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Friday, July 05, 2013

Bizen-yaki Pottery


Japan has a long association with pottery, going back about ten and a half thousand years to the Jomon period of Japanese history—and that association is still very vibrant today, expressed in numerous pottery traditions that have developed in Japan since those primeval days.

Japanese pottery is distinct from mainland Asian pottery (China and Korea are the two biggest influences) in that it consciously aims for imperfection as a way of expressing the "natural." Continental Asian pottery, on the other hand, tends to be more geometrically perfect, aiming for an almost otherworldly aura.

This aesthetic is not limited to pottery, but certainly expresses itself in it. Furniture, too, for example, is quite different between the mainland and China: China's aspiring to the sleek and imposing, while Japan prefers the somewhat rustic and understated.

One style of Japanese pottery that particularly epitomizes that mood is Bizen-yaki, i.e. pottery from in and around Bizen city in Okayama prefecture (formerly Bizen province). Bizen-yaki is distinctively hard, rust-colored, and unglazed. The high iron content in the local soil is responsible for the oxidized look and, because of it, firing Bizen-yaki takes a long time (i.e., up to two weeks), and a lot of firewood.

How the clay is fired determines its color and texture, and effects are sought by means such as wrapping the clay in rice straw or sprinkling it with sesame seeds.

The o-choko (or one-mouthful sake cups) pictured here are Bizen-yaki and show just a little of the beautiful autumnal variety of colors and textures that Bizen-yaki is capable of.

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