Anagama History


An upward sloping, single chamber, natural draft, wood fired, pottery kiln, usually buried or partially buried in the ground.

ANA = hole (in Japanese). GAMA or KAMA = Kiln. Hence a hole kiln, cave kiln, or tunnel kiln.

Originally anagama were dug into a clay hillside with the flue dug down from above. On the first firing the clay vitrified to form a strong long lasting kiln. Modern anagama are usually only buried enough to support the arch and are made of brick.

Anagama are fired for an extended time – anything from thirty six hours to eighteen days depending on the amount of ash deposit and colour desired for the pots. Sometimes multiple firings of a piece are carried out to achieve a special effect.


Much of the history of anagama has been lost in the undergrowth of time. Archaeologists maintain that the first tunnel kilns were developed in Korea during the Kaya Kingdom period, 42 to 562 CE, when, for the first time, temperatures of 1000 degrees Celsius or more were attained.

In Japan these kilns were introduced about the 5th century and were known as SUE-KI kilns. True anagama kilns reached their peak during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) with much longer and hotter firings.

The spread of the Buddhist faith in Japan helped the development of anagama. From the late Heian (794-1185) through to the early Muromachi (1333-1573) period many Sutra and burial jars were made. These were used to contain a Buddhist Scripture and other items or the ashes from a cremation. The belief in the purifying effect of fire on these religious vessels gradually lead to much higher kiln temperatures being used. The Heian and Kamakura/Muromachi periods mark the height of anagama in Japan.

The longer firings to attain the higher temperatures gave rise to natural ash glazed and flame patterned wares that were such a feature of this era.

Many of the pots seen in collections in Japan today can be traced to particular areas and even to particular kilns, as well as being given an accurate date. It was the practice of the time to hand copy Buddhist Scriptures which were usually dated. These were then enclosed in a copper tube and, together with two or three other religious objects, placed in an especially made Sutra jar to be buried in a Sutra Mound. These mounds were often topped with a suitable stone which was inscribed with a date.

Of the six ancient kiln sites in Japan (there were actually many more than six), Tokoname is one of the most interesting and most ancient. Tokoname wares have been found in nearly all areas of Japan. Being situated on the coast and with vast resources of clay, they were producing and shipping their wares throughout Japan from an early date. Much of the Tokoname wares were made for religious purposes but, during the Momoyama Period (1573 to 1603), Tea Ceremony wares were also made. These, of course, were for indoor use, whereas, traditionally nearly all wares produced were for outdoors.

Anagama still exist in this area and wood firing still persists. A recent (1970’s) count of old kiln sites in the Tokoname region revealed 1016 visible on the surface. These were found to be in clusters on the hill sides and nearly always in pairs. One would be at a 30 degree slope

and the other at about 15 to 20 degrees for use in summer and winter respectively. Summer being the wet season in Japan the steeper slope provided more draft for the fire.

With the development of kiln and glaze technology the use of anagama type kilns gradually declined. It was not until modern times when much research and experiment was needed to redevelop this type of firing. Iga, which is nearby and a close relative of Shigaraki, is where the longest and often multiple firings of their anagama bring out the excesses of naturally glazed wares. The process disappeared by the 1700’s and it was the efforts of one man, Kikuyama Teneo, in the 1930’s who revived this type of firing. Tanimoto Kosei, later designated a “Living National Treasure”, continued the process until recently, and now his son Tanimoto Yoh has taken over the pottery.

Over the last 25 to 30 years there has been a resurgence of interest in wood firing and especially anagama. For further information please look at:-



or my website at:- www.[http:]//

Bruce Martin

Original digital file


Non-commercial use

Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).


Commercial Use

Please contact us for information about using this material commercially.

Can you help?

The Hawke's Bay Knowledge Bank relies on donations to make this material available. Please consider making a donation towards preserving our local history.

Visit our donations page for more information.


Format of the original

Computer document


Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.