Creating pottery ware in the heart of Karatsu ‐ Ryutagama

Creating pottery ware in the heart of Karatsu ‐ Ryutagama

On the property which is surrounded by nature with a stream running through it, is an atelier and gallery which are made from renovated traditional Japanese style homes. It is not maintained like a botanical garden at a tourist spot. In fact, trees and weeds grow naturally. There is a sense of calmness that comes over you when you feel the pleasant breeze at the Karatsu kiln “Ryutagama” located in Karatsu, Saga.

“We usually use a gas kiln now. We only use the climbing kiln five to six times a year. The yield isn’t great, but there’s the excitement of being able to create unexpected pieces as a result of the dancing flames.” (Taki Nakazato)

Ryutagama was founded by Takashi Nakazato, fifth son of Muan Nakazato, National Living Treasure and Karatsu creator Taroemon Nakazato the twelfth. On the day of our visit, Takashi was not available, but his son Taki and grandson Kenta were spinning the lathe. Father and son were focused on their work, barely exchanging words. It was pleasant to be in their presence, with only the sound of them working.

“It’s pleasant now, but it’s hot in the summer and freezing in the winter (laugh). Sometimes we’re working with the lathe as snow flutters in.” (Nakazato)

The distinct warmth and texture of Karatsu is born by circumstance.
Nakazato commented.
“Pottery pieces should be used. I want to make pieces that are used in people’s everyday lives, not just displayed as a decoration.”
Their pieces are not expensive because they are meant to be used, yet their warmth and texture can also enrich one’s life.

Karatsu-yaki has been made in the area around Karatsu in Saga prefecture since the 1580’s. There are many variations depending on the type of clay, glaze and decoration that is used. In Japanese traditional tea ceremonies, there is a saying that touts the beauty of exquisite, one of a kind Karatsu pieces. There are also many pieces made for everyday use, as evident in the annual Karatsu Yakimon Festival which brings food and vessels together.

We were able to observe the lighting of the fire in preparation for the kiln firing. The fire was lit in the evening with preparations beginning early in the day. Formed pottery pieces were placed tightly in the kiln with very little space in between. Their positioning from the fire would determine how they turned out based on temperature and the movement of the flames, so this was a carefully calculated process. Once all the pieces were in place, the entrance was sealed. We all celebrated the moment with sake which was passed about among the kiln workers and our staff. Once the fire reached the optimal temperature of 1200 degrees Celsius, the temperature was maintained by feeding the fire. The fire was tended throughout the night, until all of the firewood turned to ash.
“There isn’t any way for us to calculate what happens inside the kiln. That’s what makes it so interesting, and keeps us going.” (Nakazato)


4333-1 Mirukashi, Karatsu-shi, Saga
TEL 0955-74-3503