Bizen Pottery is one of the most famous crafts


Bizen pottery, Strength and simplicity with a millennium of history

Bizen Pottery is produced in the Ibe area of Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture. This craft is considered one of the six oldest kilns in Japan, and along with Shigaraki, Tanba, Echizen, Seto, and Tokoname, Bizen Pottery is one of the most traditional kilns still in existence. It is a hard-fired pottery fired at a high temperature of 1,200 to 1,300 degrees Celsius without any glaze. Bizen Pottery is produced by the characteristics of the clay, the way the kiln is filled, changes in kiln temperature, ashes and charcoal during firing, and other factors, and no two pieces will have the same color or pattern. Incidentally, the brownish-brown surface characteristic of Bizen ware is due to the iron content of the clay used for Bizen ware.

Bizen ware is so hard that it is said to be “unbreakable even if thrown” because it is fired at high temperatures for about two weeks, and many mortar bowls, large turtles, and jars were made. Today, It is also used to make flower vases with long-lasting cut flowers because of its excellent air permeability due to its microscopic pores, and beer glasses because the fine bubbles produced by the microscopic irregularities in the surface of the glass are very fine.

Bizen pottery
Source: Okayama tourism Web

History of Bizen Pottery

According to the data of the “Okayama Bizen Pottery Tohyukai,” a cooperative association of Bizen Pottery, Bizen Pottery has its roots in Sue ware of the Kofun period. The production of Sue ware gradually changed, and it is said that bowls, plates, boards, and roof tiles were produced during the Heian period.

Kamakura, Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama Periods

At that time, jars, pots, and mortars were mainly produced. Gradually, the reddish-brown surface characteristic of today’s Bizen ware began to be produced. From the end of the Muromachi period (1333-1573), clay from the Ibe region, known as hiyose, came to be used, and the use of the rocro method for molding made mass production possible. In addition, large, half-underground anagama kilns began to be built.

Edo and Meiji Periods

In the Edo period (1603-1867), small-scale kilns were integrated under the protection and control of the clan, and full-scale, large-scale joint kilns (large kilns) were built in the south, north, and west, and a manufacturing system was established by the six families of kiln builders (Kimura, Mori, Tongu, Terami, Oyoshi, and Kinshige). With the establishment of this system, tea ceremony utensils and daily utensils made after the Muromachi period (1333-1573), as well as ornaments, were also produced. Production by the large kilns continued until the end of the Edo period, but at the same time, porcelain production began to flourish in Kyo-ware, Arita, Seto, and other areas, and Bizen ware was gradually squeezed out. From the Meiji period to the early Showa period (1926-1989), Bizen ware faced a period of hardship.

Bizen pottery
660,000 Japanese yen / Source: MITSUKOSHI ISETAN MAGAGINE

Showa Period

In 1956, Bizen Pottery emerged from a period of stagnation. Even after Toyo’s death, Bizen ware continued to produce Living National Treasures such as Kei Fujiwara, Toshu Yamamoto, Yu Fujiwara, and Jun Isezaki. Bizen ware has grown to become a highly acclaimed pottery production area.

Manufacturing Method and Process

1. Collection of Hiyose (clay soil)

The selection of clay is an important part of the entire production process because Bizen Pottery is made without the use of glaze, which allows the quality of the material itself to be immediately apparent on the surface. The clay used for Bizen Pottery is mainly high quality hiyose, which is dug up from about 3 to 5 meters underground in the rice fields around Bizen City. Sometimes we actually test-fire the clay to determine whether it is good or bad. The soil must be acclimatized by exposing it to the elements for one to two years.

Once the soil has been exposed to the elements, it is sorted by several methods. First, the grains are reduced in size using a mortar-like machine called a fretter to reduce the size of the large particles. Once the particles have been finer with a fretter, they are further sorted into finer particles by a process called water sorting. Suihi is a process in which soil is soaked in water and only the finer grains are extracted using the speed at which they settle to the bottom.

2. Kiku-neri

After sorting, the clay is allowed to sit for several weeks or months until it becomes the proper hardness by adding water, and then it is mixed with black clay by soil treading. Treading the earth means roughly kneading with bare feet. The soil is then left to settle for another six months to several years. When the time comes for the soil to be used, it is again mixed. The soil is kneaded thoroughly by hand to remove air before use.

3. Molding

Once the clay is ready, the production stage begins. There are various methods of making pottery, such as string making, plate making, and other non-machine methods, and using a potter’s wheel, but the basic forming method is the same as other pottery.

4. Using a spatula

After forming, the vessel is left on the potter’s wheel and decorated with patterns using a spatula.

5. Kiln Filling

Bizen ware is not fired in a kiln immediately after forming. The key point is to let nature take its course and dry the ware thoroughly. If any cracks appear during the natural drying stage, the pot is returned to the clay again.

Once thoroughly dried, the kiln is then packed into the kiln. The firing process differs depending on where the pots are placed, so it is necessary to carefully calculate the firing time before packing them into the kiln.

Firing bizen pottery

6. Fire-quenching

The fire-introduction ceremony for Bizen Pottery is held on an auspicious day to ensure that the pieces will be fired well. A prayer is said to the gods and the fire-intensive ritual is performed.

7. Firing

Firing in a kiln is divided into several processes. The first is the kuyushi, which is performed on the first and second days. Kuyushi is the process of firing firewood using only the two openings at the front of the kiln. From the third day, the kiln is heated to a high temperature. Aburi is the process of gradually raising the temperature by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius per hour, gradually raising the temperature of the kettle to prevent cracking. After 800℃, the temperature is raised at a rate of 10 to 15℃ per hour, and finally the kiln is kept at 1150℃ to 1300℃. Kiln firing takes approximately one to two weeks.

8. Kiln Removal

After kiln firing is completed, the kiln is not opened immediately, but the kiln is cooled slowly over a period of time with all the openings closed. This is to avoid the risk of cracking the pottery if it is cooled too quickly.

9. Finishing

After being carefully removed from the kiln, Bizen Pottery is polished and inspected by craftsmen before being released to the world.

Bizen pottery

Key points

Bizen Pottery belongs to a well-known group of traditional Japanese crafts. And it is as famous as Wajima-nuri, Nambu ironware, Kaga Yuzen, and Seki knife, which are all well-known traditional crafts in Japan.

Bizen Pottery also combines numerous advantages due to the characteristics of its production process. For example, 1. Improved taste. The subtle vents on the surface of Bizen ware are said to prevent water from spoiling and improve the taste. Bizen ware also enhances the flavor of ingredients such as sake, soy sauce, wine, and whiskey when left for long periods of time. 2. Bizen ware enhances water and keeps flowers alive longer. 3. Bizen ware, with its natural and simple texture, plays a supporting role and enhances colorful dishes. It is a visual delight. Why not add this kind of Bizen ware to your life?


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