The laurel pattern around the rim of the plate show two alternating leaves which look uniform, but upon closer inspection, the details are slightly different. Comparing it with another plate, the carvings are different. The engraving on the potteries made by Shotoen are all done by hand.
Shotoen was established in 1997. It is currently run by father and son, Mr. Kanji Masamura, the first generation, and Mr. Yuya, second generation, who also works at Yuzangama. Originally, Kanji’s family were potters and manufactured tableware for commercial use, mainly for distribution companies. Kanji, who was more passionate about making utensils than most people started his own business at the age of 45 seeking a more creative environment. His goal was to create original, potteries that can only be expressed by human hands regardless of how long it took to complete. While fulfilling orders from distribution companies, he manufactured a number of prototypes and approached them with proposals. However, they could not get the distribution companies to sell their products due to reasons such as “expensive”, “not suitable for mass production” and “low versatility” and the results were the same no matter how many times they tried. Sometimes he felt depressed about the harsh reality, but he never gave up and continued to make prototypes.
A customer’s voice which helped inspire
Nineteen years after the company was founded, it came to a turning point. Until then, they had only sold their products through distribution companies but Yuya suggested that they try selling by themselves. They decided to open a stall at an outdoor craft market for the first time. This changed everything. At the booth, they lined up their original potteries that they thought were really good. “What we heard from customers who stopped by was, ‘I’ve always wanted this kind of tableware,’ ‘The image of Minoyaki has changed,’ ‘Are there any more types?’ ‘Where can I usually buy it?’” Furthermore, when people who purchased the bowls posted their impressions and photos on Social Media, the information spread instantly. This speed was faster than expected and generated a lot of response. They look back on that time and say, “It gave us a boost so we could continue to make the kind of dishes we wanted to make with confidence.” With this opportunity, they improved their original products by reflecting the opinions of customers. Then, the Laurel Rim Plate was born, which has become the representative series of Shotoen and Yuzangama.
Laurel leaf print woven with Shinogi method
Two types of red clay are used, one from Inatsu and the other from Shigaraki. The potter decides which one to use according to the image of the finished product. In order to maximize the texture of the clay, the traditional “Shinogi” decoration technique is used. Before the potter’s clay dries, the surface of the clay is scraped with a spatula and a canner. He uses a spatula and a canner to scrape the surface of the clay before it dries. He carves using his senses, adjusting the insertion of the blade and amount of hand pressure according to the differences in the clay and the degree of drying. While rotating the pottery, he carves one round for the outer leaves and another round for the inner leaves. The result is a three-dimensional laurel tree with a rich expression. After the first unglazed firing, the carved parts are covered with white clay and fired again. Glaze is applied for finishing and the piece is fired at 1,250 degrees Celsius. The individual leaves of laurel that appear in white on the rim accentuate the beauty of Shinogi even more. Although the work in the studio sometimes takes a long time, he says, “I think the texture and warmth of the clay, and the shimmer and delicacy of Shinogi can only be expressed by hand. We are proud of our careful and detailed pottery making,” Yuya says without hesitation. This is the kind of mastery that can only be achieved with advanced techniques and experience.
Not boasting their skill, just humble and sincere
The tablewares made by Kanji and Yuya utilize the traditional techniques of Minoyaki, but also have a design that fits in well with modern dining. The earthenware’s gentle form and not too extravagant decoration can be easily matched with both Japanese and Western food. The rich colors created by the glaze, such as vivid turquoise and subdued matte gray, make a person excited to think about what kind of food will be served. “We are not artists, so our techniques are just techniques. The techniques he has cultivated over the years are only a means to make the people who use the tableware happy. Such humbleness is probably the secret of creating potteries that are supported by many fans.
The laurel leaf symbolizes, “unchanging feeling”. A father who started his own business in search of the ideal Minoyaki, and a son who inherited his passion. “I would be happy if you could feel the warmth that comes from handmade works. I hope I can convey the value of Minoyaki through our tableware”. Today, Yuya is mindlessly carving laurel leaves one by one.