When the head of the Tokushima fief ordained that porcelain in the style of Nanking and Karatsu Yaki should be produced in 1780, craftsman were brought in from the island of Kyushu, a kiln was built and production began.
Work soon ceased, however, because the right kind of clay was not available in the immediate vicinity and many of the pieces were damaged during firing. Then, in 1784, Heijibei Nohda employed some potters who were making Shigaraki Yaki in order to learn their techniques and a climbing kiln was built in the village of Otani, which is today part of Ohasa-cho in the city of Naruto City. The pottery that was produced marked the beginning of what is now known as Otani Yaki. By the end of the 19th and during the beginning of the 20th century, large jars for indigo dye were being produced. Then during the 1920s and 1930s, the war led to a number of chages, which have resulted in a wide variety of goods ranging from large jars down to many other smaller household items being produced today.
Otani Yaki, which has been in production for the last 200 years, is now one of the most representative forms of pottery on the island of Shikoku. To make the large pots for water-lilies and even larger jars, into which a person can easily fit, a special wheel is used. While one person lying on their side turns the wheel with his feet, another gradually forms the piece with large coils of clay. This way of forming pots and jars is particularly well-known and the size of the climbing kiln in which they are fired is said to be the largest in the country.
The sake cups, too, are rather special. Formed with the upmost skill on a regular potters wheel, they are very robust despite the fact that they are very thin.
A number of clays are used. One of the principal clays is one known as Himeda clay, while Sanuki clay is also used along with Hagiwara clay, which is a stratified clay rich in iron. Combinations of limestone, wood ash, feldspar, silica and iron are used for the glazes, which are either applied by dipping the piece in the glaze or dripping glaze over it. All of the production is done by hand and a number of different historical techniques and tools are used to form and decorate pieces, including such things as a wheel, a simple molding tool used in forming a pot or jar from the inside, a board placed on a wheel to assist in the making of large pots and jars, a rough cloth, a plane, a piece of leather, a thread to cut the clay, a brush and a ladle.
Otani yaki, which has been made in the Oasa-cho district of Naruto city in Tokushima Prefecture for about 200 years, is one of Shikoku’s most iconic potteries. Large-size jars and bowls for water plants that can reach a person’s height are made using giant “ne-rokuro” potter's wheels (manned by two people, one in charge of molding while the other lies and turns the wheel with his or her feet) and are then baked in a large ascending kiln reputed to be the largest in Japan. In addition, liquor vessels, thanks to very elaborate turning techniques, have the characteristic of being both very thin and yet very sturdy.
How to make
The main raw materials of Otani yaki are clays of Hagiwara, Sanuki and Himeda which are sedimentary clay very rich in iron. The glaze used is composed of Himeta clay, lime, wood ash, feldspar, silica and iron, which is applied by dip or flow coating. The main stages of Otani yaki are, crushing, sieving, levigation, kneading, mixing, molding, drying, green-ware glazing, bisque-firing, glazing, kiln-loading, firing and inspecting, each one of which is performed manually using traditional tools such as potter's wheels, trowels, kameita, cloth, planes, leather, cut yarn, brushes and ladles.