Echizen ware

Echizen ware Echizen yaki

One of Japan's Six Ancient Kilns
Simple, warm and natural beauty


What is Echizen ware ?

Echizen Ware is a form of ceramics and porcelain produced in Echizen-cho, Nyu County, Fukui Prefecture. It has a long history and is counted as one of Japan’s famous six ancient kilns. Japan’s famous six ancient kilns are six kilns where production began from the Heian Period to the Kamakura Period, and where production continues down to today. Aside from Echizen Ware, there are the Seto Ware in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture; Tokoname Ware in Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture; Bizen Ware in Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture; Shigaraki Ware in Koka City, Shiga Prefecture; and Tamba Ware in Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture.
The characteristic of Echizen Ware is that it is fired without using enamel. Pieces are often not decorated either, so a simple texture can be enjoyed. One of the charms of Echizen Ware is that ash from firewood covers the pieces when they are baked at high temperature, producing a natural glaze as the ash dissolves and flows into the vessel. This is a form of earthenware between pottery and porcelain, and is also called “yakishime” or “semi-porcelain”. Production has mainly centered around articles used in everyday life, such as pots, jars, drinking vessels and tea utensils, as the dark reddish-brown vessels are thoroughly densified, strong and do not leak water.


Echizen ware - History

Echizen Ware has a long history going back around 850 years to the late Heian Period. Today, while there are productions using various new techniques, traditional simple vessels basically remain the norm. Kitchen utensils came to be produced over many years, including jars for the storage of water and grain, sake bottles for preserving alcohol and oil, and mortars.
In the latter part of the Muromachi Period, cargo ships sailing on the Sea of Japan started transporting from as far north as Hokkaido all the way to Tottori Prefecture in the south. These ships carried merchandise from Hokkaido to Osaka, passing across the Sea of Japan and heading south through the Seto Inland Sea. Thus, Echizen Ware spread widely and developed. However, moving into the Meiji Period, Japan as whole became modernized and demand for jars and pots suddenly decreased. Starting from the Edo Period, other ancient kilns also started to bake high-class items such as tea utensils, but the decline of Echizen Ware was exacerbated by its production of generic vessels. Finally, thanks to an investigation of ancient kiln remains held after World War II, the historical value of Echizen Ware was reexamined, and Echizen Ware underwent a revival when the Echizen Ceramics Village was established in 1970, which triggered a surge in the number of potteries and attracted a large number of tourists.

General Production Process

Echizen ware - General Production Process

  1. 1. Base production In order to produce Echizen Ware, it is first necessary to excavate clay. This involves producing clay for ceramics by collecting and blending mainly the forms of clay that are unique to this region - namely “akabeto”, “aoneba” and “takodo”. Elutriation is performed in order to remove impurities and ensure that the grain of the clay is even. Thereafter, the clay is laid down for a while and viscosity is produced to enable casting, after which “chrysanthemum kneading” is performed.
    Once the clay has been produced, it is at last time to perform casting. The casting method varies depending on the form of the vessel. For vessels that are rectangular or complex in form, a method is used whereby “slip” is poured into a plaster mold. Slip refers to a mixture of clay and water. Circular vessels are produced with a lathe. A wooden stand is installed, on top of which the clay that forms the base of the vessel is firmly fixed in place and the base clay is produced.
  2. 2. Tapping String-shaped yorido clay about 5 to 10 centimeters thick and 40 centimeters long is held in the right hand, and is wrapped around the base clay while twisting. The left hand supports the force with which the right hand wraps the yorido clay and, at the same time, constantly evens out the height of the wrapped yorido clay. The same work is repeated for the second level as for the first level. The method of piling up many levels while twisting string-shaped clay in this way is known as wazumi casting.
  3. 3. Hagatana smoothening After piling the clay in a cylindrical shape, the surface is smoothened with hagatana soldering iron. Joints on the outside revolve around the circumference of clay while being rubbed from top to bottom with hagatana. Thereafter, the insides are smoothened while extending in a fan shape.
  4. 4. Drying and repetition of steps 2 and 3 Once the bottom of the vessel has been formed, it is dried and turned into a state where it can withstand the weight of the top parts. Thereafter, “tapping” and “hagatana smoothening” are repeated, and the whole vessel is finished.
  5. 5. Lip production The lips of the vessel are produced. The vessel is covered with a cotton cloth soaked in water, and is smoothened while holding down with both hands to complete the lip parts. Various lip forms can be produced depending on how the fingers are used.
    Finally, the cast vessel is placed inside a kiln and baked at high temperature. The temperature for baking is 1,200 to 1,300°C.

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