Jul 21, 2011

The Shiraiwayaki Ware and the Waheigama Studio

Recently, we are reading articles about some Tohoku’s cultural traditions that have been endangered by the recent disasters. However, Japan’s tradition has been carried on over centuries despite adversities. Here is our example in Semboku City, whose tradition has died out but brought back to life.

Shiraiwayaki ware denotes the beautiful blue and dark brown ceramic made in Shiraiwa Area, Kakunodate Town, Semboku City, which can be dated back to the 18th century.

Shiraiwayaki 白岩焼

The History of Shiraiwayaki Ware:

Pottery technique of Shiraiwayaki is said to have been brought from Soma region (now known as Fukushima Prefecture) in 1771 by a craftsman Unshichi Matsumoto (松本運七), who established a workspace and taught his apprentices the pottery technique. At the height of glory, the studios operated 6 kilns and had been managed by as many as 5,000 workmen. The pottery was very important as articles of local people’s everyday life and also had been presented to the Lord of Akita Clan.

However, the Shiraiwayaki has inclined since some unfortunate events coincided: a disastrous earthquake hit in 1896, cheaper ceramics from other prefectures flew in, and home-brewing of Doburoku (どぶろく, a variation of Nigori Sake, which traditionally used pottery in the making) was banned. It resulted in decline of its popularity and demand, so that finally the tradition of Shiraiwa-yaki Ware has died out.

Another turning point has come to the Shiraiwayaki Ware. Almost a hundred years later, some local activists in pursuit of revitalizing traditional cultures brought it back to life! In 1974, with a guidance of Mr. Shoji Hamada(浜田庄司), a Living National Cultural Treasure (人間国宝), some pottery makers gathered and established studios to bring back the traditional technique. Today a few studios are still thriving to share the beautiful rustic tradition in the production of both artistic and practical craftworks.

The Wahei-gama Studio Serving the Unganji Temple:

Waheigama (和兵衛窯)is one of the studios that have been brought back to life. The Studio is located within a few minutes walk from the Unganji Temple (雲巌寺), an important temple in Kakunodate Area. Traditionally, this studio has been producing the jizo statues for the temple, whereas the common Jizo statues are made of stone.

The Studio is small and has a very calming atmosphere. Their works shows the quintessential Shiraiwayaki  style with the beautiful blue glaze and dark brown clay. Of course, each piece is unique and handmade by the owner family.

A Shiraiwayaki pot would be the most regional and original souvenir for your friends and family! Highly recommended!

Yunomi (Tea Cup) for 2500 Yen

Smaller Unomi Tea Cup for 2000 Yen

Chopstick Rest for 500 Yen


Where You Can See the Shiraiwayaki Works:

A few Shiriwayaki works are displayed at Tazawako Tourist Information Center in JR Tazawako Station. If you really can’t make it to the studio, make sure you find them there!

A few pieces are on display

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