The Kentaro Kiln and pottery studio is located in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, and operated by Kentaro Murayama. Karatsu is a beautiful historic castle town by sea that used to host a key port in bygone times. This area is known for its long history of Karatsu Ware, a type of pottery thought to have originally come from Korea in the late 16th Century. This technique was initially used to create everyday household items, but the Kentaro Kiln now also makes a variety of tea cups, bowls and plates that are used by gourmet chefs and for special occasions such as Japanese tea ceremonies.
Still in his forties, Kentaro Murayama is one of the most acclaimed makers of Karatsu ware in the area. Unlike many modern day pottery makers, Murayama, the founder of Kentaro Kiln, gathers all the raw materials for his pottery by hand. These include: clay, various types of tree ash, stones and iron for the glazing. He also still grinds all of the clay by hand, an incredibly time consuming process that reflects just how much care and effort goes into making these pieces. The hand-collected and processed material creates highly unique pieces of Karatsu ware; whilst pre-processed materials create a smooth and even finish, Murayama’s pieces have a characterful unevenness to them.
The clay used for Karatsu ware is high in iron. Vessels are shaped by first mixing and kneading the clay, before Murayama carefully shapes his creations with a manual foot-powered potter’s wheel. They are then baked in a kiln which rises to temperatures over 1150 degrees Celsius. After cooling down, the creations are covered with ash glazes.
The designs of Kentaro Kiln are simple and unsophisticated, fitting neatly with the design philosophy characteristic of Japan
There are two types of end products: those finished with a plain glaze and those that are painted with an iron glaze. Karatsu ware designs typically take inspiration from nature, depicting native grasses or leaves. The designs of Kentaro Kiln are simple and unsophisticated, fitting neatly with the design philosophy characteristic of Japan.
The Kentaro Kiln has a deep respect for the history of Karatsu Ware, letting traditional techniques form the basis of their practice; but Murayama is also embracing modern techniques and developments.
There’s a very specific set of rules that dictate how tea ceremony ceramics should be made. Murayama finds a happy medium where he is able to innovate whilst still keeping with the traditional rules of the craft. In this way, his pottery appeals to both a traditional clientele and a general market of people looking for beautiful ceramics.
Murayama finds a happy medium where he is able to innovate whilst still keeping within the traditional rules of the craft
Kentaro Murayama hosts a total of three kilns at his studio. The wood fired kiln is reserved for creating pottery for special occasions, fired only around once or twice a year. He uses a gas kiln to create his more everyday pieces. And finally, Murayama has constructed his own miniature wood-fired kiln. This miniature kiln allows visitors to the workshop to take part in a rare ceramic experience, from painting the clay, to building the kiln and firing it themselves. The whole process only takes a few hours and visitors are able to take home their creations the same day.