Bizen yaki

Japanese pottery

Bizen yaki (備前焼, also rendered in English as 'Bizen ware') is a type of Japanese pottery originated in a province which was once called Bizen, located in the Okayama prefecture.
It is categorized as sekki (炻器, stoneware), and it is one of the six types of pottery called the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan (日本六古窯, Nihon rokkoyō), a small group of pottery styles that are considered the most noteworthy in the history of Japan.

bizen yaki japanese pottery tableware
bowls and sake vessels in the bizen yaki style

Overview

Visually, Bizen yaki is easily recognizable by its reddish-brown color and the austere looks. Bizen ware is traditionally unglazed.
To the touch, it has a rough, earthen-like feel.
Bizen yaki's main property is its high strength, obtained through longer firing times (up to 10 to 15 days for each single piece) at higher temperatures.
Its high strength has allowed a large number of pieces to reach our times despite being used on a regular basis, which gives a clear example of what a piece of Bizen yaki may look like after centuries of daily use. Some pieces now have a more metallic look and feel, whereas others might be mistaken for wood at first glance.
Although the most known and recognized style of Bizen yaki is the reddish-brown type, there exist other styles, some of which were developed in relatively recent years.
Aka Bizen (赤備前), with a deeper reddish color.
Ao Bizen (青備前), with a blueish-gray color and comparatively glazed looks.
Ki Bizen (黄備前), finished with a brighter color, closer to yellow.
Kuro Bizen (黒備前), darker in color and with somehow metallic looks.
Hidasuki (緋襷), characterized by darker stripes obtained by wrapping a piece of Bizen ware in straw before firing.
Sangiri (桟切り), with a very dark color at the top and a lighter color at the bottom.
Fuseyaki (伏せ焼) is obtained when the potter arranges pieces in irregular positions or stacks them. This will cause a wide variety of patterns on the pieces.

Origin

Bizen yaki has been manufactured in the Okayama prefecture since the 6th century, and was developed into the present style in the following centuries, reaching its current form around the 14th century.

Authenticity

Technically speaking, Bizen yaki is a brand used for earthenware that is manufactured respecting a few parameters:
- made using the unique soil from the former Bizen province
- fired according to the traditional rules for Bizen yaki, which include a specific type of kiln (climbing or tunnel kiln) and higher temperatures.Although the traditional Bizen yaki is unglazed, some potters do apply glaze. This does not compromise authenticity as long as the pieces are manufactured respecting the main rules for Bizen yaki.

Did you know?

It is often said that food and drinks served in Bizen ware taste better. Although this may sound like one of those things that people will repeat just because tradition says so, some properties of Bizen ware seem to confirm that. Starting from what can be easily verified, Bizen ware is highly appreciated to enjoy beer thanks to the rough, uneven surface, which causes the liquid to generate a thicker 'head' (the foam obtained when pouring beer). Since pale ale is the most common type of beer in Japan, a full 3 cm (ab. 1 inch) of head is the recommended amount, which is easily obtained using a Bizen ware cup.
Bizen yaki is also said to successfully stop far infrared, which may be linked to a better preservation of taste and nutrients when food is served in Bizen ware. Whether this makes sense or not, we leave it to more knowledgeable individuals.