About Mr. Kengo Saeki

Preserve the traditional culture
-The art of Shigaraki pottery-

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Inherit the traditional technique to the future

At d:matcha, we aim to convey the excellence of this pottery to people worldwide in order to preserve such traditional pottery-making methods for the future. We hope to make known to many the immense effort, time, and affection poured into creating a single piece of pottery.

Mr. Saeki

Shigaraki Pottery artist

Born in Kyoto and residing in Yubune. His father was a Kyoto-based kimono dye artist. After training in Shigaraki, he established his klin in Yubune.

Soil Crafting Dedication

Unique Blend Utilizing Yubune's Soil

Shape design

The technique of "hollowing out," wherein a lump of clay is carved out to shape the vessel.

Highly Skilled Anagama Firing

The traditional baking method in Shigaraki. He fires for 8 to 10 days.

Shigaraki Pottery
One of the six ancient pottery places in Japan

Shigaraki is located in the neighboring town to Yubune, where d:matcha is situated.
From the 13th century onwards, production of water containers and tea utensils using anagama kilns became lively.
The austere and wabi-sabi taste of Shigaraki ware can be considered an art symbolizing Japanese culture.

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Kengo Saeki

Weaving 750 Years of Shigaraki Ware's History and Techniques

This is the work of Kengo Saeki, a local artist living in Yubune. He continues the traditional techniques of Shigaraki ware such as clay preparation and wood-firing in an anagama kiln. His creations primarily focus on the natural glaze born from red pine ash. His powerful style of work evokes the power of nature and the earth.

At d:matcha, we aim to convey the excellence of this pottery to people worldwide in order to preserve such traditional pottery-making methods for the future. We hope to make known to many the immense effort, time, and affection poured into creating a single piece of pottery.

※What is Shigaraki Ware?

Shigaraki is located in the neighboring town to Yubune, where d:matcha is situated in Wazuka-cho, Yubune area. Shigaraki ware is one of Japan's six ancient kilns, and Kengo Saeki apprenticed under a Shigaraki ware artist for seven years. (Shigaraki ware has been certified as a Japanese heritage.)

The origins of Shigaraki ware trace back to around 1500 years ago when it was believed to have begun by firing the roof tiles of the imperial palace during its relocation to Shigaraki. From the 13th century onwards, production of water containers and tea utensils using anagama kilns became lively. Masterpieces of tea utensils and other tea-related items were crafted, and the austere and wabi-sabi taste of Shigaraki ware can be considered an art symbolizing Japanese culture.

Soil Crafting Dedication

Unique Blend Utilizing Yubune's Soil

Amidst many ceramic artists who acquire soil for their pottery, Mr. Saeki pursues the entire process of soil crafting by his own hands. He blends the local soil from Yubune with that from the neighboring town of Shigaraki.

The soil in the Yubune and Shigaraki areas is renowned as the ancient Biwako layer, considered a miraculous earth ideal for ceramics.

Miraculous Soil — Born from Lake Biwa, the Ancient Lake in Shigaraki and Yubune

Approximately three million years ago, Lake Biwa, a world-famous ancient lake, originated in Mie Prefecture and moved to its current position, passing through the areas of Shigaraki and Yubune. It's said that the Shigaraki and Yubune regions were once at the bottom of this lake.

The strata formed by the accumulated sediments and clays in the ancient Lake Biwa are known as the Biwako layer. This intricate stratum comprises clay, sand, and gravel, interspersed with dozens of layers of volcanic ash. The white clay derived from granite contains abundant feldspar and quartz.

Iron turns fiery red when fired, while feldspar turns glassy. The soil’s intriguing texture, fiery red hue (scarlet color), and natural glaze offer an unparalleled aesthetic that can't be found elsewhere, making it its most captivating attribute.

Highly Skilled Anagama Firing

Utilizing the long-term Anagama kiln firing technique for 8 to 10 days showcases a unique craftsmanship. In modern times, many artists consider convenience and cost, resorting to electric or gas kilns for pottery firing. Only a few artists in the Shigaraki area practice the traditional Anagama or noborigama (climbing kiln) firing methods.

The Anagama is built into the slope of a hill, with a ceiling made from materials like clay. It can fire pottery at high temperatures ranging from 1000 to 1300 degrees Celsius.

While most artists fire their pottery over 3 to 4 days, Mr. Saeki diligently fires his pieces for an extended period of 8 to 10 days. Despite the considerable time and cost in terms of firewood, Saeki emphasizes that the extended firing period enhances the depth of color and patterns in his work.

Each March, Mr. Saeki fires hundreds of pieces in the Anagama kiln. He learned the Anagama firing technique during his training period in Shigaraki.

Saeki underscores the importance of experience in Anagama firing, acknowledging that each firing result can vary significantly. Controlling every aspect such as temperature and oxygen conditions within the kiln is challenging. However, with accumulated experience, it becomes possible to anticipate some changes within the kiln.

薪はすべて赤松

In the Anagama firing process, approximately 15,000 logs of firewood are used at once. All the firewood used by Saeki is sourced from Japanese red pine. While red pine is relatively costly, it contains high oil content, enabling the kiln temperature to be elevated effectively. Additionally, since most of it burns completely, generating substantial ash, Saeki and others take shifts to monitor the fire without sleeping.

Around 30% of the pottery produced in the kiln is usable, while the rest might get damaged or develop imperfections, rendering them unsuitable for sale.

Anagama Firing: A Diverse Palette - The Fascinating Variability of Colors and Patterns Originating from the Same Clay

Relation Between Kiln Position and Hue

The positioning of pottery in the kiln influences the colors and patterns of the resulting pieces. Areas within the kiln with more oxygen develop the distinct Shigaraki red hue (scarlet), while places with less oxygen and covered in ash tend to appear white.

Natural Glazing - Beautiful Hues Born from Ash

One of the merits of firing pottery in an Anagama kiln is the natural glazing effect achieved through ash (known as natural glaze). As red pine burns inside the kiln, the resulting ash settles on the pottery, imbuing it with color. These ash-covered sections create various expressions, sometimes appearing white, at times gray, among other hues.

Predicting where the ash might settle within the kiln is possible, but controlling precisely how the ash will land on the pottery is beyond human manipulation. It's these serendipitous chemical reactions within the kiln that grant each piece of pottery its distinctive individuality.

Rapid Cooling (Withdrawal)

Some pieces utilize a technique called "withdrawal."

During firing, certain pieces are removed from the kiln around the eighth day, for instance, and rapidly cooled. This rapid cooling results in a bluish transformation of the glassy parts of the pottery.

Creating Robust Works Crafted through Hollowing Out

The formation of tea bowls follows a technique known as "hollowing out," wherein a lump of clay is carved out to shape the vessel. This process involves compacting the clay to create the surface texture. The diameter and height of the tea bowl are essentially determined during this stage. Using tools, the interior is hollowed out while refining the form by gradually shaving the base.

About Kengo Sakaie

Born in Kyoto and residing in Yubune, Kengo Sakaie is a ceramic artist. His father was a Kyoto-based kimono dye artist. After training in Shigaraki, he established his independence in Yubune.

  • Born in 1969 in Kyoto City.
  • Graduated from Kyoto Seika University, majoring in three-dimensional sculpting from the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1993.
  • Apprenticed under Seiji Sawa in Shigaraki for eight years starting in 1995.
  • Held his debut exhibition at a pottery garden in Shigaraki in 1997.
  • Became independent in 2003.
  • Engaged in pottery in Papua New Guinea in 2005.
  • Showcased solo exhibitions nationwide.