Bizen was a little behind the field, only obtaining a unique process and getting it off the ground at the beginning of the Muromachi Era (with only temperatures of 1200°C, [2192°F], Bizen used slow firing to realize hardnesses in excess of those at Tokoname, etc., with 1250°C, 2282°F). It grew to obtain an 85% share of all pottery in the area around the capital, the Japanese consumption region with the greatest economic activity at the time. During the period of tea ceremony culture that followed, Bizen continued to have a central status.
The arrival of the Edo Era heralded the invention of wooden tubs, etc., as a result of the Daimyos’ emphasis on consumption of locally produced goods, which undermined Bizen’s undisputed lead. Bizen continued to lose momentum and declined until the Showa Era. Recovery was prompted by high post-war economic growth and the “Return-to-Momoyama,” movement centered on the six ancient kilns. However, at the current time, fairly harsh conditions persist for all production areas.
Around the medieval period, kilns began to be built on an incline. As a result, objects with rounded bottoms, such as sake bottles, were arranged on their sides in the kiln so as not to roll downwards. Without exception, pieces from the medieval period show evidence of being placed on their sides. Also known as funadokkuri “ship flasks” these were exceptional pieces that would not fall over even on a rocking ship. The older the piece, the larger the circumference at the base.
The “kiln-effect” markings that are considered the hallmark of Bizen ware were originally accidental results of production, however after the Momoyama period, from about the beginning of the Edo period they began to be created by deliberately controlling the changes inside the kiln to create the feel of natural effects. If the intentionality was noticeable, it felt affected and disagreeable, but without no markings the look was too perfect. There, the exquisite delicacy of the light, wind-blown burned straw fire markings strike the perfect balance.
Though impressively gigantic in size, this flower vase has a truly gentle feel and the beauty of its design is unparalleled. Surely only in the art of pottery, can one beat the body with a square stick with such strength and draw out such gentleness. Indeed, working with clay is like walking a tightrope between obedience and strength.