Unglazed Stoneware from the Noto Peninsula

The Birth of Suzu Ware
The production of Suzu ware began in the twelfth century, at the end of the Heian period (794–1185). It was made in Suzu county—a region at the tip of the Noto Peninsula protruding into the Sea of Japan. Today the region encompasses parts of the city of Suzu and the town of Noto.
Suzu wares were shipped from Fukui county along the Sea of Japan up to Hokkaido. During the fourteenth century the county of Suzu was one of four distribution zones and one of the leading ceramic production sites of the Japanese archipelago. Early Suzu ware was influenced by the styles created at Toban kilns of the Setouchi region and Tokoname and Atsumi kilns of the Tōkai region. It is thus believed that the production of Suzu ware began as a result of the introduction of the techniques used in these production sites. Most of Suzu county was part of Wakayamasō, the largest shōen (manor) on the Noto Peninsula, which was owned by a noble family. As the production period of Suzu ware generally overlapped with the period between the establishment and the decline of Wakayamasō, it has been speculated that pottery kilns were introduced to the area as a means of managing the manor.
Oceanic Transport
By the latter half of the Heian period domestic demand for pottery wares had increased. Back then, land travel was still underdeveloped and people travelled to remote areas or transported goods mainly by sea. As a vital midpoint along the Sea of Japan route, the Noto Peninsula was convenient for the distribution of heavy and fragile ceramics. This is thought to be one of the main factors that led to the start of the production of Suzu ware in the region.
Production Techniques
Early Suzu ware was fired in tunnel-shaped anagama kilns built into hill slopes, which were fired at over 1,100 degrees. Upon extinguishing the fire, the furnace opening and the flue were sealed to starve the kiln of oxygen. Under this condition the iron contained in the clay would be reduced to a black color which then turned into a shade of bluish grey or greyish black after firing was done. 
Distinctive patina 
Glaze is not used in Suzu ware, but the ash that sprinkles over the clay during firing melts to become a natural, greyish white glaze creating a unique finish.
Historically, the three main Suzu ware products were urns, pots for storage, and mortars used for food preparation. Very early Suzu mortars did not have ribbed interiors used for grinding, but by around the end of the twelfth century mortors began to have comb serrations or stamped markings, and by the middle of the thirteenth century straight-lined serrations had become a common feature.
A variety of other products were also made in Suzu, including objects for religious ceremonies such as sutra containers and statues of Buddhist deities. Other wares included water jars, vases, braziers, and fishing net weights. Eating and drinking vessels, such as rice bowls and dishes, were rare in Suzu. Pots and urns were shaped using the same coiling and tapping technique used for making Sue ware. The traces of tapping visible on the greyish-black surface of the object produced a distinctive appearance. There are also many examples of pots finished with a smooth surface made by scraping off these traces and often decorated with patterns and lines marked using a skewer or seal—showing the influence of Tokoname and Atsumi kiln styles. The uniqueness of Suzu ware developed out of a fusion of varied techniques and traditions.
Despite its once unchallenged market share, Suzu ceramics quickly fell into decline and finally discontinued in the latter half of the fifteenth century as a result of the intensifying competition with Echizen ware. The fact that Suzu failed to compete with the improved productivity at kilns in Echizen, Tokoname, and Bizen has been directly linked to the fact that kilns in these other regions adopted division of labor and enlarged kilns into their production. In addition, the decline in the power of the noble patrons that owned manors meant that Suzu ware lost its backing for production and distribution, and consequently struggled to maintain its competitiveness.
The Saihōji No. 1 Kiln Site (National Historical Site)
The site of the Saihōji No. 1 Kiln (a National Historical Site) at Kashiwara, Hōryū-machi in Suzu, is the only surviving medieval kiln with a ceiling attached. As an underground kiln, it is a rare example, since Suzu kilns were generally built above ground. As they may have reached the limits of kiln expansion above ground, potters seem to have attempted to improve their ability to mass produce by creating a larger kiln under the earth. Unfortunately, as the site was located in the vicinity of an underground spring, it appears that the potters were unable to obtain the required kiln temperature and consequently had to give up firing this kiln early on. From the style of mortars found at the site it has been concluded that this was likely the last early Suzu kiln. The flames of Suzu ware firing that had continued for around 400 years died out soon after. 
Revival of Suzu Ware
Over time Suzu was forgotten as a major pottery production area, though many surviving examples continued to be used as miso urns or pickle pots without being recognized as Suzu ware. In 1951 a teacher by the name of Wajima Shunji received a Suzu ware cinerary urn excavated by a student. He presented this in a folk history research journal stating that the urn possibly dated to the Muromachi period judging from the style of the associated tombstone. 
That same year another teacher named Nakano Renjirō, guided by a  student, found the remains of an old kiln, a finding which he reported at the Ishikawa Kōkogaku Kenkyūkai (Ishikawa Archeology Research Group). Thus began research on Suzu ware. In 1961 Okada Sōei, Matani Sōtarō, and Nakano Renjirō collaboratively coined the terms Suzu-yaki (Suzu ware) and Suzu koyō (old Suzu kilns).
Onodera Gen
As research progressed, Suzu ceramics become increasingly recognized and valued as antiquities, leading to exhibitions of its ancient pottery wares around Japan. In 1972 potter Onodera Gen (born 1934), who resided in Kanagawa prefecture, discovered Suzu ware at one such exhibition. He later began to meet frequently with Nakano Renjirō and others in Suzu, snd he brought back clay with him and continued trying to re-create Suzu ware. 
Nōmura Kō
Ceramicist Nomura Kō (born 1949) presented his Suzu Earthenware Pot at the 1977 Japan Ceramic Art Exhibition, winning the Minister of Education Award. Around the same time, there were great opportunities for the revival of Suzu ware in Suzu itself as well. The return to Suzu of Nōmura Kō, who had gone on a municipal scholarship to train as a potter in Echizen, instigated the establishment of the Tōgei Jisshū Center (today called the Suzu City Pottery Center)  in 1978. 
Nakayama Tatsuma
In 1978, Nakayama Tatsuma (born 1952) of Kanazawa, who was attracted by old Suzu pottery, also joined the team to revive this ceramic tradition. The following year, they succeeded in constructing the first revived Suzu kiln thus initiating the renaissance of Suzu ware.
In 2016, nearly four decades since the revival, there are now some forty Suzu ware potters, including those who own their own kilns and those who share common kilns. Nevertheless, reality remains harsh for these artists, as everything from the excavating of clays and securing of firewood to the developing of marketing outlet all rely on each potter’s own independent financial ability. Yet even under such circumstances, these potters continue to take on the challenge of producing Suzu ware through ongoing contemplations about the ceramic tradition and their own creative potential.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information & images provided by Suzu Ware Museum

Text written by Oyasu Shoju, Suzu Ware Museum

English Translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

Exhibition created by Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Supported by Wakamiya Takashi

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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