By Tiffany Quarry
Back in my high school days, I remember being estatic when I landed a spot in my school’s highly requested pottery class. It was a relaxing, social class where you could let your creativity roam. I always enjoyed that class, even though (if we’re being honest) I will never be a great pottery artist. So when I moved to Soma and was introduced to a local pottery shop owner who, it turns out, also offers pottery classes, I was definitely excited.
Meet Mrs. Kurita Wakako, the owner and artist of the pottery shop Togeikobo Waraku. This cozy shop is nestled in a residential area of Soma, Fukushima. Togeikobo Waraku offers traditional Japanese pottery for sale as well as workshops where visitors can create their own artworks. Mrs. Wakako also visits local schools, introducing pottery to students and letting them play with clay. What’s more, she also speaks English well, making a trip to her shop a comfortable, fun experience even for those who don’t understand Japanese.
Mrs. Wakako started her pottery career thirty-five years ago after graduating from university, where she studied pottery. After ten years of having to move frequently for her husband's job, he was promoted to a position in Soma that didn’t require them to move around anymore. They bought a house, and she was was finally able to open her very own shop right next to their home.
Even if you’re all thumbs, Mrs. Wakako will make sure your pottery-making experience ends on a sweet note.
Mrs. Wakako is an active homestay ambassador for Fukushima University. She hosts homestays for female exchange students twice a year. She is also a member of the local Soma International Friends Assocation (SIFA), where she helps to promote English education and international friendship. She is a very warm and welcoming woman.
Creating an original piece of pottery from start to finish requires two visits. At your first visit, Mrs. Wakako will have you settle in at her shop, then offer you a look around at her own pottery for inspiration, to help you decide what you want to create.
After that, it’s time to choose the type of clay. Participating in a pottery workshop costs ¥500 (a one-time fee charged on only on your first visit), plus the cost of the clay. How much clay will you need? Mrs. Wakako gave me some examples of what you can make: If you purchase five hundred grams, you can make a medium bowl and two or three cups. With a kilogram of clay, you can make about three or four tea cups, or one big bowl. One student even made a figure of Mrs. Wakako’s lovable cat, Torajiro!
Once you've decided what you want to make and selected your clay, the real fun begins: playing with clay and water to shape your creation. Once you’ve finished sculpting your piece, Mrs. Wakako will lay it out to dry. You’ve now completed your first class!
In between your first and second visits, Mrs. Wakako waits for your greenware to dry completely, then fires it in her kiln at 800°F. She fires up the kiln only once it gets full, so there will be a two-week to one-month wait before your piece gets fired. Once the firing is complete, you can set up a time to come back and finish your piece.
During your second visit, you’ll sand and cut your pottery to ready it for glazing. You’re free paint your piece however you like. Once you’re satisfied with the design, Mrs. Wakako will ready it for the kiln again. The second firing is for thirteen hours at 1230°F. Once the second firing is finished, you can either come in person to pick your piece up or ask her to mail it to you.
Even if you’re all thumbs, Mrs. Wakako will make sure your pottery-making experience ends on a sweet note by including a tea time at the end of each session (included in the ¥500 class fee). She serves tea or coffee and snacks—usually something she’s baked from scratch, like brownies or cake.
When I visited, I (accidentally) made a too-big tea cup, so large it ended up more like a small bowl. We laughed and called it a bowl-cup, deciding it would just be decoration for my apartment. After that, we chatted over fruit tea and her homemade brownies, which were very delicious. Considering the care Mrs. Wakako puts into helping you develop your pottery skills and making it an enjoyable experience, a visit to Togeikobo Waraku is totally worth the time and price, and I highly recommend it.
Hours (pottery-making sessions): 10:00–12:00 & 13:00–15:00
Closed days: Irregular
Fee: A one-time fee of ￥500, plus the cost of your clay. Clay prices start at ￥1700 per 1 kg, and can be purchased in 100 g units.
Languages: English OK
Capacity: 1—6 people per session
Reservations: Required, book via phone (English OK). Please inform Mrs. Wakako if you have a cat allergy, as Mrs. Wakako's cat Torajiro likes to come into the workshop.
Address: 63 Kami-izumi, Kuroki, Soma, Fukushima (相馬市黒木上泉63)
Access: 30-minute walk from Soma Station. Pick-up/drop-off service from/to Soma Station is also available—call Mrs. Wakako to arrange.