The Kiln Opening (A story of Japanese pottery, Part 3)

April 5th, 2012By Category: Culture

The Kiln Opening follows from Parts 1 and 2 of this series. If you’ve just joined us, you may want to read up the following before continuing.

Part 1: A Story of Japanese pottery
Part 2: The Firing

Today is the day, the kiln opening day. Like some great party where the guest of honor has yet to arrive; everyone talks expectantly around the kiln. At 10 o’clock sharp the kiln patron begins chiseling off the mortar sealant of the stoking holes. As soon as he hacks off the first chips, a crowd, tightly packed, builds around him, watching, waiting for that first glimpse into the kiln.

The stoking hole bricks are removed and everyone politely queues up to take a peak. “Wonderful!” “Uh ah” “Excellent!” These exclamations slowly cross each viewer’s lips and those still waiting become visibly restless. The kiln patron comments, “The amount of ash build up looks good” as he moves to chiseling off the mortar of the main door. Just as everyone seems finished being transfixed by the little view of the treasures through the stoking holes, again we have all clustered around the kiln door. Seemingly the only calm participant he leisurely hacks off mortar from the bricks.

The kiln patron finishes cleaning the kiln door of mortar sealant. He carefully removes each brick to insure their longevity and usefulness for many more firings. A little more of the kilns treasures come into view. A variety of gleeful expressions escape from everyone’s mouths as each brick is removed. Again everyone loses themselves and just stares with joy and excitement at the hard-won riches unveiled. Months of designing, building, and expecting. Days of long hours stoking and waiting. This mass of suppressed feelings is released in ecstatic energy. Everyone’s feeding off it. Laughs, smiles, and giggles are all around.

Only one is unaltered. The kiln patron knowing the real work starts now irately calls everyone to attention. Suddenly we form a line from the kiln door to the tables and begin passing pieces down the line. However, many cannot contain the pleasure of examining the beautiful pieces exiting the kiln, and instead of passing them on, they turn the pieces over and over in their hands. Thus the line comes to a halt, repeatedly. A great variety of exclamations continually bubble up from the line: “It’s beautiful,” “How wonderful,” “Wow.” Holding a hefty piece the kiln patron barks orders – “Viewing time later.” The line begins to run smoothly. As more pieces leave the kiln, many of us have restrained our exuberance to mere comments.

The Kiln Opening

Soon the kiln patron and the next person in the line have disappeared into the great—still hot—belly of the kiln. Then I must climb into the kiln to help too. For a moment, the light is extinguished, and I truly feel as if we are gutting a gold mine – shimmering ash glaze against opaque fire flashes.

The packing of the kiln and the great amount of natural ash glaze build up glued pieces together. The kiln patron with the hilt of his hammer gingerly thumps the pieces, emitting a frightful sound. However the art works safely come apart and I am relieved.

After several hours of careful deconstruction, we crawl out of the kiln to a still exuberant crowd turning over piece after piece like a mother with her newborn. We are unable to help from caressing, examining, and adoring the beautiful pieces born out of so many hours of labor and anticipation. After the perfunctory cleaning has ended, a meeting in which participant picks a piece they are especially pleased with begins. We all engage in praising and admiring each other’s work, and denying the greatness of our own. I am delighted to see many of my pieces turn out beautifully but even more so I am overjoyed by the huge smiles of the others who partook in this great firing.

The Kiln Opening

The Kiln Opening

Author of this article

Nicholas Ammon

My name is Nicholas D. Ammon; “Nico” to my Japanese friends. I currently live in Owase, Mie with my wife. I am a vegetarian skateboarder and Japanese traditional culture fanatic. Between one-on-one English lessons, and my part-time at a Japanese bakery, I study Japanese tea culture through sado and Japanese pottery through community clubs. These are my stories.

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