One-of-a-kind, custom-designed
Japanese Bizen-style
wood-fired pottery

Japanese Pottery and me

Some of the oldest pottery in the world has been found in Western Japan, notably in the Bizen area. Jomon Style low-fired pottery was produced there for thousands of years, until it was supplanted by Sueki Style pottery about 2300 years ago. About 1500 years ago, "yakishime", "vitrifying" or "glassifying" technology was introduced from Korea and China. The "anagama", or "hole kiln" was fired, usually with pine, to temperatures exceeding 1200C, 2370F. While it is more brittle and less able to withstand thermal shock than low-fired pottery, yakishime ware is much harder and more waterproof. Besides Bizen, there were several other areas noted for their pottery manufacture: Shino, Shigaraki, Mino, Kutani, and other areas each had their own "looks", influenced by proximity to the Asian Continent and locally available materials. Japan's volcanic geology gave them feldspar here, iron-rich clay there, mix in a few parts of rice straw ash and maybe some wood ash and some other ingredients that might surprise you, and voila'! Glaze. Bizen potters chose not to apply glaze because the natural wood ash and burn-products can make such pretty glazes anyway.

The bridge here is a good idea, but I let this one look a bit wiggly. I'll make the next batch of bridges from thicker slabs, and let them get a bit harder before I join the pieces. Many of those sake' bottles were fired upside-down on top of some slab-construction cylinders, with lumps of fireclay to keep them from sticking together. That's one of the advantages of once-fired pottery with no applied glaze. Today we have high-temperature kiln furniture, shelves, posts, plate stackers, and so on, but centuries ago they had to improvise other ways to load their kilns. The shelves and posts potters did make and use when firing glazed ware were heavy and not much area was left to load pottery onto the shelves after the posts were in place for the next shelf up. You can imagine the many gambles potters made when loading kilns, and all the lessons learned, but kiln "real estate" was valuable then as now.

I'm logging out so I can import a photo I just took. Back shortly.

--Momoyama Art, War, and Politics: Do the "Socio-economic Shuffle"! Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who became "shogun" despite his peasant lineage, retained Sen no Rikyu as his "official aesthete". Sen was among the first Japanese aristocrats to recognize the beauty in "wabi-sabi" aesthetics, which celebrate simplicity and imperfection in the things created by man. He was the undisputed arbiter of aesthetics in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, until he and Toyotomi had a dispute. Sen was compelled to commit "ritual suicide" by Toyotomi, shortly before Toyotomi himself was forced by his erstwhile ally Tokugawa to commit ritual suicide. "Nice work, if you can KEEP it", huh!

But during those very turbulent times, Japanese Art flourished. Bizen Pottery was well suited to the wabi-sabi aesthetic, and was naturally favored by Sen no Rikyu. Peasants' pottery has been used by kings since that time.

See my pages about Jomon Pottery and Sueki Pottery.