Now that I was tempted with what was possible, the tour whisked me back to the basics. Back to the most staple and core ingredient, stone. Several stones were on display, (at least ten) and I saw first hand what exactly went into the beautiful pieces I had seen at the beginning of the tour.
What to do with solid pieces of stone? Well grind them to a powder of course! This green and yellow machine is where pieces of rock are inserted and magically come out a perfectly consistent powder. Modern technology sure has made the life of ceramics artists much easier, I can't even imagine the time and power it must have taken to pound solid rock by hand back in the day...
After the powder is made, its put into this cylinder with stone balls and left to rotate for a day. This is done to mix the powder and crush any final pieces.
As the tour continued, I was shown more machines I've never seen or knew existed for ceramics. Rollers, mixers, computer image generators...oh my!
Soon we ended up in a workshop room and to my luck there was an instructor there finishing up some tea pots. By coincidence it was someone Arai Sensei knew, an old teacher friend he hadn't seen in quite some time.
While Kajiwara-san moved from lecturing me to Arai Sensei about the room I took the chance to see what exactly the instructor was doing.
He had all the parts of the tea pot laid out. Spout, body, lid etc. It was mold made and perfectly white and smooth.
The piece being made is towards the front while the end product, fired and all is towards the rear.
At this time he was making the strain guard for inside the tea pot. This seemed to be one of the only places a human hand was needed. The strainer was mold made, but using a special tool the teacher punched holes into it which when completed would allow water to pass through the teapot without the tea leaves following. His precision and speed was trained, almost like a machine. It was obvious he had done this thousands of times.
I asked him about the class he taught at the center and he said it was a class about mold making and currently three students were learning with him. He's been working at NCRC for 24 years...I was about to ask more questions but it was time to move on...
Next I found myself in the kiln room. I had never seen any kiln room like this before. The gas kilns looked more like creepy science experiments of the future. Tubes and wires hooked up to large pipes and boxes, it was really sci-fi. I didn't have a chance to ask for a detailed explanation but simply the kilns were always monitored, thus all the extra instruments were attached to them. Out of all the kilns, one stood out...the Nabeyaki kiln.
It was twice as large as any other kiln and had a hole in it! Turns out this kiln is very special. It allows you to see the inside while a piece is being fired! On the top there are two cameras that record the firing process. Even Arai Sensei was impressed, he's never seen anything like this before, and neither have I. But it's amazing that even through 1200C degree heat, we are able to see how the glaze changes through out the process. Very innovative and helpful.
Here is the inside of the kiln, you put the piece on the pedestal and shut the door.
Here is the hole on the side of the kiln, while wearing special goggles you can watch as the piece is being fired. Pretty neat eh?
Here is a poster explaining how the kiln works. It claims this is the only kiln IN THE WHOLE WORLD like this. The middle has pictures of pieces being fired, and the bottom is a diagram of the kiln and its part. If this statement is true, then it was pretty neat seeing the only kiln in the world that allows you to see the entire firing process! Sadly this was the last part of the tour. The whole experience was amazing, but in the end this place wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Maybe in a few years, after learning more of the basics I can come back to NCRC to learn more assembly line type techniques and about mass production. They invited me back which is a great thing!