Traditional Culture of Japan - Portal site of traditional crafts and culture

The Tenpō Kiln

 

Inbe in Bizen City, Okayama, is known as the home of Bizen ware. Around town, there is a collection of shops and galleries, along with numerous historical buildings associated with Bizen ware.

 

One of those buildings is the Tenpō Kiln, which is a kiln completed in the third year of the Tenpō Era (1823).

 

The history and exterior of the Tenpō Kiln
In the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), Bizen ware came to be highly-treasured along with the spread of the tea culture in Japan. Bizen ware had been used in simple products for everyday use, but it was around this time that it began its foray as a kind of artwork. As it did, the demand for Bizen ware picked up.

 

Consequently, in the latter half of the Muromachi Period, large, "great kilns" were made to be able to handle mass production of Bizen ware. Firing large amounts of Bizen ware in a large kiln all at once allowed for efficient production.

 

However, in the Edo Period(1603-1868), the popularity of Bizen ware began to fade. Production lots became smaller, and large kilns made for mass production became rather inefficient since firing in larger kilns required more days and required more in fuel costs.

 

To combat this, kilns were made smaller. In the latter half of the Edo Period, during the Tenpō Era (1830-1843), three compact kilns were made. One of these three kilns was the Tenpō Kiln mentioned earlier.

 

Great kilns were shaped like large tunnels, and required a period of 30 - 40 days in order to fire Bizen ware. On the other hand, compact kilns were structured to have a line of several small chambers. By virtue of making the kilns smaller, it took 6 - 7 days to finish firing the ware.

 

When the Tenpō Kiln was first built, it had five chambers. It was then renovated and expanded to seven chambers. The Tenpō Kiln from this time was used until around 1940. As an aside, since it could handle production for small amounts, its use was flexible, so the Tenpō Kiln was also known as the “Flexible Kiln”.

 

Of all the old kilns actually used to fire Bizen ware, the only one still remaining today is the Tenpō Kiln.

 

In 1978, a movement began to preserve the Tenpō Kiln, and as a result, a roof was added to protect it from the wind and rain. However, even with the addition of the roof, it continued to fall into disrepair, so again in 1985 the kiln was reinforced using resin processing.

 

Today, anyone can take a tour of the Tenpō Kiln. Get off the train at Inbe Station and head north, keeping your eyes on the landscape with the reddish-brown chimneys, and you will arrive at the Tenpō Kiln in about 10 - 15 minutes.

 

 

Although there is a fence around the Tenpō Kiln, you can see inside through the fence. Looking at the black charred bricks in the front, you can get a sense of the passage of time since the Tenpō Kiln was in use.

 

 

Looking in from the side confirms that the kiln was divided into several chambers. Although it looks as if it may collapse at any moment, it invokes the image of its history in use from over 100 years ago.

 

 

The Tenpō Kiln is certified as a Designated Cultural Asset of Bizen City. Today, it remains as it was in its heyday, ticking away the time with the history of Bizen ware.


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