The vice-principal teaches the students pottery.
The noborigama, a rare kind of kiln
Students learn pottery in each of their six years at Shinanodai Elementary. The second graders, for example, made plates. After choosing which shape of wooden mold to use - circle, square, oval, etc. - they each put some flattened clay over their mold. They then removed the mold, adjusted the shape of the clay, and left it to dry naturally for two weeks. After the two weeks was up, they baked their plates in a special kiln. They then put pictures on them and coated them with glaze.
The pride of Shinanodai Elementary is the noborigama, a sloped wood-fired kiln. This kind of kiln, whose name literally means "climbing kiln," is built on a slope and gets its name from the staircase that runs next to it. In November this kiln is used for glaze firing (baking to fuse the glaze to the clay), but the baking does not work well if there is too much empty space in the kiln. Even the plates made by all of the students are not enough to fill the space, so pieces made by teachers, parents, and even local seniors are placed in the kiln, too. The temperature inside the kiln must be kept at around 1,200 degrees Celsius, so the vice-principal stays up all night watching the flames. It takes about six months for the students to make their own plates by this method.
Inagaki Saeko (second grade)
Saeko was making a cup and a chopstick rest as presents for her father. "My best subjects are art and home economics, I think," she said, as she concentrated hard on getting the shape of the cup just right.