Toshiharu Watanabe


Shiraiwa-yaki by Toshiharu Watanabe

an 18th-century technique revived

This craft was brought to life during the Edo Period when Unshichi Matsumoto, famous for his Oborisoma ware, was invited to Akita as an expert in the transformation of mined materials. Upon discovering the unique and high-quality soil in Shiraiwa, he launched the first Shiraiwa-yaki kiln, which went on to become a flourishing industry with as many as 5000 potters in its heyday.

However, the craft completely disappeared due to the Akita Semboku Earthquake of 1914, and other various events of the Meiji Period. It remained extinct for 70 years, until Aoi Watanabe's mother, a descendent of Shiraiwayaki potters, revived it as a young university graduate in 1975, an undertaking which was almost unheard of for a female potter at that time. Today there is only one kiln in operation: the Waheegama kiln, run by the Watanabe family.

Toshiharu Watanabe

Toshiharu Watanabe is a key figure in the revival of Shiraiwa-yaki, having been involved since the Waheegama kiln was first established in 1978 by his wife, Sunao Watanabe. Together, using local materials that would have been used during the Edo Period, they developed contemporary Shiraiwa-yaki’s red-brown doro glaze, as well as its signature namako glaze, which took them 20 years to perfect.

Shiraiwa-yaki Waheegama’s traditional, four-chamber climbing kiln was completed by Toshiaki Watanabe in 1993.

Watanabe once shared his expertise at several fine arts departments across the Tohoku region. His distinct style integrates both traditional pottery techniques and elements of contemporary sculpture, with works ranging from classic matcha bowls for tea ceremony, to abstract vases and sculptures influenced by modern art of the 19th and 20th centuries.


Namako Glaze

A traditional glaze with a speckled texture similar to a sea cucumber.