HISTORY OF BIZEN WARE

JOHN THOMAS WELLS

The oldest ceramic shards to be found in be found in the world were discovered in Japan and date back some 12,400 years. That was the pottery of the Jomon (12400-250BC) culture, followed by the Yayoi (250BC-250AD) culture, which was open pit-fired, porous, and made without a potter’ s wheel. In the fifth century potters and other technical experts were invited to Japan from what is now Korea Inception of technically advanced Sue ware took place at that time bringing to Japan the potter’s wheel and anagama tunnel kiln. Sue ware was made throughout Japan and is the origin of Bizen ware. Sue pottery is characterized by having a sharp, fine, delicate, form, thin walls, and a light blue-grayish color. It was made throughout the Heian period (794-1185AD) and used mainly in religious ceremonies and by the aristocratic society.

The end of the12th century also marked the end of the Heian period, and of its court aristocracy, and the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1338) with its feudal system of government. The Kamakura society required more utilitarian ceramics for everyday living rather than of artistic value. At this time six large pottery production centers came into prominence in Japan evolving to produce rougher, heavier, higher fired, more durable pottery and Bizen was one of those centers. From the Kamakura period the pottery made in Bizen began to have unique qualities such as reddish or brownish color surface and melted ash resembling sesame seeds and so is called Bizen ware.

In the Muromachi period (1338-1573) Bizen became the most popular ceramic in Japan because of its superior clay, quite atmosphere, durability, and water preserving qualities. The next period, Momoyama (1568-1600), was the golden age of art in Japan. During this period giant 5 x 50 meter tunnel kilns were made in Bizen. The great lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the great tea master Sue no Rikyu both loved Bizen ware and greatly supported it. Many tea ware masterpieces were made during this period.

In the Edo period (1603-1868) porcelaine was introduced to Japan and became very popular. The feudal lord of the Bizen area Ikeda Mitsumasa, began to protect Bizen but even so, popularity continued to steadily decline. The roof tiles of the shizutani school, Which Ikeda Mitsumasa created for the purpose of educating common people, were made of Bizen pottery and the lecture hall has been designated a national landmark.

With the Meiji restoration (1868) Japan opened its doors to west and the public lost interest in Japanese traditional arts. This was disastrous for Bizen but even so small individual kilns began to be fired, though drain pipes and refractory brick production was the main industry.

After 1945 there were cultural revival movements in Japan. Kaneshige Toyo was successful in attempts to make wares of Momoyama period quality and was designated a living national treasure. His efforts are largely responsible for the present day prosperity of Bizen ware.

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