This Ryumonji ware kiln, built in 1688, lies in the mountains overlooking the Sakurajima volcano. Located in the southern part of Kyushu, it reflects a distinctly different culture from the rest of the island. Originally a kiln cooperative, it was transformed after the Second World War into a pottery union, where craftspeople now preserve traditional techniques. The potters at the kiln mostly create Kuro Satsuma (black-bodied ceramics), a representative type of Satsuma ware, which came from the Korean Peninsula in 1598.
The Satsuma region used to be full of pottery makers, but now Ryumonjiyaki Kiln is one of only three kiln sites that remain
The Satsuma region gets its name from a powerful feudal domain that was able to maintain a relatively strong degree of autonomy from the Tokyo-based central government during the Edo period. The area had strong economic and political power and conducted extensive trade with surrounding regions, spurring the development of an extensive pottery craft in the area. The Satsuma region used to be full of pottery makers, but now Ryumonjiyaki is one of only three kiln sites that remain.
Satsuma ware is distinct from other types of Japanese pottery in that it can be divided into white (Shiro Satsuma) and black (Kuro Satsuma) types. While white Satsuma ware was used by the rich and powerful in Japan, black Satsuma ware is an older tradition that is used to make everyday items. Nevertheless, black Satsuma ware is just as alluring with its dark hues and sturdy structure.
The Ryumonjiyaki Pottery Union consists of several family-run businesses. The potters work together to execute the entire ceramic process, using a mixture of traditional and more modernised techniques and ovens. The kilns create simple but elegant ceramics, using a host of natural glazes such as “green copper-trailed black” and “three-colour”, along with rare types such as samehada (lit. shark’s skin) and dakatsu (lit. serpent), a speciality of Ryumonji ware.
Locally sourced raw materials make Ryumonjiyaki’s ceramics unique to the region
With the magnificent Sakurajima on the horizon, the craftspeople at Ryumonjiyaki Pottery Union have honed their skills surrounded by abundant nature. The one-of-a-kind mixtures of clay and glaze reflect Ryumonji’s unique pottery. And the locally sourced raw materials make it something that can only be found in this region.