From Iga, Japan
Home of Iga-yaki Donabe.
Photography by Eric Wolfinger
(who also photographed Naoko's DONABE Cookbook)
The authentic Iga-yaki donabe and pottery, including the double-lid donabe rice cooker, “Kamado-san” are made in Iga, Mie Prefecture. Iga is an ancient province with 1,300 years of history. It’s situated about 400 Km (250 miles) south-west of Tokyo.Among local specialties, Iga-Yaki (Iga-style pottery) is considered to be one of the most highly regarded regional potteries of Japan. Iga-Yaki’s history is as old as the history of Iga itself.
Beautiful Province, Iga
Iga used to be a castle town which surrounds Iga Castle (original castle was built in 16th century). There are many historical buildings in this town. Iga is a birth place of a famous haiku poet, Basho Matsuo (1644 – 1694).
Iga is filled with history and rich culture. Other local specialties include, beef, pork, rice, kumihimo (traditional artisanal rope, sake, and many more.
Iga-yaki Producer, Nagatanien
Nagatani-en is situated in the very quiet village surrounded by nature. They make the artisanal donabe and Iga-yaki pottery.
Nagatani-en was founded in 1832 and has been run by Nagatani family for 8 generations. Once you enter their property, it would make you feel like you have time-travelled to a very old time. It’s not only beautiful, but you can also feel the energy of the earth. There is a 16-level climbing kiln, built in the early 19th century and it was in operation until early 1970’s. This is the oldest existing kind among the sizable climbing kilns in Japan and has been designated as tangible cultural site of Japan since 2011.
Although the 16-level climbing kiln is no longer in operation, there is another climbing kiln which operates on special occasions a few times a year. For daily operation, there are large gas kilns at Nagatani-en’s factory and workshop. Nagatani-en also has showrooms and museums. Just walking around in their property gives a lot of excitement.
You feel the history of Nagatani-en, everywhere you see.
In the center of Nagatani-en is Omoya (main house). This house was built more than 200 years ago, and generations of the Nagatani family lived in this house until recently. It’s really, really beautiful. In 2014, this house was also designated as a tangible cultural site of Japan.
Every time I visit the family, they treat me to an amazing Iga-style meal. All the dish ware they use are (of course!) handmade by Nagatani-en. Their Iga-yaki pottery is so gorgeous but never overpowers the food on them. All the ingredients are local, then cooked in their Iga-yaki cookware and served in their Iga-yaki plates.
Once you come to Nagatani-en, you can feel why their donabe are special. They are not only artisanal but also carry their history and love. They are also meant for everyday use to make your cooking and dining scenes more fun and meaningful. The chairman of Nagatani-en, Mr. Yuji Nagatani, always tells me his mission is to create products to make people’s lives better even a little bit. Just like me, he loves to eat and drink so much. His passion for good food and drink is really amazing. He believes that good food makes people happy and also connects people. So he always thinks about good food and making good cookware to cook the food in. Indeed, good food connected Nagatani family and myself.