An 800-year-old ceramic tradition

The former province of Tanba extends across present day central Kyoto prefecture and into the eastern part of Hyogo prefecture. Tanba ware seems to have originated in the Kondachō Kamitachikui area of Sasayama (Hyogo), following the introduction of kiln firing techniques from the Tōkai region at the end of the Heian period (late 1100s). In Tōkai, these firing techniques were used for ceramics such as Tokoname ware (made in present day Aichi prefecture). From the early days until the Muromachi period (1392–1573), ceramics made in Tanba, as well as in other parts of Japan, consisted mostly of functional vessels such as jars, urns, and mortars. In the latter half of the Muromachi period and early Edo period (1500s–1600s), sake bottles and tea ceramics (as a result of the popularization of chanoyu, the Way of Tea) were added to this repertoire. From the early to mid Edo period (1600s–1700s), a type of slip called akadobe began being applied to Tanba ware to give it a vibrant reddish brown color. During the late Edo period (1800s), Tanba kilns started using "chestnut husk glaze" (kurikawa yū), a slip made from further-refined akadobe, and white slip. Throughout the Edo period (1615–1868), Tanba ware comprised mainly functional vessels for daily life, such as sake bottles, jars, and urns, which incorporated decorative techniques. After the start of the modern period, Tanba's functional wares caught the approving eye of Yanagi Sōetsu (also known as Yanagi Muneyoshi, 1889–1961) who founded the Folk Art or Mingei movement. The forms and decorative techniques of Tanba ware also inspired other Mingei-influenced potters such as Kawai Kanjirō (1890–1966), Hamada Shōji (1894–1978), and Bernard Leach (1887–1979). Today there are about 60 kilns producing Tamba ware. In addition to contemporary ceramic artists who make creative ceramic sculptures, there are also potters who focus on producing functional vessels for daily use.
The Beauty of Natural Glaze
The translucent greenish glaze running over the surface of this jar is a natural ash glaze. It was achieved sprinkling ash from the kiln's firewood fuel over the jar and allowing it to become vitrified under high temperatures. The former owner of this jar, Hiroshi Tanaka (1904–1981), president of Zentan Bus Co., Ltd., named it after the Nunobiki Waterfall in Kobe.
Tanba Ware for Daily Use
While jars with small openings are believed to have been used for storing seed rice, coins, and other items, urns with wide mouths and bodies that narrow towards the base were used as containers for storing liquids such as water and oil. In many cases they were buried in the ground and were often discarded if broken. As a result, it is rare to find perfect examples of this type.
Tanba Ware for the Tea Ceremony
This vase is used for arranging and displaying flowers for chanoyu tea gatherings. The distorted shape, the handles attached at the top and the slanted designs, which were carved onto the body using a spatula, indicate that this may have been made to resemble a basket woven from cane or bamboo. This type of bold shape with an emphatically distorted form reflects the taste of famous tea master, Furuta Oribe (1543–1615) and is commonly seen in tea implements from the same period.
In the late 1500s, between the end of the Muromachi period and the Momoyama period (1573–1615), the popularity of wabi-cha tea and its pursuit of simplicity paved way for the development of the mizusashi (fresh water container), an implement used to hold cold water used to replenish the kettle. Originally wooden pails would have been used for such purpose, but Tanba potters responded to this new trends by reproducing these water pails in the medium of clay, resulting in "water bucket" (oke) shaped Tanba mizusashi. This example even reproduces the plaited bamboo ring that would have encircled such a wooden pail.
Made between the Yuan and Ming dynasties (1300s–1500s) in the south of China, this type of jar is covered in brown glaze and has four handles attached to the shoulder. These jars were originally used for storing and transporting spices and other items, but in Japan they were used for storing and transporting tea leaves and were greatly valued as imported items by feudal lords and wealthy merchants who took pleasure in tea and its ritual preparation. Imitations of such Chinese jars with the same shapes and glaze hues were produced in vast quantities in Tanba in the 1620s and the 1630s.
Ship Sake Bottle (Funadokkuri)
Called “ship sake bottles,” these large flasks were made with wider bases to ensure upright stability during marine transport. Akadobe slip, which is rich in iron, was applied to the bottles, which were then fired to turn them a vibrant reddish brown. The slip was thought originally to have been applied to seal small gaps on order to prevent the sake from leaching out, but this functional aspect may later have been overshadowed by aesthetic considerations.
