but there could be some loss in translation, Ne! He shows me his slaking tubs. I dip my hand into the water. It is certainly slippery, just like lye. This is exactly the opposite of my understanding of clay making. I know from my own experiments, that when I grind the porcelain stone down to powder, it breaks some the chemical bonds of the alkali in the felspars, releasing some soluble alkali. This makes the resulting clay rather ‘floppy’ to use. Sort of thixotropic in nature, becoming softer and more fluid as it is worked, making it difficult to hold its form on the potters wheel. The counter to this is to add some acidic material into the mix to counter the release of alkalis and neutralise them. I choose to use the roof water from my water tank connected to the pottery roof, which has loads of eucalyptus leaves in the gutters, and makes the water naturally acidic. I also add vinegar. As I understand it, clay develops its plasticity better under slightly acid conditions as it ages. The low pH encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria that increases the workability of the mix. Maybe Noritou san knows this too, but is talking about something else entirely. And all this through an interpreter. Imagine what is happening now that I’m here alone this time?
Actually, I don’t always need a lot of words. I’ve spent close to 50 years as a potter, so I have a fair understanding of what is happening in the pottery just through observation. It’s mostly all I need. My limited Japanese is only just greetings and platitudes, in-depth, technical discussion is beyond me, but I manage.
The other very interesting thing about Noritou san, is that he does many things, just like me. We don’t just share a love of fossicking and clay making. He also teaches pottery to visitors on one or two days during the week to bolster his income, because you can imagine, his income from making ceramics by his chosen, slow, hands-on method is very low. That part of the conversation we both agree on! So, a little bit of teaching from home, just like me. The really interesting bit is that he opens his home on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for lunch and early dinner, something like 11am to 7 pm. He operates a hand-made soba noodle shop and is very famous locally. I’m warned to go early as he is usually booked out, so I do. Naughtily, I arrive 15 mins before he is due to open. I’m first in.
He and his wife make all the buckwheat noodles themselves by hand in the old-fashioned traditional manner, allowing them to sit over-night before cooking them, in the time-honoured way. This ageing maximises the buckwheat flavour. I can’t wait to get back there again. It’s Sunday today, so you can guess where I’m going. It’s my last chance, as I’m leaving next Sunday and am booked with other things planned on the other two days.
The meal comes in 3 servings, an amuse of tea and room temperature, crisp, fried buckwheat noodles, with just a hint of salt. Then the main course of cold, handmade noodles with an adjunct of warm soup to follow. There are some condiments of grated daikon radish, finely chopped green onions and wasabi, with a small separate dish of pink salt. Finally, there is a desert of sweetened buckwheat paste. It’s all terribly yummy. All this for Y800. That’s less than $10.
We exchange gifts, I have brought him a jar of Australian honey and he gives me one of his pots.
His advertising says that you can eat your handmade soba noodle lunch from his hand-made porcelain-stone, soba cup/bowl and them buy the cup. I do just that. It’s a warm autumn day and just right for cold soba.
from Steve in Arita, enjoying the food, porcelain-stone cold soba