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Anagama History by Kelvin Bradford
The anagama, or tube kiln, is without doubt the best-known and most discussed wood fired kiln outside of Japan. There has been a renaissance of wood firing and, as a result, there are many anagamas currently in use around the world. The Japanese influence on wood firing in the U.S. commenced as early as the 1950s, but the term anagama did not materialize in the U.S. until 1979.

The original anagama was introduced from Korea in the fifth century to fire Sueki ware, which was fired in reduction to 1200°C (2190°F) and was usually made on the wheel. Anagamas were originally constructed completely underground in the sides of mountains. The more modern versions are often partially underground, with no side-stoking ports. The incline can be 13-15°, but the highest known temperature (1500°C/2730°F), was reached in a kiln with only a 2° incline. The provision for side stoking was taken from the Hebi-Gama tunnel kiln (often called the snake kiln) in Tamba, Japan. It was modified in A.D. 1600 from the original Chinese dragon kiln. This kiln was 50 meters (164 feet) long and had side-stoking holes on both sides near the top called "fire eyes." Built with a 13° incline, the large, single chamber was modified to a multi-chamber kiln. The original dragon kiln was fired up to temperature before side-stoking commenced.

The ogama, which is similar to the anagama, appeared in the 16th century. The principal difference between the two was that the ogama was built entirely above ground and was 50 meters in length.

The noborigama (multi-chamber climbing kiln) appeared at the end of the 16th century. Early designs were similar to today's, except that many original kilns were partially underground. It rapidly superseded the snake kilns, anagamas and ogamas, until the introduction of gas and electric kilns. Increased prices for wood and changes in environmental law in 1971 shut down many noborigamas. Originally built up to 12 chambers, modern designs are limited to five. The advantage of the noborigama was that it could produce a much larger volume of work with higher-quality glazes in much greater variety. However, it was perhaps this predictability that forced masters to return to the anagama in an effort to recreate works similar to the Muromachi (1333-1573) and Momoyama (1573-1615) periods. It was necessary to research the old kiln sites for evidence of technology that had been lost for 350 years. No documentation of the anagama existed.

In 1933, Toyozo Arakawa (1894-1985), built a semi-underground anagama to recreate Shino ware. He later became one of the first Living National Treasures in ceramics.

Yasuhisa Kohyama, the Shigaraki master, built an anagama in Shigaraki in 1968. Kohyama, together with the late Michio Furotani (1946-2001), is considered responsible for the revival of the anagama in Japan. Furotani built a total of 30 kilns, the first in 1970. He also published the only substantial text in Japanese on the anagama in 1995, which has now been translated into English. Furotani, who had previously only studied gas and electric kiln technology, traveled Japan on a bicycle looking at kilns for 21 months before building his first anagama. Certainly, debates over what size or style of kiln is optimum are subjective. It can be argued that Shiro Tsujimura and the late Furotani have achieved the ultimate Iga effects in very small kilns with no provision for side stoking. Conversely, Togaku Mori has a 50-meter ogama that fires for 55 days once every four years, producing the finest of Bizen ware. He is currently constructing a massive 90-meter ogama.

While there are numerous theories on firing techniques, it is acknowledged that the loading process is critical to a successful firing. The preferred woods are red pine and oak. Certainly the Bizen masters fire much slower than the Shigaraki/Iga masters, whose firings may last 16-20 days, because of the different properties of the clay used.

These days, some anagamas and noborigamas are initially fired with gas or oil up to 900°C (1650°F), and then wood is introduced. Some Shino masters will fire entirely with gas. Also, a hybrid-style kiln has recently been developed that incorporates features of both the anagama and noborigama. The entrance to the noborigama is lengthened to form the anagama section, followed by a single chamber.

Contemporary masters specializing in unglazed work use the following kilns:

Abe Anjin, Bizen ware, fully underground anagama;

Michio Furutani (1946-2000), Iga ware, 5-meter semi-underground anagama, 3° incline angle;

Shiho Kanzaki, Shigaraki/Iga ware, 3-meter semi-underground, 20° incline, two small side-stoking ports;

Kuroemon Kumano, Echizen ware, 10-meter anagama, 2° incline angle, three small side-stoking ports;

Ryuichi Kakurezaki, Bizen ware, noborigama and 15-meter semi-underground anagama, 5° incline angle;

Togaku Mori, Bizen ware, 50-meter ogama;

Tsuji Semei, Shigaraki ware, five-chamber noborigama;

Shiro Tsujimura, Iga ware, 3-meter anagama, no incline.

Shuroku Harada, Bizen ware, 16-meter semi-underground anagama, 5° incline angle, with side ports and a row of saggars built into the walls;

The author Kelvin Bradford lives in New Zealand and exhibits in Japan. For more information, see www.kelvinbradford.co.nz.