A ceramic kiln begun during the Keichō era (1596–1615) in Uji, Kyoto

On the Banks of the Uji River
Asahi ware comes from the banks of the Uji River, south of Kyoto. The kiln is located next to Ujigami Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the village shrine of Uji. It is situated across the river from the Phoenix Hall of Byōdō-in temple.
Tea Bowl by Tōsaku I
It is believed that the kiln was first established by Tōsaku I (active end of the 1500s–early 1600s) at the foot of Mt. Asahi in Uji sometime during the Keichō era (1596–1615). The kiln took its name from the mountain and was used to produce implements for chanoyu, the ritual preparation of powdered green tea. These early wares included tea bowls and mizusashi (fresh water containers for replenishing the kettle and rinsing bowls). Asahi wares were greatly favored by feudal lords, court nobles, and tea masters all over the country. In addition, Tōsaku was supervised by the feudal lord and renowned tea master Kobori Enshū (1579–1647); he was given permission to use the name Asahi by Enshū. The Asahi kiln was considered by Enshū to be one of his favorite seven kilns and, as a result, became well known.
Times were difficult for the 4th to 7th generations, who had to resort to earning their living through agriculture and tea production. Records indicate that they also made roof tiles and boated people across the Uji River.
Matsubayashi Shōsai XII (1865–1932)
The turning point for the Matsubayashi family came during the time of 8th generation potter Matsubayashi Chōbei (?–1852), who revived the long discontinued kiln and began producing implements for use in the practice of sencha (the ritual preparation of steeped, roasted green tea), which was a popular pastime at the time. His grandson, 12th generation Matsubayashi Shōsai (1865–1932), succeeded in reviving the old tradition of producing matcha tea bowls at the Asahi kilns.
Benikase Tea Bowl by Matsubayashi Shōsai XII
When the crown prince (who would later become Emperor Taishō) visited Uji in 1898 he saw Shōsai at work at Asahi kiln and purchased some of his wares. Since then it has become a norm for the imperial family and important figures to visit the Asahi kiln whenever they are in Uji. This relationship with the imperial family has continued to today.
Japanese-style climbing kiln at the Leach Pottery in St Ives, UK
During the Taishō era Matsubayashi Tsurunosuke (1894–1932), the younger brother of 13th generation potter Matsubayashi Kōsai (1891–1947), traveled to the United Kingdom to study. There he interacted with Hamada Shōji (1849–1978), who would later be accredited as a holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure) for his folk craft pottery, and Bernard Leach (1887–1979), the leading British potter of the 20th century.
Matsubayashi Building a Climbing Kiln at the Leach Pottery
Between 1923 and 1924, at Leach’s request, Tsurunosuke built a Japanese climbing kiln at Leach’s workshop and trained Leach’s students. The kiln still exists today.
The Climbing Kiln Gen'yō
Despite the kiln being recognized as "marugi" qualified (an accreditation given by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry during WWII to people and establishments in order to preserve craft skills) for its ceramic production, operation of the kiln became extremely difficult. To overcome the harsh times, 14th generation potter Matsubayashi Hōsai built the world’s first smokeless ascending kiln in 1975. This Asahi kiln, named Gen'yō, has continued to produce ceramics into the present day. It is now under the supervision of 15th generation potter and namesake Matsubayashi Hōsai (b. 1950).
Clay for Future Generations
The clay used comes from the hilly region to the south of Uji. Asahi potters store clay dug by previous generations, which they mix with other clays to produce particular textures not possible with newly extracted clay. In other words, the clay extracted today will be stored away to be used by future generations of Asahi kiln potters.
Matsubayashi Hōsai XV (b. 1950)
Today, the Asahi kiln produces both stoneware and porcelain pieces. The stoneware pieces made are mainly of a style known as gohon, which has characteristic faint, red spots—the natural result of a chemical reaction that occurs when iron contained in the clay is fired in the kiln. At Asahi kiln the degree of the color and the patterns are divided into two categories, called hanshi and kase. In the case of ceramic pieces the kiln mainly produces sencha teacups and hōhin (handle-less Japanese tea pots). As with the stoneware, the porcelain pieces also don vibrant glazes that turn red, green, yellow, and other colors as a result of chemical reactions during firing.
New Horizons
In recent years, Matsubayashi Yūsuke, the eldest son of 15th generation Hōsai, has participated in a project entitled GO ON, which links producers of traditional crafts with modern artists and designers, and has presented a work designed by a Danish designer. He has also been involved in various other activities, including working in the reconstructed Leach Pottery. *All Japanese names are given in the order of surname followed by given name.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information &Images provided by: Asakiyaki, Matsubayashi Yusuke

Text written by: Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Movie by:Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

Exhibition created by Sakashita Riho, Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

English Translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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