The jet lag was hitting me at once on the car ride to Furuse Gyozo Akahadayama in Nara Prefecture. But as soon as we pulled up to the gravel lot and I saw Noriko Furuse greet us, I was alert and awake. I felt like I was about to enter a Hayao Miyazaki movie. With sliding wooden doors, pottery pieces pressed into the stone walkway, and logs piled up along the entrance, I could feel I was entering a place that was cared for for generations.
Noriko-san took over as the 8th generation owner of the business after her dad. She greeted me at the door with an enthusiasm that was infectious. She is warm, talkative, and very much committed to her craft.
She lives and breathes the family business and is clearly proud of all of the history that is embedded on the grounds. She explained that they do everything is on site. They get the akahada (red clay) from their back yard. They have three kilns, a production site, a shop and showroom, all on the same lot. The whole operation consists of only five people but the array of wares they make is astonishing.
The view from the backyard. You can see another patch of akahada in the distance (the reddish oval in the top left part of the image). Akahada clay consists of red iron oxide which gives it its unique color.
One of the kilns on the property.
Inside of the kiln.
Akahada is native to Nara. Most of the kilns using this milky white clay with a hint of red started up in the 1500s. From cups and bowls, to carafes and statues, Noriko-san and her team are able to bring out the stunning natural beauty of the clay and glaze in their pieces, which all uniquely express hues of white, pink, soft purple, and powder blue.
Bowl with emblem made with Akahada clay.
Bowl with deer motif made with Akahada clay.
Plates with deer and other motifs made with Akahada clay.
Noriko-san and her team wrap and box each piece carefully, so places like our shop in Oakland can receive their wares undamaged.
As with many of the other makers I visited during my trip to Nara, Akahada potters started making things for the temples and shrines around Nara. They still have many pieces that can only be sold to the temples. Noriko-san and her team use a mold method where they put a slab of clay on the tabletop wheel and whack the clay into shape. It uses a lot of skill and I was really amazed that they can make these dishes the exact same size every time.
Plate made with Akahada clay using hand mold technique.
I came home to Oakland with a few pieces, hoping to share them at Umami Mart. I am so excited to have several of these specials pieces for everyone to see this holiday season. I hope to someday invite Noriko-san to Umami Mart so she can show us some of her techniques in person.