Bizen ware Okayama

Bizen yaki - rustic earthenware from Okayama Prefecture

Bizen ware Okayama

Bizen ware, or bizen yaki, is a type of Japanese pottery that originated in the area around Bizen, a town near Okayama City. Its roots can be traced back to the 5th century CE when Korean Peninsula potters crafted exquisite unglazed earthenware called sueki in what is now Okayama Prefecture.

It is known for its rustic, reddish-brown appearance and the absence of glaze. Another distinct feature is its robustness, which is a result of a special firing process.

Bizen ware is created through a process of what is known as oxidation firing. Items are fired in an anagama kiln for several days at temperatures exceeding 1200℃. Despite using only one type of clay and firing technique, a diverse range of styles can be achieved through exploitation of distinctive characteristics of the local clay as well as the placement and treatment of each piece inside the kiln.

The firing technique became widespread throughout southeastern Okayama Prefecture in the mid-6th century CE. In the late 12th century CE, a kiln was built in the village of Inbe. Bizen ware is therefore also sometimes referred to as Inbe (or Imbe) ware.

Bizen ware & chadо̄

During the Muromachi period (1336-1568 CE), Inbe's large-scale production of Bizen ware garnered a reputation throughout Japan. In the Momoyama period (1568-1600 CE), practitioners of ‘the way of tea’, chadо̄, recognized the beauty of Bizen ware pots (tsubo), water jugs, and vases, and began incorporating them into their practice. This led to an increase in the everyday use of Bizen ware. At this time, Bizen potters also began crafting tea bowls (chawan) specifically designed for chadо̄.

Tea master Sen no Rikyu advocated, “the way of tea is simply to boil the water, then drink the tea” and enjoyed “the grass of a small tatami-floored room, a breeze along the pathway”. These preferences extended to a simple appreciation of Bizen ware.

Bizen is considered one of the Six Ancient Kilns according to Japanese scholar and potter Koyama Fujio, who, in 1948, categorized the most distinguished ceramic kilns in Japan. In 2017, all six kilns were designated as Japan Heritage sites.

Previously, in 1982, Bizen ware was recognized as a ‘Traditional Craft of Japan’.

Earthenware bowls are available to buy on the Japan House London Online Shop.