The dark brown glaze on the outer surface was achieved by applying ash glaze over the akadobe slip. The fish motifs on the side were created using thin piece of bamboo, split vertically down the center, forming scales. Similar jars have been found bearing paper tags with the Chinese character for "water"; for this reason, it is likely that this type of jar may have been used to hold water in the kitchen. The simple beauty of this kind of Tanba Ware was appreciated by Yanagi Muneyoshi, the promoter of the Folk Art Movement.
"Chestnut Husk Glaze" (Kurikawa yū)
This sake bottle was made by being entirely covered with "chestnut husk glaze" (kurikawa yū)— so called because the final finish resembles the shiny brown hulls that cover chestnuts. The angular body and sharp edges make this bottle appear almost metallic in form, but it is surprisingly light in the hand. A seal with the characters "Ichifusa" can be seen impressed into the underside of the base. High-end ceramics with seals such as this emerged during the nineteenth century, in the late Edo period.
The Technique of Suminagashi (Marbling)
Suminagashi is a technique for creating irregular, marbled patterns. In this example, iron glaze was dripped in before the white slip dried. The dish was moved around in the potter's hands letting the two glazes marble together at the edges to form the trunk of the willow tree. The branches, leaves and frog were painted in afterwards. This iconography is based on the story of the court noble and distinguished calligrapher, Ono no Tōfū (894–967) who was said to have learned the importance of perseverance by watching a frog repeatedly try to leap onto a willow leaf.
Refillable Sake Bottles (Kayoi Tokkuri)
The characters “Nonoguchi Shuten” (Nonoguchi Sake Shop) are written on this sake bottle. Customers would purchase sake in individual bottles inscribed with the names of the shop; they could then bring the bottles back for refills. This type of sake bottle with the shop or location name written on them were commonly known as kayoi tokkuri (literally, "commuting sake bottles") because they were brought back and forth between sake shops and homes. They were mass produced from the late Edo period (1800s) up to around the 1930s, in the Shōwa period.
Tsutsugaki (Piping) Technique
The technique known as tsutsugaki in Tanba, shown here, involves pouring iron-rich pigments in the chamber of a bamboo culm and allowing the pigment to flow out from a spout to trail down into vertical lines on the side of the jar. The characters found on kayoi tokkuri sake bottles were also each written in fluid, unbroken calligraphy using this same technique.
Mingei Movement
The sides of this rectangular dish rise up vertically, and a cuboid foot is attached at an angle to the underside at each of the four corners. Though this dish is not in itself an example of Tanba ware, its form is copied after a Tanba ware square dish collected by Yanagi Muneyoshi (1889–1961) (now in the collection of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo). Like his colleagues Hamada Shōji (1894–1978) and Kawai Kanjirō (1890–1966) , Yanagi Muneyoshi called the crafts created by unknown artisans for the daily use of commoners Mingei (folk crafts) and appreciated their simple beauty.
Bernard Leach (1887–1979) was an English potter who met Hamada Shōji and subsequently participated in the Mingei movement. Japanese potters of this movement were so attracted to the English slipware food and drink vessels, made with white slip and decorated with lines, that they revived the technique. On this dish the partially wet slip was scratched with a comb-shaped tool in horizontal and diagonal lines to create a feather-like pattern. Such wares, like Tanba ware, use slip (liquid clay) for decoration.
Anglo-Japanese Relationship
Ichino Shigeyoshi (1942—2011) was born into the family running the Tansō kiln in Tanba’s Tachikui area. After Bernard Leech stayed at the kiln during his visit to Tanba, Ichino was invited to go to England in 1969 to make pottery at Leech’s workshop in St. Ives. He stayed there until 1973. This square dish was made by applying lines in white, black, and blue slip and scratching with a comb-shaped tool. This is an example of fusion between Tanba ware and English slipware.
Tanba Ware Today
In this work, black slip has been applied to half of the sphere, which is carved with horizontal lines. Reddish brown slip has been applied to the other half, whose surface is scratched with stone to bring out a rough texture. The artist Ichino Masahiko (born 1961) is the second son of the family running the Shimizu kiln in Tanba’s Tachikui area. Based on his definition of utsuwa (vessels) as being implements that are hollow on the inside, Ichino creates works that seek out new forms. At the same time, he pays great attention to clay and slip techniques so that his works maintain their identity as Tanba ware.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information & images provided by The Museum of Ceramic Art, Hyogo , Tamba Tachikui tojiki kyodo kumiai

Text written by Hiroshi Kajiyama, Curator, The Museum of Ceramic Art, Hyogo

English Translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Exhibition created by:Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Masako Watanabe & Riho Sakashita

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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