Akatsu ware Akazu Yaki
One of Japan's Six Ancient Kilns
clay cultivated at the foot of Mt. Saruna
What is Akatsu ware ?
Akazu Ware is a form of pottery produced around Akazucho in the eastern part of Seto City, Aichi Prefecture. This is one of Japan's Six Old Kilns, which began from the Heian Period until the Kamakura Period.
The characteristic of Akazu Ware is that this is where the genuine technique of enamel application first began, even among Japan’s six old famous kilns. Enamel, which is a traditional handicraft, started from ash glaze in the Heian Period, after which iron glaze and koseto glaze appeared in the Kamakura Period, and by the beginning of the Edo Period there were 7 types of established glazing techniques. Also, at the same time, 12 types of decorating techniques were also developed, including inka (flower printing) where patterns are embossed and kushime (comb marks) where wavy forms, dotted lines and swirl patterns are drawn, and even today the thousand-year-old traditions of Akazu Ware continue.
In order to keep that tradition alive, traditional techniques have been steadily inherited, and the second generation aiming to produce new vessels worked with enthusiasm and diligent application. Akazu Ware has permeated Japan as high-quality handmade ceramics ranging from arts, crafts, tea utensils and flower vases to general dining table articles.
Akazu Ware is said to have derived from the Sue Ware that existed in the Nara Period (around the year 700). Akazu Ware originated from the base of Mr. Saruna in Seto during the Tumulus Period, and following the appearance of “ash glaze" (Japan’s oldest form of enamel) from the Heian Period onwards and development of diverse techniques such as haritsuke (pasting) and ukibori (embossed carving), it came to be counted as one of Japan’s famous six old kilns.
Going into the Momoyama Period, the appearance of enamels such as kiseto glaze, shino glaze and oribe glaze, together with the growth of tea ceremonies and flower arrangement, led to Akazu Ware being treated as a priceless treasure, particularly in relation to its tea bowls. Elegant iron decoration that evokes the Momoyama Period is produced even today as the leading example of Akazu Ware. When the Tokugawa Shogunate appeared and the Edo Period began, the Owari Domain began to be established around Nagoya Castle. As the official kiln of the Owari Domain, Akazu Ware came to be produced in large quantities in forms ranging from high-grade tea utensils to tableware for everyday use.
There are now more than 60 traditional kilns in Seto City, and the area has grown to become Japan’s largest ceramics center.
General Production Process
- 1. Mixture of potter’s clay
The first process is producing the clay. Motoyamakibushi clay, gairome clay, Akazu mountain clay and other Seto-produced clays are used. The excavated clay and stones are grinded and sieved, and then soaked in water. Once the fine clay gathered at the top has been separated, the clay is laid down for a while inside a dark cellar called a muro. The clay that has been laid down is then retrieved, and air that has accumulated inside the clay is expelled by pushing with the feet or hands. Thereafter, the clay is twisted and diligently kneaded.
- 2. Casting
The main casting methods can be split into three types, as follows:
In this method, clay is placed on a rotating stand and is shaped into a vessel. There are hand- or foot-driven lathes, as well as electric lathes.
Models are produced by piling sliced clay on top of slabs. This technique is used when producing box-shaped containers and square plates.
Finally, the general term for production by hand without using tools is tebineri (hand forming). There are techniques such as modeling by hand after producing the base model with a lathe and modeling by turning the clay into a coil shape.
- 3. Decoration of unglazed pottery
Once the form has been made, the article is finished by producing the spout of a small teapot or the feet of a teacup. After adding these small parts, decoration is performed. There are 12 decoration techniques used in Akazu Ware: hera-me (spatula marking), tataki (paddling), kezuri-me (burring), hera-bori (spatula engraving), sogi (sharpening), nuno-me (texturing), sukashi-bori (openwork), Mishima-de (Mishima handling), inka (flower printing), kushi-me (comb marks), ukashi-bori (embossed carving), and haritsuke (pasting). Various tools such as combs and nets are used to draw gorgeous patterns.
- 4. Undercoating
Before glazing, an undercoat is applied. Patterns are directly drawn onto unglazed pottery with a brush. Red dye, asbolite and yellow ochre are used as pigments.
- 5. Glazing
The traditional handicrafts of Akazu Ware can broadly be categorized into 7 types of enamel:
Ash glaze was also used for tableware of the nobility in the Heian Period. “Natural enamel" refers to glaze where ash from the kiln has dissolved on the surface.
From the Kamakura Period, iron glaze was fired using mizu-uchi clay and oni-ita clay. Various decoration techniques were also developed in this period, including inka and tenka decoration.
The term “oribe glaze" today generally refers to blue oribe glaze, but in the Momoyama Period it also referred to black Seto glaze, kuro-oribe glaze and oribe-guro glaze. Kuro-oribe glaze is classified as iron glaze, and e-oribe glaze is classified as ash glaze.
This is a type of iron glaze, but the iron content percentage is around 10% and is colored yellow. Aside from being used for tea utensils, it is also used in plates and bowls.
In the Momoyama Period, in items where only feldspar was used as enamel, Akazu feldspar was adopted for its low iron content and white color, hence the general name “white shino".
Items decorated with annam gosu-e imported from China are referred to as items that have been fired by reduction. This appeared at the beginning of the Heian Period, and is a type of ash glaze.
Kozeto has mainly been used in tea utensils such as famous tea containers. It is a type of iron glaze and has parts where black and dark reddish-brown colors are mixed together.
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