This type of Japanese pottery is traditionally made in Bizen Province, Okayama Prefecture, western Japan. It is known for its designs and delicate glazes. It is characterized by producing very beautiful rustic pieces and is often associated with the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi”, which in the aesthetic sense implies the beauty of the imperfect.
Bizen pottery and its traditional kilns
Bizen is one of the six oldest kilns in Japan and has been making ceramics for hundreds of years. It reached its peak in the Muromachi period, and in the Edo period a large communal kiln was built south of Inbe Station.
This traditional pottery is usually fired in ascending or staggered kilns, such as the Anagama kiln, at high temperatures and is known for its durability. This type of kilns, which are traditional methods of firing ceramics in Japan, mainly use pine wood. They also contain a lot of wood ash and soot, which melt at high temperatures and form beautiful effects and a unique range of colors and textures on the surface of the ceramic in each piece. Once the pottery is fired, it is hand polished and inspected by a craftsman.
Firing the pottery in these wood-fired kilns is a great challenge for the artists, as they cannot control the colors or patterns that emerge during the firing process, and must constantly monitor the process. The pots can spend twelve to thirteen days in the kiln, during which time the artisan must be attentive.
The pieces are carefully removed from the kiln and polished by hand by an artisan. They can vary in color and texture, and may have red or brown burn marks. These kilns are often considered a sacred place, and there are even prayers for successful firing.
The clay used for this pottery is mined from depths of between three and five meters in the surrounding fields. It must then be exposed to wind and rain for one to two years. After this, the clay is refined for later use.
Bizen pottery Chawan bowl made by Isezaki Mitsuru
© Stoneware Treasury
Past and present of this ancestral pottery
The history of Bizen pottery goes back several centuries. In the 16th century, the Bizen region was home to one of the oldest pottery schools in Japan. These pottery schools were designated a Heritage of Japan in 2017. Today, the region maintains its traditions with modern kilns. You can visit the Okayama area to see its pottery for yourself. The city also has museums and kilns that you can visit.
It is widely used in tea ceremony communities and has been recognized as a culturally important art by the Japanese government. Some Michelin-starred restaurants use Bizen pottery.
The pottery making process in the area has been refined over the past thousand years. The techniques used to make Bizen pottery have changed dramatically over the centuries, and young potters are experimenting with new aesthetics and techniques to keep the style relevant and enduring.
One of the most famous artists using Bizen pottery in Japan is Mori Togaku. He is an artist who has been at the forefront of Japanese ceramic art for over thirty years. In 1985, he finished building a half-buried kiln to produce a large amount of his work. In 2015 he also completed an 85-meter Momoyama-style kiln and is now firing new pieces. Although he remains deeply rooted in the traditional style, his work also uses modern techniques.
Piece from Mori Togaku‘s first large kiln firing in 1980.
© Treasures of Old Times
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