John Baymore at River Bend Pottery

River Bend Pottery   © 1995 - 2011 All Rights reserved





A noborigama is a highly sophisticated kiln that is the precursor of the modern continuous tunnel kilns used in ceramic industry today. They are exceptionally efficient in their use of heat energy for a periodic kiln . To understand how the Japanese arrived at the design in about the 16th century, you have to look at the types of kilns that preceded them.

First we’ll look at some quick derivation of some kiln terminology.  The Japanese word “Noborimasu” ( のぼ ります ) is an action verb that means “to go up”, as in walking up a flight of stairs.  The Japanese term “kama” or “gama“ ( かま or がま also written in Kanji as 窯 ) is the word for “kiln”.  So the compound word “noborigama” literally means a “go up kiln”.  The more usual English translation of this term is “climbing kiln”.  The technological precursor to the noborigama is the anagama.  The Japanese word “ana”  (  あな ) means “a hole”.  So the compound word here when “ana” is combined with “gama” is literally “hole kiln”, or written in Japanese Kanji, 穴  窯  .


The history of pottery development really parallels the technological development of kilns. As kilns became more sophisticated, they allowed better quality control, more efficient use of both the fuel and the potter's time, and higher temperatures. Better control resulted in better economic realities for the potters. Higher temperatures resulted in more durable wares and eventually the development of high fire glazes. More time allowed the potters to explore more decorating options.


In the Asian countries, early kilns were often made by digging a tunnel into a sloping hillside of clay. At the bottom was a narrowed hole that served the double purpose of acting as a door through which to crawl and load the pots and also as the main stoke hole for the wood fuel. Then this excavation widened out into a large chamber to hold the pots. At the top, a vertical "chimney" was dug upward to allow the heat, gases, and smoke to circulate through out the kiln and be vented into the atmosphere. This type of kiln is the Japanese "anagama".