Asahi Ware

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

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University

Asahi Ware (2016) by Matsubayashi Hosai XVIArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Workshop, Asahi wareOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

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 "Hanshi chawan", Asahi ware (16世紀末~17世紀前半) by Tosaku IOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

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.

Working on a potters wheel, Asahi ware (大正期)Original Source: Asahiyaki

A letter from the Niwata family ordering roof tiles to the Asahi pottery (1864)Original Source: Asahiyaki

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 Family, Asahi ware (大正末期~昭和初期)Original Source: Asahiyaki

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.

Tea bowl, Asahi ware (1880/1932) by Matsubayashi Shosai XII (1865-1932)Original Source: Asahiyaki

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.

Tea in the garden of the Leach Pottery (1923)Original Source: Asahiyaki

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 Tsurunosuke building a climbing kiln at the Leach Pottery (1923)Original Source: Asahiyaki

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.

Smokeless climbing kiln "Genyo", Asahi ware (1975) by Matubayashi Hosai XIVOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

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).

Firing a climbing kiln, Asahi wareOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

Firing a climbing kiln, Asahi wareOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

Ceramic clay, Asahi wareOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

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.

Potter's wheel, Asahi wareOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

"Benikase" Water Jar, Asahi ware by 十五世松林豊斎(1950~2015)Original Source: Asahiyaki

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.

"Benikase" Tea Caddy, Asahi ware by Matsubayashi Hosai XV (1950-2015)Original Source: Asahiyaki

Leach Pottery, Asahi ware by Matsubayashi Yusuke (1980-) and Photo by Maezaki ShinyaOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

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.

Leach Pottery, Asahi ware (2015) by Matsubayashi Yusuke (1980-) and Photo by Maezaki ShinyaOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

Tea bowl with moon white glaze, Asahi ware by Matsubayashi Yusuke (1980- )Original Source: Asahiyaki

Tea wares, Asahi wareOriginal Source: Asahiyaki

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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