YMD - Ceramics

Aichi (Seto) has long been known as one source of the world's finest potter's clay. For over a millennium, the tradition and techniques have been passed down, continuously evolving.

As far as making things here goes, Ohashi says, "it's all experience.... How much will a certain piece cave in? This is something that can't be calculated. You just have to do it over and over again, and eventually, you get a feeling for it. This is technology."

History / Challenge

"It's much more difficult than I imagined," says Igarashi of his first attempt to design for ceramics. "President Sugiura has taught me a lot. With ceramics, getting a straight line is very difficult." Difficult, but not impossible. The Y.M.D. line of ceramic vases, with two serrated straight sides joining a smooth round side, is so original that it has been painstakingly instructional for the planner and sample mold maker, Ceramic Japan. As adviser Masayuki Ohashi says, "Until we produce a large number, the research costs won't be recovered. But the experience and improvement of our technologies can't be measured in money."

Only 20 years ago, when Ceramic Japan was founded by Toyokazu Sugiura and Masatoshi Sakaegi, 60% of Seto's 96,600 residents were involved in ceramics and related industries. Today, only 40% of approximately 127,300 people are. Ever since the priorities of the 1960s shoved Japan headlong into mass industrialization, Seto's youth have been heading into the cities, like nearby Nagoya, and shunning what they saw as the dirty work of their hometowns. So although the Seto hills, from which the raw materials are gathered, are expected to provide at least enough clay to continue at the current pace for another 100 years, the question is whether, and how, the industry will survive into the 2090s.

When Ohashi talks about the piece "caving in," he refers to the drying of the slip (wet clay) after it is poured into the cast, whose four portions are in turn banded together, for easy removal once the piece is dry. On the Y.M.D. vases, which at about 5 millimeters are rather thick, this process of drying from the outside in as the mold absorbs the liquid, takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Achieving uniformity depends on a combination of some basic guidelines and pure experience, in which the weather outside is extremely relevant, since it affects the humidity, and therefore also the drying rate.

Chance also enters the process, especially with the black vases, with their 6% pigment and its weakening effect on the clay. Firing is done in two stages, bisque (at 700-800 degrees Celsius for six hours), and glazed (at 1280 degrees for 16 hours). It is at this stage that the straight edges of the Y.M.D. vases are apt to be altered, and, as they are inherently contrasted with the one rounded side, to stand out in a most unobliging way. alt tag