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NIPPONIA No.32 March 15, 2005
Pottery as Nature's Own Art
Ornate decorations on porcelain attract great admiration, but the Japanese have a special place in their hearts for the simple, earthy charm of pottery decorated through natural processes.
Written by Torikai Shin-ichi, Photos by Kono Toshihiko
Natural forces are stronger than artistic whim
Fujiwara Kazu, Bizen ware potter
Bizen, a city in Okayama Prefecture, is one of the six ancient pottery centers of Japan. Potters there mold fine dark clay into vessels and fire them unglazed at more than 1000°C until they become what is known as stoneware. Inside the kiln, the clay reacts with ash from the burning firewood to create fascinating abstract patterns. This kiln-inspired serendipity is a special charm of Bizen ware.
"The final appearance depends on natural processes occurring on their own in the kiln. Bizen ware is the most natural type of pottery," says Fujiwara Kazu, who was born into a famous family of Bizen pottershis grandfather Kei and his father Yu were both named Living National Treasures.
Kazu says he has a definite idea of how he wants his work to turn out. "When I load the kiln, I hope the pieces will come out the color I want, with the patterns I want. But I can't be sure they will."
He works with the variableswhere to put the clay pieces in the kiln, how much firewood to use, how to make the heat circulategoing by past experience and the data he has on specific conditions. "It's like a battle of wills between me and the kiln."
After stocking the kiln, he fires it for 12 or 13 days and nights. He stays near it all the time, and does not sleep a wink during the last two days.
"I'm guided by sounds, like the crackling of the wood burning and the whoosh of air being sucked into the kiln. Sometimes I add more firewood to raise the temperature a little. It's like I'm talking to the fire."
Then comes the time to open the kiln. The pottery comes out, but not necessarily with the colors and patterns he wanted. But that does not make it a failure. "It just shows the power of nature. I look at the pottery and say, 'So that's the way you wanted to turn out. Good for you!' In the final analysis, firing pottery is letting nature do things its own way. I am reminded of this every time I open the kiln."
Nature having her way with artistic intentionthis is what draws people to the beauty of Bizen pottery.