On the Road: Inside Asahiyaki

Nestled beside the Uji river just outside Kyoto, Asahiyaki’s workshop has seen sixteen generations of the Matsubayashi family expertly craft ceramic teaware using earth and water from right beneath their feet.

The Asahiyaki pottery kiln has sat at the foot of Uji’s Mount Asahi for almost four centuries, firing local earth to create some of Japan’s most sought-after ceramics. We were lucky enough to go behind the scenes with Hosai Matsubayashi, who inherited the title of kiln-master from his late father just last year. Accepting the baton with his younger brother Toshiyuki, both now work to preserve an ancient family tradition whilst looking to the future by teaming up with likeminded craftspeople.

At the heart of the workshop sits an enormous wood-fired kiln, built by the Matsubayashi brothers’ grandfather and responsible for creating the distinctive natural patina of Asahiyaki pottery – arbitrary colours and patterns drawn out of the clay by the fire. Lit only twice a year, the kiln fires between one and two thousand pieces at a time and the potters leave blessings at the entrance, praying to the Shinto god of fire that the flames are kind.

Uji is well-known as a centre of tea culture, producing some of the finest grade teas in Japan. And as Ashaiyaki make some of the most beautiful teaware in the country, it made sense to open a tea house and store, meters from the workshop in a beautifully converted house on the banks of the river.

Asahiyaki is part of the Japan Handmade collective – a team of likeminded Kyoto craftspeople on a mission to preserve and promote traditional craft through innovative design projects. Whilst in Kyoto we tracked down more Asahi pottery at the the Kaikado cafe, which uses and sells product from all six members of the design collective – well worth adding to your Kyoto itinerary.

For more local recommendations, check out our Kyoto city guide.

 

 

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