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

The difference between japanese ceramics and western ceramics


Bizen Ware

When comparing Western ceramics with Japanese ceramics, you will find a certain difference. This difference, also observed in Bizen ware, brings about a distinct “Japanese” touch. The difference becomes apparent when you take a look at tea cups.


The key is whether or not the cup has a handle – Western cups have handles, Japanese ceramics known since long ago do not.


The history of ceramic wares gleaned from the presence or absence of handles
Of the different types of ceramic wares, a large part of Western ceramics are porcelain. Porcelain is fired at high temperatures, so it makes a metallic sound when tapped. Porcelain becomes more glass-like and solid, and possesses the quality that it does not absorb water. As a result, porcelain is made to be robust while remaining thin.


Ceramic wares that have a white luster and a degree of transparency are porcelain. Since porcelain has low-absorption properties, it is easy to wash away dirt and stains, even with items like soy sauce.


On the other hand, in contrast with porcelain, pottery is made with clay coarsely stuck together. Pottery has a low degree of transparency and has tiny holes that water can penetrate. Pottery is filled with an innumerable amount of air, which makes it difficult for heat to penetrate.


That is why you can hold pottery filled with hot tea in your hand — it allows you to drink tea without burning yourself, despite having no handle.


However, since porcelain transmits heat, if you directly touch a porcelain cup filled with hot tea, you will end up with a burn; therefore, a handle is absolutely necessary. We may suppose that this difference is the reason why Western ceramics have handles and traditional Japanese ceramics do not.


Also, although it is true that pottery absorbs liquids, a large amount of pottery uses glaze (the glass-like substance that covers the surface of pottery), so most pottery does not absorb liquids.


However, a defining feature of Bizen ware is that it does not use glaze. Bizen ware is fired by putting the earth's natural materials to use as they are, resulting in ceramic wares that maximize the qualities inherent to pottery.


Bizen ware is said to "to stay in one piece when thrown", and make "tasty sake by leaving it out to sit" because it brings out these qualities of pottery without the use of glaze.

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