Some Japanese pottery tools look like pieces of art. Egote, Japanese throwing sticks, are such tools. Egote literally means a wheel-throwing rib with a handle or a grip. The tools are used to shape the interior of the narrow-necked forms such as tsurukubi flower vases (tsuru means crane, and tsurukubi illustrates long narrow-necked forms) and tokkuri (sake bottles) (1).
Notice that egote come in all different sizes, curves, and shapes. Egote that have hook-shaped ends (2a–c), are designed to make it easier to fit into the narrow openings of bottle forms without distorting them. Some egote are hand curved from branches (2d). The expert potters look for certain curves on the handle that matches their hands and also the profiles that they aim to achieve. Japanese tokkuri forms usually are quite round, and the curve of the egote handle assists in expanding the belly or midsection of the pot. The curve lessens the needs to tilt the arm in reaching and expanding the diameter. Egote made with skinny sticks are also called fuzuke. Fuzuke translates as adding elegance, taste, or charm. A fuzuke is used once the form is almost complete to add a subtle touch to the profile of the form. You may experiment with several egote to see their different effects on your desired contour.
2. A variety of egote throwing sticks. The top three (a–c) are good for narrow necked bottles.
If you throw with your wheel spinning clockwise, hold an egote with your right hand with the closed round end facing to the left (3). When rotating the potter’s wheel counter-clock wise, hold the egote in your left hand with the round end facing right. Note: The photos shown here are for the wheel rotating clockwise. Notice how the thumb is held up, supporting the handle. The thumb will guide and control the angle that the egote is pressed against the interior form. The left hand is pointing the area of egote rib that will be the focal point for pressing again the interior wall of the form.
Before using egote, begin with throwing a cylinder form. Once a cylinder with even wall thickness is complete, pull the clay up to round the shoulder and collar in the neck to create a preliminary bottle form. Wet the egote to keep it from sticking to the clay, and then insert it into the neck, tilting and rotating the hook-shaped head. This makes it easy to keep the tool from distorting the narrow neck (4 and 5).
The egote substitutes for your inside throwing hand, and moves from the bottom to the top of the piece, slowly stretching and expanding the diameter of the curved midsection along the way with your other hand supporting from the outside to create the profile (6). These cutaways show how the egote enters the form and is pressed against the interior wall, traveling from the bottom moving upward (7a–d).
Lastly, you can refine the contour of the form with your fingers from the outside, and once the pot is complete, clean and mark the bottom of the piece with a light indentation. Now you’re ready to cut the piece off of the hump or off of the bat.
Naomi Tsukamoto runs a ceramic and flower studio with her florist husband in Hadano, Japan. The tool articles are written with the help of her colleagues at Takara Clay Studio, a community-based pottery school in Kamakura, Japan.