Igayaki Ceramics Class

Experiencing Japanese traditional pottery

By Jeanne Austry    - 3 min read

You might have heard of Iga-Ueno city as the land of the ninja. It also happens to be famous for a traditional form of pottery, Iga-yaki.

The Iga basin—where modern-day Lake Biwa was born—has a clay soil, suited to the thriving industries of pottery, rice-farming and sake production. It is where Iga pottery was born, a craft chiefly known for its resistance to fire and its pearly patterns. Earthenware pots, used to cook rice and stews, are well-known and perhaps the most representative item of Iga-yaki ware.

Iga yaki nabe
Iga yaki nabe

It’s possible to discover the traditions of Iga pottery in the village of Marubashira in the mountains behind Iga-Ueno. Some ancient kilns and workshop are still preserved over there – the kilns particularly impressive to visitors. Iga pottery is fired at a temperature of 1300 degrees for one week, between January and March. It’s a pretty high temperature—most wares are typically fired around 1200 degrees—which explains why Iga pottery is known for its resistance to fire and heat!

The kilns
The kilns

In Marubashira village, you can visit some small boutiques with numerous wares on sales, from dishes including nabe pots to more personal creations. You can take a break at a local—pretty jazzy—cafe, where you can bring your cup back with you for the price of the coffee (350 yen).

The cafe
The cafe

There is also a hike that starts from the village, that reveals a wonderful viewpoint from up over the kilns. The viewpoint is surrounded by sakura trees, and I could only imagine it in April's cherry blossom season—covered in pink!

Further on it’s possible to try a pottery workshop at the Igayaki Traditional Craft Center (Igayaki Dentou Sangyou Kaikan). A variety of workshops are available, including painting a cup/plate (1,080 yen) and making pottery at the wheel (2,160 yen / 1 kg of clay – or 3,240 yen using the electric wheel). There is no set time limit, just the fixed amount of clay to work with! I can’t really say that my attempts to make a piece to be proud of were successful, but watching the master at work finishing a bowl in under 5 minutes— with impressive ease—was a wonderful sight to behold. And yes, it’s not as easy as it might seem!

Pottery experience
Pottery experience

Next to the workshop is a small shop, with some lanterns decorated by the potters. It’s a good way to discover more about the world of traditional Japanese pottery!

Pottery workshop
Pottery workshop

Getting there

20 minutes by car from Iga Ueno

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Jeanne Austry

Jeanne Austry @jeanne.austry

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Elizabeth S 3 years ago
Those donabe, the hot pots, look beautiful and practical.

I painted my own tea cup at the Tobe ceramic workshop near Matsuyama City. It was fun and my project looked decent. Making pottery, wow. That sounds like a big challenge, but also very rewarding if it works out.
Kim 3 years ago
This looks like such a cool hands on experience! I bet it's much harder than it looks - those professionals make it look simple!