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Goin’ Japanesque!

Otani Pottery: Craft of Naruto, Tokushima Produced in One of Japan’s Largest Kilns

Japan’s Largest Climbing Kiln with the Largest Furnace Space

The destination of my most recent trip was “Mori Toki,” the Otani pottery maker. They boast a 28 meters long climbing kiln with 8 furnaces, which is registered as a nationally important tangible cultural property.

Climbing kiln is a type of kiln in which potteries are burned on firewood and usually have many separate furnaces lined up along a slope so that fire in the bottom furnace climbs up through to the top.

Some kilns around Japan are longer and have more furnaces but what separates the kiln here from others is the size of each furnace. Each of them is 7.4 meters in depth and 2.8 meters in width, which is said to be the largest in Japan.


History of Otani Pottery


The kiln first became known for producing blue glaze porcelains in the late Edo Period (1603-1867). Later the porcelain clay and glaze in the area were used to produce what is known today as Otani Pottery. Boasting Japan’s largest size, the kiln here can be best utilized when making large potteries.

The kiln is still used to make “suirenbachi” basin, large jars and others. Large jars were once used to store water when there was no aqueduct and also to make and store indigo dye. Tokushima Prefecture is known for indigo dyed textile called “Awa-Ai.” Dyers needed large jars to make the indigo, which is why the method of large pottery making has been succeeded here in the Otani area.


Making of Large Jars: Nerokuro

Those large jars, which are taller than the height of average men, are made with a method called “Nerokuro,” which means “lying and spinning a pottery wheel.” In this method, one lies on the ground and spins a wheel while the other stands on a stand and shapes the pottery. This traditional method is now actually being practiced by less and less craftsmen.

Outside the store of Mori Toki, there was a large jar on display; it was made for the movie Kagemusha by Akira Kurosawa.

The store provides not only large potteries but also many kinds of dishware that perfectly suit our everyday use.


Typical Variations of Otani Pottery

Writer’s Photo

The beauty of Otani Potteries can be best exploited when placed in a garden. Suirenbachi basins look really atmospheric if you keep some goldfish and killifish in them. Chairs, tables and lantern cases with the unique brown color of Otani Pottery also make great decoration for a garden.


Beautiful Sound of a Japanese Garden Inside the Climbing Kiln

You can walk inside the long climbing kiln of Mori Toki and climb up through the furnaces. You can walk inside without bending and will surely be surprised by how spacious it is.

Writer’s Photo

Inside the furnace, you can enjoy a special beautiful sound, which is very similar to that of “Suikinkutsu.” Suikinkutsu is a pottery ornament commonly found at Japanese gardens. Water from the pool on top of the ornament drips down through a whole into the hollow space of the pottery ornament and creates a beautiful resonating sound. The climbing kiln here can produce a similar pleasant sound because of its structure.

If you make a reservation by 3 PM on the day of your visit, you would be able to enjoy pottery making workshop at most of the 6 pottery factories here. Please make sure to give it a try whenever you can spare some time.


<By Bus>
About 50 Minute ride from Maiko, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, via Akashi Kaikyo Bridge and past Awaji Island.
Express buses are also available from Osaka and other areas.
<By Car>
About 10 Minute drive from Naruto. Or, 20 minute drive from Tokushima Airport.
<By Train>
About 10 minute walk from JR Awa Otani Station.


Besides the kiln I have introduced to you here, Naruto City of Tokushima Prefecture is also known for another famous tourist attraction, the whirlpool of Naruto Strait. First enjoying the whirlpool and then visiting the kiln of Otani Pottery is definitely a recommendable itinerary in Naruto.

Related Articles:
Great Spectacle! – The World’s Largest Whirlpools in the Naruto Strait
The Three Great Porcelains of Japan: Their Histories and Characters

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About the author

I have worked in a museum as a curator and I specialize is in craft products. I have grown up in the city, but now enjoy the country life. From an environment rich in nature, I will report to you on seasonal events and customs of Japan, foods and how to make them. I look forward to introducing special moments in Japan that you will not see in ordinary guidebooks.

View all articles by Kunie