From Roppongi to Bizen

In February, I had the honour to participate in a Bizen-yaki pottery event held by The Cover Nippon boutique in Roppongi’s Tokyo Midtown Centre.
During that weekend, various “chakai”
茶会 (tea get-togethers) were held in two places in the store, using Bizen-yaki objects. There were traditional tea ceremonies as well as modern sessions on a very wide variety of themes. There was black tea, coffee and even ice cream by a very famous company with a name that begins with H. It had commissioned a Bizen artist to create an ice cream bowl the perfect size to hold a single container of ice cream so that the thermal properties of the Bizen pottery would considerably reduce the rate at which the frozen dessert melts.

P1110958Hiruma Yoshiaki was also there, serving temomi-cha.
I had to justify my presence as a Frenchman, so I organized three “French-Japanese chakai” sessions. The concept was rather simple: replace the usual Japanese sweets (which were in any case originally designed for matcha and are too heavy and sweet for sencha) with French sweets.

P1110953 P1110968I had only 25 minutes for each session, so I limited myself to two teas:
– Kanaya-midori cultivar sencha
from Tawaramine served with “Mère P. galettes bretonne,” to marry the butter of the cookies with the buttery flavours of that cultivar.
– Hon-yama hôji-cha with squares of black chocolate, which was inspired by what is often done with coffee in restaurants in France. (I would like to thank La Maison du Chocolat Tokyo for, very exceptionally, having provided me with one of their excellent products for this event.)
The event also provided an opportunity to meet with artists. In particular, I got to know Nobuhara Katsushi, a certified traditional artisan. Two weeks later, I found myself in Bizen, Okayama Prefecture, more specifically in Inbe
伊部, the historical cradle of Bizenware.

Bizen-yaki pottery is considered as having evolved from the pottery techniques known as “sueki” 須恵器, which date from the Kofun period (250 – 538), but its identity as Bizen-yaki is usually dated from the Heian period (794 – 1191), when pottery for everyday utilitarian use, such as bowls, plates and tiles, were made at the foot of Mt. Kuma.

At that time, reduction firing was employed.

In the Kamakura period (1192 – 1333), various earthenware jars and vessels dominated production. The clay used was taken from the surrounding mountains. Beginning in the second half of the Kamakura period, oxidation firing was used, and the characteristic brown/red colour came to be identified with Bizen.


In the mountain, where clay was extracted at the time, there are the remains of a late Heian period “noborigama” kiln that used the natural incline of the land.


One of the innumerable pottery fragments scattered across the forest floor in these mountains. Late Heian or early Kamakura, reduction fired. Naturally, it is prohibited to bring back these traces of history.


Fragments of pottery stacked on top of each other. This was done to prop up the pieces in the sloped kilns so that they would be horizontal when fired.


It looks like melted tile, but it is a piece of the kiln ceiling.

In the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573), potters began to use the clay found under the Inbe rice paddies. It was known as “iyose.The pottery was fired in large noborigamashalf dug into the earth.

Smaller kilns began to be built for individual use in the Edo period (1603 – 1868), but large common kilns were still employed.


One of the four gigantic Muromachi period kilns in Inbe. It is nearly 50 metres (160 feet) long and 4.5 metres (14 feet) wide.


The sorts of bumps in the middle are the remains of pillars needed to support the roof of this gigantic structure.


In the city’s museum of archeology: the remains of what must have been a pillar from one of the giant kilns.

In addition to the dishes and tea accessories that began to be made in the Muromachi period, decorative objects were also produced.


At the edge of town, near the rice paddies where “iyose” clay is found, there are fragments of much more recent pottery, probably from the Edo and Meiji periods.

P1120199 P1120203

While the large kilns continued working until the end of the Edo period, Bizen production continued to diminish in the face of the success of porcelain from Kyoto and Arita.

In the Showa period (1926 – 1989), thanks to the efforts of the potter Kaneshige Tôyô 金重陶陽(1896 – 1967), Bizenware regained its prestige and is thus still with us today.

In the next article, I will present Nobuhara Katsushi’s works.


Categories: Coverage, History, Tea ware and works by artisans

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2 replies

  1. That’s amazing… to just walk through and find fragments of history lying around…


  1. Bizen-yaki: Nobuhara Katsushi, his works and tea | Japanese Tea Sommelier

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