By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Iga ware was first established during the medieval era at the area around the Goinoki kiln site, located close to Makiyama in the ancient province of Iga (present day Mie prefecture). The area was rich in ceramic supplies—both clay and red pine for fuel—much like those used for Shigaraki ware to make jars, pots, and mortars.
Iga ware tea ceramics
In the beginning of the seventeenth century, the tea ceremony culture (chanoyū) flourished in Japan. Under the Iga daimyo lords Tsutsui Sadatsugu (1562–1615), Tōdō Takatora (1556–1630) and Tōdō Takatsugi (1602–1676), tea ceramics—including tea bowls, fresh water containers (mizusashi) and vases—where made with powerful and unprecedented aesthetics under the guidance of the samurai tea master Furuta Oribe (1543–1615).
Old or Ko-Iga ware
Early Iga ware is generally referred to as “old Iga” (Ko-Iga). Such examples usually have wavelike patterns made by spatula scraping or stamped lattice patterns. Furthermore, many have a strong artistic thrust with evidence of distortion, green ash glaze, and drippings of iron glaze.
The writer, Kawabata Yasunari in his commemorative speech for the Nobel Prize, “Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself” eulogized the Ko-Iga ware as the pottery that best represents the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi. Currently, six Iga vessels from this period including vases and fresh water jars (mizusashi) have been designated Important Cultural Properties and many more have been collected by museums.
Revival in the 1700s
The Iga ware production died out with the end of Momoyama period (1573–1615). With the support of the Tōdō clan, however, everyday objects such as bowls, dishes, and pots began to be reproduced in Marubashira in the mid 18th century. Workshops such as Yasuke, Kyubē and Jyōhachi actively produced pots, which became the foundation of today's Iga ware tradition.
Rich in natural resources
More then four million years ago the old Lake Biwa extended to the Iga area. The clay that piled up at the bottom of that lake at that time, along with the later forests of red pine, which is used for kiln fuel, has fostered the production of Iga ware, an art of earth and fire. The clay is from Marubashira in the city of Iga, Mie prefecture.
Spatula patterns, stamped lattices, handles, and distortion
The fresh water jars and vases of Iga ware often have decorations with stamped lattices and wavelike zigzag patterns (yamamichite) made by spatula scraping. Many of them have a pair of handles, one on each sides. Characteristically, Iga ware has a asymmetrical beauty created by deliberately distorting well-shaped forms and making each piece unique.
Ash glaze, scorching, and cracks
The surface texture of Iga ware comes about from the long firing at high temperatures whereby the ashes fall on the pots and turn a glassy green. Features such as ash glaze, black scorching, and cracks can all be seen as natural effects of the firing process. In actuality, Iga potter often calculate in the possibility of such effects from the beginning.
The texture of vitrification
The reddish color of Iga ware is a result of the red flames hitting the grainy stone textured clay in the kiln. When moistened, the glassy green glaze on these vessels glistens, heightening the taste of foods or sake.
Connections with other production
It is often said that there are “Handles on Iga, no handles on Shigaraki,” since the handle is almost the only difference that distinguishes the products of the two localities. Shigaraki and Iga, which are adjacent to each other, have had a close relationship since the medieval period. Today, Iga ware's connections are not limited to Shigaraki. As seen in this photograph, quite a few modern Iga wares have characteristics that tie them to Kyoto ware ceramics known as Kyō-yaki. The cup on the left is inspired by designs of Rinpa and the right is inspired by Kyō-yaki copies of Ming-dynasty blue and white porcelains.
Red brick chimney
This red brick chimney was presumably built around the 1920s. It is the one and only remaining red brick chimney in the Iga area. It is said that there used to be many more brick chimneys, actively puffing out black smoke.
Pine firewood, Iga ware by Photo by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTSArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
Inside the kiln during the firing, Iga wareArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
Kiln after firing, Iga ware by Photo by Fujii NaotoArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
The workshop of Nagatanien, Iga Ware by Photo by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTSArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
From tea ceramics to donabe
covered cooking pots
In addition to dishes, many artistic Iga potters also produce tea bowls and other tea wares, striving to create new Iga ware pieces that rival the old Ko-Iga ceramics. In recent years, there has also been a focus on earthenware cooking pots (donabe). The clay used for Iga ware is highly fire-resistant and is therefore suitable for donabe, which are covered clay pots that can be placed directly over a burner to cook hot pots called nabe. A delicious nabe creates a relaxing communal meal that to be enjoyed together by friends and family.
Iga Ware Traditional Industry Center
Iga Ware Traditional Industry Center is an exhibit space, showing production processes and examples old and new to promote Iga ware and nurture young artists. In addition to its showroom and retail space, the gallery also has a practical training room to give technical guidance and hands on experience in making Iga ware.
Information & images provided by Iga-yaki shinko kyodo kumiai, Tokyo National Museum
Text written by Fujii Naoto
Photo by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS
English Translation by Miyo Kurosaki Bethe
Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum
Exhibition created by Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University & Watanabe Masako, Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University