The small village of Tamba is situated up in the hills somewhere inland between Kyoto and Osaka. It is more or less indistinct, except for the fact that it has a very long tradition of pottery making going back 800 hundred years.
The village lies along strangling secluded valley. It isn’t really close to anywhere in particular and is about an hour and a half from Kyoto by train to Aino station and then a 25 min bus trip to the village of Tachikui. Tachikui is the name of the village where the tradition of Tamba pottery technique is centered.
There are about 35 pottery workshops speed out along the valley. This valley doesn’t look all that different from any other Japanese farming valley, with a small river flowing along the valley, with paddy fields along either side. The small winding road hugs the bottom of the surrounding hills to maximise the area available for growing crops and vegetables in the fertile soil of the valley floor. The big difference in this valley is that there are lots of chimneys sprouting from the various sheds along the hill-side. These sheds are unique in that their roofs follow the contour of the slope of the hill to maximise the draught available for the firing of the kilns.
The kilns here are unique, in that they are essentially ‘Korean’ style kilns. Shaped like long tunnels sitting on the side of the hill. They are known locally as ‘snake’ kilns or ‘split bamboo’ kilns, as this is a reasonable description of their shape. They have a door way every few metres along the tunnel to allow access for the pots to be passed in during the packing of the kiln and then again during the unloading after firing. There are 9 doorways all together and the whole kiln is 47 metres long.
The kiln is fired with wood in the old fashioned way. After all, it is an 800 year old tradition. The fire is kindled from the fire mouth at the front of the kiln and the fire is progressively increased in intensity, with more and more wood being introduced into the front fire mouth until the full heat is achieved at the front of the long tunnel.
Once the top temperature is reached at the front, then wood is introduced into the small circular stoke holes situated all along the kiln, every 50 cm. or so. This takes the temperature of each subsequent section of kiln up to the top temperature required to melt the glazes in a short time and is very efficient of wood fuel. The whole process from start to finish takes just 48 hours. 12 hours of gently steaming. Then 24 hours of firing the main stoke hole at the front of the kiln and another 12 hours of side stoking.
Because this kiln is situated on such a steep slope, there is no need for a chimney as such. The whole steeply inclined tunnel kiln chamber creates its own draught up the slope. The end of the kiln is fashioned into a kind of ceramic colander, so the flames just escape to the atmosphere from the grid of holes at the back off the kiln.
This is the village community kiln, has been on this site for hundreds of years. This particular construction is just a year old. The old kiln on this site threatened to fall down from lots of use over many years, so was demolished and rebuilt as a community effort less than a year ago. This is its 2nd firing. It is fired just twice a year, with many potters contributing work to fill it, and taking turns in the firing schedule shifts.
It is a wonderful community effort and we are pleased to be here to witness it at this time. We are very lucky. Tamba is one of the 6 ancient kiln sites of Japan. It is a special place, but well past its prime just now. But still, it’s great to be here to witness this community event.
best wishes from the two ancient potters from Australia, doing their ceramic hajj.