Mashiko: Embracing the unpredictability in wood firings

Mashiko is a pottery town to the north of Tokyo, near Utsunomiya. Mashiko garnered national and international attention when the famous potter, Shoji Hamada, started a studio in the area in 1930. The town holds numerous pottery events throughout the year and houses a number of wood firing kilns. The photos below were taken during a wood firing event in Mashiko during late Autumn.


Inaka (“Countryside“): Space, wood, and relatively relaxed laws dealing with smoke and burning means that all wood firings are done in the Japanese countryside and well away from the densely populated confines of cities.


Wood: The wood that is used in a Japanese wood firing is locally sourced and typically includes Hinoki, Hiba, and Sugi. Ideally, the wood is dry and chopped to medium sized planks – they’re loaded into the fire hot kiln by hand after all; too heavy, you’ll be slow and risk burning yourself, too light, you’ll fail to feed the fire at an adequate pace – not to mention wasting energy bending to grab more planks. This photo of the wood shed was taken during the middle of the process – it was empty by the end.


Fire: The target temperature is over 1,000 degrees celsius and is achieved through the gradual process of feeding the fire with fresh wood over several days. The oxygen that enters the kiln through the side holes, which are intermittently closed, fuels the flames and gives it a soothing amber hue. If you keep an ear out, you’ll be able to hear a crackle as oil in the wood reacts with fire.


Luck – four leaf clover, where are you? Many uncontrollable variables spells unpredictability. The temperature fluctuations throughout the process translates to inconsistent ash dispersal, which in turn affects ash glaze formation on the ceramic works. The relative position of ceramic works in the kiln influences end results as well. Never hurts to wish for a bit of luck!



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