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The characteristics of Bizen ware: in search of seven wonders


Bizen Ware

Bizen ware was developed in Inbe, Bizen City, Okayama.


Bizen ware came into being in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), and has developed completely uninterrupted in the same area, using the same clay and techniques.


Ceramic wares that have remain unchanged in method and location of production for centuries are quite rare.


The clay used in Bizen ware has the property of being "hard to break and wear-resistant". As such, it is so resilient that it is said to stay in one piece even when thrown.


Bizen ware is also known to "keep water fresh and improve its taste", so in comparison with flowers placed in ordinary vases, flowers that make use of Bizen ware have longer lifespans.


With these inherent qualities, Bizen ware came to be put to use in everyday goods. The Bizen ware that we are speaking of has the following seven wonders:


1. Bizen suribachi — stays in one piece even when thrown
The lack of glaze is a defining characteristic of Bizen ware. Glaze refers to the glass-like substance that covers the surface of ceramic works. By not using glaze, Bizen ware is, in effect, thoroughly fired in a "naked state".


As a result, it is more resilient compared to other ceramic works, which gives rise to its reputation that it "stays in one piece even when thrown".


2. Keeps beer cold and tea hot
Bizen ware has a highly insulating property. Because it is made by firing clay as is without the use of glaze, air gets trapped within the Bizen ware, making it difficult for surrounding heat to penetrate.


On cups made in the Western world, there are handles; however, on Bizen ware made throughout the ages, you won't find any handles. In fact, Japanese yunomi cups, which are made for drinking hot tea, don't have handles. This is because it is difficult for heat to penetrate Bizen ware, allowing you to hold the cup in your bare hands even when it contains hot liquids, like tea.


Obviously, if you pour cold beer into a Bizen ware cup, it will keep it chilled. Whether hot or cold, Bizen ware preserves the temperature.


3. Delicious beer with silky smooth foam
Making the most out of actual raw materials during production gives Bizen ware a rough surface, which upon coming into contact with beer, causes the beer’s foam to become silky smooth as the result of the fine, jagged topography of the pottery.


The longer-lasting foam helps keep in the natural aroma and flavors, filling out a delicious beer. Bizen ware, being devoted to its role as sidekick, has the ability to bring out the finest tastes of its partner.


4. Just add alcohol and walk away for more delicious tasting alcohol
There are microscopic vents that air can travel through in Bizen ware, which is why it is said to “keep water fresh and improve its taste”.


Pouring sake or soy sauce into Bizen ware has the special effect of enhancing its taste all the more. It even enhances the aroma of wine and whiskey an extra notch.


5. Makes for fresh and delicious food
Bizen ware also serves to enhance food. Using a dull, white plate does nothing to bring out the natural taste of food, while, on the other hand, if food is served on flashy ceramics, the decorative beauty of the ceramics gets in the way instead. Flashy dining ware just doesn't mix well with enjoyable meals.


On the contrary, Bizen ware has an austere, earthy-colored hue and never puts itself in the spotlight. With its characteristic ambience, it brings out the natural colors of the meal and visually enhances the taste of the food.


6. Bizen ware vases extends the lifespan of flowers
As we saw by its ability to improve the aroma and taste of sake, soy sauce, wine, and whiskey, Bizen ware effectively enhances water. This also applies when arranging flowers.


Flowers need good water in order to live. With its ability to breathe life into water, Bizen ware can help flowers live over a long period of time. But not only that — Bizen ware also blends into the background so as to emphasize the natural colors and hues of the flowers, creating a sense of overall harmony.


7. Its texture smooths down with use
Bizen ware is thought of as a kind of pottery that grows over time. Although it has a rough texture, as it is used over time, the jagged points wear away and the pottery starts to conform to the hand. Since the luster of the Bizen ware itself also increases, the more it is used, the more its true, distinct colors begin to show.


With that in mind, it is a waste for Bizen ware to be stored away on a shelf or displayed as a decoration. It is exactly because Bizen ware was developed to be used everyday that you cannot get a sense for the spirit of “harmony” and “compromise” that it brings about until you actually put it to use.


Bizen ware is known for the distinguishing features above. To repeat, Bizen ware:


・denies itself and enhances the starring role
・promotes harmony without asserting itself
・spices up water and sake
・is easy to use and solid enough to stay in one piece when thrown


These properties are well-suited to the spirit of the Japanese. Bizen ware is thought to have developed without interruption because it is perfectly suited to its role in bringing out the best in others.

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