Exploring products that can only be made locally: the 3rd-generation artisan of Aganoyaki Koshingama, Yuta Kohzuru

Aganoyaki once perished, but was revived by the Kohzuru family and local volunteers. Today it is so popular that some 20 factories exist in various points of the slope of Mt. Fukuchi, a 900.6 meters high mountain frequented by climbers. This mountain is also surrounded by hot springs. Mr. Yuta Kohzuru, the 3rd generation successor of Koshingama that started in 1971, returned home immediately after graduating from Yokohama national university. This young artisan with 3 years of experience became determined to succeed the family work during his 3rd year at the university.
He says, ‘‘Koshingama attracted me as a career because I could concentrate and take a break at will. Although I could have tried other jobs before going back home, I felt that would really put me behind as an artisan. For example, if I spent 10 years to gain experience in other jobs, that would have been a huge setback as a potter.’’ Nowadays, Yuta’s grandfather and father give him freedom to try his own styles.

This factory’s uniqueness is that artisans of three generations work together, expressing their respective styles. The first generation is Chizan, Yuta’s grandfather, and the second is Kyoichi, his father, followed by Yuta. Chizan is skillful in detailed decoration such as Choka, a technique of laying patterns on top of the surface, sukashibori, and kakiotoshi, which is scraping the surface to create patterns. Before establishing Koshingama, Chizan was in floriculture business. That is why he prefers flower motives. As for Kyoichi, his style is dynamic and bold. He often uses hand and finger prints from shaping the vessel as part of its decorations. Yuta, on the other hand, focuses more on the actual usage of his work. He believes that pottery for daily use should be easy to handle. Therefore, Yuta pays attention to how the vessel sits in hands and how it feels to drink from it. Three artisans working side by side, expressing their own styles of art: this is the unique aspect of Koshingama.

The first step of creating vessels is kneading the clay. To make clay, soil is dried under the sun, and then tree roots and stones are removed from it. After that, it is crushed into small bits and mixed with water. Then it is dried some more and put to rest. This clay is then shaped on a potter’s wheel. After shaping, it goes through the first baking process before painting topcoat and colors. Then it will be baked for the second time, and finally polished and checked for shipping. Since everything is done by hand, the pottery cannot be mass-produced. To discuss the second baking in a bit more detail, there are three different types of ovens: electric, kerosene, and firewood. Artisans select which type of oven to use, according to the effects they would like to see on the final product. There are also different techniques of baking such as oxidation and reduction. Oxidation is baking the vessels thoroughly to bring out their original colors. In kerosene ovens, you can choose to forcefully complete the process of baking and reduce the amount of oxygen from the inside of the oven. This is reduction, and it is useful for bringing out various colors such as wisteria.

Firewood oven is used at least twice a year. It is lit in the morning and kept burning for some 30 hours until noon the next day, using wood from old houses etc. It is impossible to come up with exactly the same products, because factors like humidity, types and conditions of wood, and positions and number of vessels placed in the oven all affect the final result. This is why the vessels baked in firewood oven are all unique. At the end, the fire has to go off on its own instead of using water to put it off. After that, vessels are left there for a few days to become firm and acquire tasteful look.
‘‘I totally enjoy the moment when I bring out my work from firewood oven. They show elegant and profound colors that cannot be achieved by using other types of oven. Every time the results are different from what I expected. That is the appeal of firewood ovens,’’ according to Kyoichi.

They also create art works. Kyoichi says, ‘‘I work on ceramic masks. Some are Venetian masks that are seen in dance parties, and others are based on gods and spirits from Bali Island. I also make ceramic board for hanging pictures on walls, because I love to draw. There are some techniques to convert these art works into daily use.’’ When asked of his next challenge, he states ‘‘I would like to spend time on pottery because I keep on learning new things: it is impossible to learn all techniques and expressions in a few years. I want to take advantage of uniqueness of Aganoyaki and create works that can only be made by hand.’’
Ateliers and factories face the same challenge. The young 3rd-generation artisan says, ‘‘some factories of Aganoyaki do not have successors. If you are interested in pottery, please do join us.’’



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