Why is "Yakimono" Japanese pottery and porcelain so attractive?

Japanese ceramics are highly regarded not only for their role in serving as vessels, but also as crafts. What is the background behind the fact that pottery has flourished so much in Japan and is loved by so many people?

The starting point of its appeal is the diversity that has emerged from its long history.

Japanese pottery began more than 10,000 years ago with Jomon earthenware. From there, it developed along with the rice culture during the Yayoi period(c. 300 BCE - 300 CE), resulting in Yayoi earthenware with simple shapes and patterns. Pottery has been used in the daily lives of the Japanese people since that time.

Such pottery evolved one step further from the Kofun period(c. 250 - 538 CE) to the Heian period(c. 794 -1185 CE).

With the arrival of technology from Korea, 'kilns' came to be used for firing. Kilns enable firing at higher temperatures. This is how 'Sue ware' was born.

Later, in the Heian period, a kind of glaze, a glassy substance that gives the unglazed ware a sheen and prevents water penetration, was accidentally produced during the firing of Sue ware in kilns, and from there the technique of glazing pottery was born. However, by the end of the Heian period, glazes were no longer used and the evolutionary step came to a halt. Why is this?

At that time, the focus of ceramics was on household utensils and tools, such as jars, pots and bowls. Ceramic tableware could be held in the hand and enjoyed for its shape and texture, but jars, pots and bowls were practical items that were used in everyday life. For this reason, they did not need to be decorated with glaze.

"Yakimono culture" developed alongside "tea ceremony".

This was followed by Azuchi-Momoyama period(c. 1558-1600 CE), which is considered the most significant turning point in the history of Japanese pottery. During this period, a great deal of highly original pottery was produced. The background to this was the prevalence of the tea ceremony culture established by Sen no Rikyu(Japanese famous tea master).

"Chanoyu" tea ceremony was a very big boom that occurred during this period. Originally, glazed ceramics from China and the Korean peninsula were used for tea bowls, tea containers, and water jars. At this time, most of the ceramics made in Japan were unglazed, fired ceramics. Only in Seto(Aichi, Japan) was glazed pottery produced.

Under such circumstances, there was a movement to make tea ceremony utensils on their own. Since Seto alone could not keep up with the production, the production of pottery spread rapidly in various regions, centering on Mino(Gifu, Japan), which had inherited the techniques from Seto. Mino ware, Oribe(Japanese famous tea master) ware, which is still famous today, was born, and in western Japan, Karatsu(Saga, Japan), Hagi(Yamaguchi, Japan), Takatori(Fukuoka, Japan), Arita(Saga, Japan), Satsuma(Kagoshima, Japan), and other pottery production areas were born, and the variety of pottery increased explosively.

One of the interesting things about Japan is that even as pottery has developed, some of the older forms have remained. Earthenware used since the Jomon period(c. 14,000 BCE 〜) and pots and jars that were simply fired without glaze continued to be made. This is how the diversity of Japanese pottery was born. By the Edo period (c. 1603-1867 CE), tableware had become the main type of pottery and porcelain was developed.

What is the appeal of "Yakimono" Japanese pottery and porcelain from an overseas perspective?

Japanese pottery began to spread worldwide in the 17th century. Porcelain called "Ko-Imari" was sent from Japan to Europe and was highly appreciated. In addition, the World Exposition in London in 1862 triggered a growing interest in Japanese culture, including Japanese ceramics and ukiyo-e prints. This trend continued with "Japonisme," which became popular in Europe in the latter half of the 19th century.

Overseas ceramics are symmetrical, with the same design and pattern on each piece in a series, and are made in a precise manner. In contrast, Japanese pottery is not symmetrical, and the thickness of the pieces is not even. The underlying principle is the culture of "Chanoyu" the tea ceremony. In the world of tea ceremony, there is an aesthetic sense that appreciates imperfection.

For example, tea bowls that have been fired with finger marks left on them, or "kintsugi," the art of repairing broken vessels by decorating them with gold, are things that are unique to Japan. Such unique sensitivities may be appreciated by people from other countries. One of the reasons why "Japanese food" has been recognized as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage is because of the beauty of its presentation and ceramics is a major element of this presentation.

"Yakimono”Jpanaese pottery and porcelain and "Kiribako" Japanese wooden box

Japanese pottery and porcelain have a sense of materiality that comes from its cool texture, color, and heavy weight. Japanese people have been surrounded and lived together with tea bowls, plates, and small bowls tray bowls (flowerpots) which has the element of breakage. So Japanese people have learned a way of treating pottery with care and respect. In order to take good care of them, unique storage culture have developed, such as storing them in "Kiribako" Japanese wood boxes, which absorb moisture and have fireproof.

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