Bizen ware was not high on my list of priorities when we were deciding our itinerary. What came to mind was naked beige clay body with random lines of shiny red/orange scorch marks reminisent of sunburn on a pale Scottish body.
However JG was very keen having become excited about the work of Isezaki Jun. And I am happy to have my pottery predjudices confronted especially by ware from one of Japan’s 6 ancient kilns. Also we had met a lovely young Bizen potter at Ceramic Art London 2017 who invited us to come and see him at his studio, if we were passing. Ishida Kazuya has been working with the Oxford anagama project – link.
To see the main production centre of Bizen ware you have to go to Inbe, a small town in the region of Bizen. Travelling there fitted in well with heading toward Kyoto from Hagi.
By staying overnight in Okayama we could make it an easy day trip, the train journey being about half an hour. Tourist information is in the station building (also the Bizen Potters’ Association exhibition hall is upstairs) where we picked up maps of the town and headed out to the Bizen Pottery Traditional and Contemporary Art Museum, practically next door. Unmissable with these huge structures installed by the entrance and unmissable for the simple, clear and explainatory exhibits inside.
A great place for potters and potheads. A small museum which explains everything, history, process and terms, and displays a range of modern works as well as the ancient. The display of the different effects of the wood fired anagama kilns was great.
The more I leant the more I warmed to the work. Some of the colours are so rich and subtle. The textures fine and complex without being showy like some Shigaraki work. Traditionally fired for 10-14 days, in anagama or noborigama kilns, with red pine as fuel, up to 1300ºC. The long firing gives the iron rich clay a chance to mature and develop hues and patinas whilst retaining a pleasant degree of dry matness.
It’s a small town. The nice young man at reception gave us directions for visiting Ishida Kazuyo. Then we walked up to the main street and into heaven. The whole main street is pottery shops and studios. Not only lots of them but also of beautiful, traditional, old Japanese architecture. We weren’t prepared enough to know who to search out but chanced on several fine and varied studio/showrooms. There is a lot of similarity between one pottery and the next, of form and effects, but also some fine examples of experiment within the traditions.
By this stage what impressed me most was the depth of colour in the pots. A lot of deep purplish earthy tones, soft blue-greys, dark reds, from the heavily reduced iron rich clay, And flashes of acid yellow-green glaze, the deposits formed by the melting of fly ash through the kiln during firing. Even the rice straw effects were looking more attractively mediteranean tan.