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
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".