Special Report

“Do-tougeikan” Pottery School
Take up the challenge of creating an original piece of art at this authentic pottery school

Make a piece of tableware that brings out the flavor of your food
Ceramics have a feeling of warmth to the touch, perhaps because their main material is earth. Especially with something you have made yourself, you can feel a deep significance in the piece even if it is a little misshapen. The authentic pottery school, “Do-tougeikan”, presided over by the ceramic artist Kazuhiko Sato, welcomes beginners and holds a hands-on ceramics workshop. So, I went to try it out (photo 1, 2).
The workshop offers three options: a 2-hour hands-on pottery course, where you can shape the clay and decorate it with a pattern; a 1-hour ceramic painting course in which you can paint onto an unglazed, already fired plate; and a 1-hour gold-leaf painting course, where you can take home your creation on the same day.
I wanted to make my own original piece of tableware, so I decided to challenge myself at the hands-on pottery course.
First of all, I have to decide what to make. Samples are on display near the entrance, so it’s easy to visualize your creation using these as a reference (photo 3). You can make rice bowls and teacups, as well as plates, beer mugs, aroma oil burners, and more. I heard that making figurines of TV characters is popular with kids, and there are even people who make haniwa, which are ritual terracotta figures from ancient Japan.
Around 1kg is provided for us. This is enough to make one large item, or around two small ones. If you want to make more pieces or something larger, it’s possible to increase the amount of clay for an extra fee. The motto of this school is that the customer’s requests are the number one priority, and everybody should enjoy themselves as much as possible.
The clay used here is an original blend of earth from the Shigaraki area - an authentic, subdued red clay, also used by ceramic artists. After forming the shape from the clay, you can paint a pattern onto it using white and red slip. When a piece is glazed and fired, the finished article has white and brownish sections on a gray base. Bearing this in mind, I tell the instructor about my concept for my piece. I decided to make a largish bowl, just the right size for stewed dishes.
First, the instructor explains the pottery method while demonstrating on a sample. The whole process was explained at once, so I got rather worried that I wouldn’t be able to remember it all. This must have showed in my expression, because the instructor said to me kindly, “It’s okay. I’ll show you again partway through, and I’ll answer any questions you have”.
I start making my bowl by the “coiling method”, piling the clay little by little onto a round revolving platform called a “manual potter’s wheel”.

Try to pinch it between your thumb and forefinger
I start by kneading the clay provided before me. It is cool to the touch and moderately hard. The kneading does not require much force. About as much as slapping the surface of the clay is enough. Strictly speaking we are supposed to knead clay for quite a long time, but this stage of the process is already complete.
I make a thick circle of clay, around 1cm high and 15cm in diameter, on the manual potter’s wheel. This part is the base of the bowl. Then, I make a long string of clay, about 30cm in length. Making sure this is a uniform width seems like it would be easy, but was surprisingly difficult. I place it on top of the base (photo 4). This is easy to accomplish if you turn the manual potter’s wheel as you do it. My next task is to flatten the clay of the string-like part upwards. The trick here is to place your thumb and forefinger at the bottom and pinch the clay between them. It works well if you turn the manual potter’s wheel little by little.
After flattening the clay to a width of around 1cm while turning the wheel, I then make another string in the same way and place it on top. When I repeat this process three times, I have made something that somehow looks like a small bathtub.
Next to appear is a spatula shaped like a comb. Using this, I smoothen the parts where the coils are piled, and form the shape of the bowl (photo 5). Finally, in order to flatten the lip of the bowl, I insert a thread - like a kite string - from above, and spin the wheel round. In the same way, I separate the base from the potter’s wheel.
So, next is painting on the decoration. Using a type of clay called slip, in white and red varieties, we can paint patterns and pictures, or carve away the clay to make our own truly original creation. After firing, the base clay will turn gray, and parts painted with the white slip will turn white. The red slip, however, turns to brown in the kiln. I settled on a simple design, with the lip portion in red and the whole of the bowl in white, painted on in a swirling pattern with the brush.
What do you think? I did a pretty good job, huh? (photo 6)
The workshop ends here, but in the following one to two weeks, Do-tougeikan will dry your creation, bisque-fire it, apply glaze, then glaze-fire it, and after around 45 days, deliver it to you (the delivery fees are extra). There are various discounts available, such as delivery fee-included group discounts and family discounts. Of course, you can come to pick it up yourself if you prefer. I’m looking forward to my finished creation!!

Photo 1
(Outside) The pottery school is a glass-fronted building, spacious and bright. The director, Kazuhiko Sato, is a famous ceramic artist who has appeared in NHK’s Yakimono Tanbou TV show, and the ceramics magazine Toukoubou. At the regular pottery classes, students can learn about Oribe ware, Kizeto ware and Shino ware from the very beginning, including various techniques such as celadon glaze, iron oxide decoration, blue and white porcelain, and painted ceramic art. In this well-equipped school, large workbenches are lined up in a row, and there are 75 manual potter’s wheels, as well as over 50 varieties of glaze. As well as Mr. Sato, there are four other instructors

Photo 2
(Inside) Up to 70 students can take a lesson at the same time at “Do-tougeikan”. At the back there are six electric potter’s wheels, and four authentic electric kilns capable of gaseous reduction

Photo 3
(Samples) If you use the samples as a reference, it’s easy to visualize what you want to make

Photo 4
(String) I shape the clay into a string about 30cm long, and lay it onto the base

Photo 5
(Comb) The last phase is using the comb-shaped spatula to shape the clay. With this, it will transform from a bathtub into a piece of tableware

Photo 6
(Finished) After this, the clay is dried and then bisque-fired at around 800 degrees Celsius. Next, glaze is applied, and the piece is glaze-fired at 1280 degrees