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The Tsuchigama Project 

In the 1980’s, as a young Bizen Ware potter, My pottary’s master Tadashi Hirakawa was inspired by remains of the medieval kilns found in the hills of Bizen region of Okayama, Japan. That led he to initiate the Tsuchigama Project and eventually succeeded in reconstructing two replicas of a 700- year old kiln: He built the first kiln as his own project in 2002, the second in 2010 in cooperation with the Bizen Board of Education and me
. The construction and firing of the kiln proved that the properties of the medieval kiln are not at all less than those of the contemporary ones. The “Tsuchigama”, the word He coined, means a medieval kiln with original structure and properties. It is a sunken kiln where half of the kiln is buried in ground whereas the top half above the ground level. Compared to the contemporary kilns, there are several major differences: Tsuchigama, with a single tube shape, uses just clay (without the need for compacting it like bricks) on the location itself. Unlike the modern kiln, it does not have a chimney, does not use sun baked bricks or firebricks. The Tsuchigama creates peculiar firing and heat properties, thus making it possible to “burn the clay” effectively and efficiently as compared to the contemporary brick kilns, i.e. gas fired kiln or electric kiln. It is now proven that such firing and heat properties were the original concept of the Bizen Ware that prevailed during the medieval period. Furthermore, the timbers of various kinds used as fuel also come from the location of the kiln. It is noteworthy that all materials used from the construction of the kiln to firing are of natural materials, thus enabling the natural circulation suitable for environmental protection as explained below:


Tsuchigama Project in the USA

The Tsuchigama Project in the USA commenced upon request by Chris Powell, Prof., Texas Christian University, Fortworth TX, who became keenly interested in the main features of the Tsuchigama as described above and suggested Hirakawa to recreate a replica of a Tsuchigama kiln in the USA. We, Hirakawa and Akai as a team in Bizen, responded positively to the request and recreated a Tsuchigama kiln in De Queen, AR in 2015. Pottery and art objects using the very kiln, were exhibited with presentation on detailed background information to a wide range of interested artists, pottery artists and academics alike. Since then, under the purview of the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs Grant Program, I could complete its grant aided program “Recreation of the medieval Bizen Pottery”. I exhibited successfully the process from forming of jars, grating bowls, pots, large vats, etc. to firing the same using a Tsuchigama kiln we recreated in Bizen, Okayama Prefecture. This has deepened the understanding of the Bizen Pottery in its original form. The second part of the Tsuchigama Project in De Queen, AR was in 2018. With the additional research results and findings as mentioned above, we exhibited the process of Bizen Pottery techniques using the Tsuchigama kiln recreated in 2015. We also had an opportunity to exhibited the pottery and art objects which were produced that time with the participation of internship students and a potter from Singapore. The main objectives of the Tsuchigama Project is to foster successors of Tsuchigama artists by sharing and transferring the technique and the vital information of the Tsuchigama kiln which, without doubt, will render it possible to continue with the future generations. It is also our desire to disseminate the traditional culture of medieval Bizen Pottery: high performance of the kiln itself, its technique, its linkage to the Japanese history etc. Coming all the way to Arkansas, USA, across the ocean and land, away from Bizen, Okayama, Japan, is an experimental attempt of a global magnitude. Disseminating the information of the Tsuchigama kiln and its related features, drawing wider recognition of the Tsuchigama kiln and its possibilities, are a critical step forward on this important ambition.

Vision of the Project
The Tsuchigama kiln, with an old structure from the medieval period, is not simply a thing of the past but makes us recall something more important. The kiln itself is an excellent example of a form of “land art”. With its scientifically superior properties (though intuitively so in the Medieval period), “baking the clay with the clay” can maximize the potential of the clay materials that are readily available around us. The Tsuchigama kiln, indeed, is a good example that enables the natural circulation suitable for environmental protection. It would be a pity if we end up ignoring the kiln made of clay as merely a thing of the past. Through the Tsuchigama Project as described above, we strongly desire that more and more people, at home and abroad, recognize and become interested in the power of Tsuchigama kiln. Furthermore, I am convinced that our research and experimental approach to the Tsuchigama Project thus far accomplished will certainly contribute to the expansion of the potential of the art of pottery and, more importantly, to the realm of art in a much broader sense, in Japan and globally.


Bizen ware ancent kiln restoration No. 1 Tsuchigama at Bizen studio.


Bizen ware ancent kiln restoration No. 2 Tsuchigama at Bizen studio.

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