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

Bizen Ware Kiln Ruins


Bizen ware prospers in Inbe, Bizen City, Okayama. In town, you can find kiln ruins left behind where Bizen ware was once made. These are called the Bizen Ware Kiln Ruins


The remaining kiln ruins known in Bizen City are the Inbe South Great Kiln Ruins, Inbe West Great Kiln Ruins, and Inbe North Great Kiln Ruins. All three are nationally designated historic ruins.


The history and appearance of Bizen Ware Kiln Ruins
When the phrase "ceramic wares" comes to mind, there is a strong nuance towards works of art. However, Bizen ware is frequently put to use in goods for everyday life, rather than as works of art. This tendency became pronounced in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), as durable products for everyday use became more and more desirable. In keeping with this tendency, things like pots and suribachi (bowls used for grinding spices) started to be made.


Bizen ware had been in circulation around Okayama Prefecture, and eventually sales routes expanded to regions across the country. With the expansion of these sales routes, demand for Bizen ware picked up.


Until this point in time, kilns used to produce Bizen ware had been small-scale. However, these kilns couldn't keep up with the hefty demand, so larger kilns that could handle mass production were built. In the latter half of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), large, "great kilns" were constructed and put to communal use.


In the period after the great kilns were built, Bizen ware entered its heyday. There is a phrase, "Momoyama Bizen", used to refer to the height of Bizen ware's reign. This indicates works that were made during Bizen ware's most prosperous time period, the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603).


Then, upon entering the Edo Period (1603-1868), Bizen ware began to fade out. The Bizen ware that had played such a major role in the world of tea up until then began to fade away with the coming of the Edo Period.


As sales of Bizen ware dried up upon entering the Edo Period, the great kilns that had been in use until then become highly inefficient. With low demand, firing Bizen ware in these great kilns took many days and cost a large sum in fuel costs, even with small production loads.


Consequently, a downsizing of kilns took place in this period, which allowed for smaller amounts of production by separating small chambers, rather than using the great kilns that had been the convention until then. To fire Bizen pottery, a period of 30 to 40 days was required using a large kiln; however, with the downsized kilns, the pottery could be finished in six to seven days.


The role of great kilns would come to a close in this fashion. Today, there are three locations with great kiln ruins in the town of Inbe. These are the Bizen Ware Kiln Ruins (Inbe South, West, and North Great Kiln Ruins).


The larger ones were up to 53.8 meters in length and 5.2 meters in width at the largest point, and as kilns having no internal partitions, you can see that these are the biggest class of kilns in Japan.


Getting off at JR Inbe Station, the Inbe South Great Kiln Ruins are about a 10-minute walk, the Inbe West Great Kiln Ruins are about a 20-minute walk, and the Inbe North Great Kiln Ruins are about a 15-minute walk.


Below are photos of the Inbe South Great Kiln Ruins. The center has been hollowed out a good deal, but there was once a great kiln here. This kiln mainly turned out daily commodities like pots and suribachi.


Inbe South Great Kiln RuinsInbe South Great Kiln Ruins


Also, you can see photos of the Inbe North Kiln Ruins below. To get to the Inbe North Great Kiln Ruins, you can take either the road to the Tenpō Kiln or the side road coming from Amatsu Shrine. Walking up the hill through the woods will promptly bring you to the kiln ruins.


Inbe North Great Kiln RuinsInbe North Great Kiln Ruins


At the Inbe North Great Kiln Ruins, remains of four kilns have been verified. The photo shows one of these, being 45 meters in total length and 4.7 meters wide.


If you walk a little further north from the Inbe North Kiln Ruins, you can see Inbe Shrine. Though details of its constructions are unknown, potters have dedicated it in prayers for the unending evolution of Bizen ware. The kiln ruins where the sign for the Inbe North Great Kiln Ruins stands mark the juncture of the road that connects Inbe Shrine and Amatsu Shrine.


The remaining three kilns are built on the northwestern slope of Inbe Shrine. It is said that daily goods like pots and suribachi, and utensils for tea and flower vases and the like, were made here.

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