Yokkaichi-banko ware Yokkaichi banko yaki
Unique color and depth produced by red clay
Porcelain that remains unchanged
What is Yokkaichi-banko ware ?
Yokkaichi banko ware (called Yokkaichi banko yaki in Japanese) is a form of ceramic ware produced in the city of Yokkaichi, Mie prefecture. For a long time, items for everyday use like teacups and plates, as well as pieces of art like vases have been produced here. Today, shidei (purple clay) teapots and donabe (earthenware cooking pots) are typical products. Banko ware accounts for eighty to ninety percent of all the earthenware cooking pots produced in Japan.
This craft has excellent heat resistance which comes from the potter's clay used for its production. The potter's clay for earthenware pots is mixed with around forty percent petalite, which is a lithium mineral that is resistant to heat. The petalite provides heat-resistant properties to the potter's clay and makes it capable of withstanding direct heat. This is a patented technique of Yokkaichi banko ware and cannot be seen elsewhere. Also, small teapots are fired using shidei clay. The clay contains a large amount of iron which, through a reaction with flames, produces a peculiar color. The color is attractive and its shine increases over time through use.
Each year in the middle of May, the Banko Festival is held around the Banko Shrine in Yokkaichi. People from all over Japan attend this festival as they are able to encounter potters' works exhibited from local potteries and buy pieces at moderate prices.
The history of Banko ware stretches back around three hundred years. Between the years 1736-1740, Rozan NUNAMI (1718-1777), a trader whose passion was tea, opened a personal kiln in what is now Kuwanacho, Mie prefecture, and started baking tea utensils. The name, Banko ware, is said to come from Nunami stamping his own works with the words Banko fueki, which means, “An eternally unchanging life”. He stamped each item to signify that the craft is long lasting quality and can be continously used over generations.
This ceramic ware ceased to exist for a while after Nunami's death, but around thirty years later, at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868), it was revived by antique dealer brothers Yusetsu and Senshu MORI. During this time, small teapots for use with sencha tea*, which had surpassed matcha tea in popularity, started to be used. Banko ware had different names over time, from “Kobanko” to “Yusetsu banko” and “Meiji banko”. While Banko ware did not originate in Yokkaichi, it was established in Yokkaichi during the Meiji period (1868-1912) and came to be called Yokkaichi banko ware. Thanks to the ease of procuring coal fuel and suitability for distribution due to trade port proximity, Yokkaichi became one of Japan's leading ceramics-producing areas.
*Sencha tea is steamed green tea made from dried tea leaves while matcha tea is made from a fine powder of ground up tea leaves.
General Production Process
- 1. Clay processing
This step produces the clay that will be used for unglazed pottery. Each ceramic atelier has its own unique clay formula, but in general potter's clay is produced by blending red clay (which contains iron) with yellow clay.
- 2. Casting of unglazed pottery
Several types of soil are blended together well and air bubbles are removed through kneading which involves both large rough massaging and smaller careful massaging. This process is known as "chrysanthemum kneading" because the kneaded clay resembles chrysanthemum petals. This process of kneading the clay, in addition to removing impurities and air bubbles, makes the clay easy to handle and mold on the potter's wheel.
The casting process begins after the hardness of the clay has been evened out. There are three casting techniques: lathe casting, pressing by means of a wooden mold, and hand twisting. Casting with a wooden mold is a peculiar technique devised by Yusetsu MORI, who was involved with the revival of Banko ware, and continues to be used even now.
Cloth or traditional Japanese paper is attached to wooden molds of each ceramic part, on top of which a thin layer of mud is coated and the wooden model is removed to leave a cast. Small teapots consist of a body, lid, handle, spout, and tea strainer, so each of these parts is cast by the same method.
- 3. Patterning of unglazed pottery
This process involves decorating the surfaces of small teapots. Standard patterns include watermark crests, stripes, stone grain, mottle, pine tree bark, pasting, finely cut lines, comb marks, printed flowers, engobes, and diamond cut. New and modern patterns are produced as well.
- 4. Finishing/drying
After drying, the body, lid, handle, spout and tea strainer are joined together. Adjustments are made by cutting the base or lid knob of the small teapot. Any necessary polishing is done with special polishing planes.
- 5. Carving and patterning
This work involves chiseling patterns into items where patterns have not been applied. There are various carving techniques, such as line carving, pulled carving, and curved blade carving.
- 6. Bisque
Traditional banko ware originally used the techniques of glazing (application of enamel) and bisque firing (initial firing before glazing ). Bisque firing at around 800℃ (around 1472℉) is performed when glazing. For the application of glaze, there are methods such as dipping, in which articles are dipped into a container filled with enamel, and pouring, in which enamel is poured over the articles using a hand ladle.
- 7. Glaze firing
Glaze firing occurs at 1180 to 1200℃ (around 2156 to 2192℉) for twenty-four hours. Yokkaichi banko ware's characteristic medium dark red color is produced by using a technique known as reduction firing. Reduction firing is a method of baking the ceramics through reducing oxygen and causing incomplete combustion inside the kiln. Even the potter's clay will change in color when firing, depending on the volume of oxygen and temperature. Clay also becomes tighter through reduction firing, so the piece will become smaller after firing.
- 8. Decoration
After baking, the piece is decorated. There are various techniques, including overcoating, slip trailing, gradation, line drawing, red pattern, gold glazing, and silver glazing.
Yokkaichi banko ware small teapots are highly praised for the way in which they highlight the sweetness of tea, as the iron contained in the material reacts with the tannin of sencha to soften the astringency of tea.
Where to Buy & More Information
Igayaki Dento Sangyo Kaikan
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