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

Lighting the Bizen ware kiln and unloading


Earthy-colored distinctive designs are a defining feature of Bizen ware. Those designs are said to be a product of chance, though most of them are made intentionally. This is because how the work ends up is determined, to a certain extent, by the conditions and locations that the work was placed in the kiln.


After all of this is given consideration and the kiln is loaded, next, the kiln is fired up. Even with the lighting of the kiln, Bizen ware has distinct, defining features.


Lighting the kiln for Bizen ware
There are several varieties of kiln in use today — ascending kilns, gas kilns, and petroleum kilns, among others. Of these types, Bizen ware makes use of ascending kilns.



An ascending kiln refers to a kiln structured with several separate chambers on a sloped surface. Since the chambers are in a higher position the further back they are, lighting the flame at a lower position transmits heat efficiently.


The foremost chamber is referred to as the udo, the next chamber is called "Kiln One", the third one is called "Kiln Two", and the final chamber is referred to as the kedo. Smoke flowing from the kedo is discharged outside through a rust-colored chimney.


An ascending kiln uses firewood to light the kiln. There are two types of kiln lighting — using gas for the initial high temperature stage (until the kiln is brought to 400℃), or using only firewood. Most use gas and reach 400℃ in two to three days.


Still, there are those who do it all with firewood, since it gives a different finish to the work. Doing this process with only firewood takes two to three times longer than it does with gas.


Nonetheless, even going with the method of boosting the temperature using gas, Bizen ware's kiln firing time is longer in comparison to other types of ceramic ware.


This is due to the fact that there is a necessity to slowly raise the temperature while removing moisture. When Bizen ware is finished firing, it shrinks quite a bit. The pottery contracts largely as the result of lighting the kiln, so raising the temperature suddenly presents the possibility of pieces breaking. In order to prevent this, the temperature is gradually raised.


After the first stage is complete and the temperature rises to a certain level, firewood is thrown in to maintain the temperature whether day or night. Since this is done regardless of it being day or night, the task is done in shifts.


Depending on the kiln, the temperature at this point reaches around 1100 - 1300℃. The firewood used in lighting the kiln is red pine, with anywhere from several thousand to several tens of thousands of logs being consumed per lighting.


Logs are thrown in, ash is peppered about, and from there, changes are brought about by firing the ware at high temperatures. It is in this manner that the art of Bizen ware comes into being.


Unloading Bizen ware from the kiln
After the kiln is lit, the interior is in a high-temperature state. Opening the door at this time would break the ware due to the rapid cooling brought on by the difference in temperature between the inside and outside. To prevent this, the kiln is left alone for about a week as it gradually cools down.


Afterwards, the kiln is opened and the ware is taken out. There is no way to tell how the works ended up until the moment they are actually taken in hand. If the flames from the kiln firing were not under control, many of the pieces may be broken. Obviously, in these cases, it often happens that the pieces don't look so great.


When you look at freshly fired Bizen ware, you will see that there is ash on the works, straw is wrapped around them, etc. Sometimes they are even covered in a mass of dirt and splinters. As such, work is done after the pieces are taken out to carefully give them their finishing touches.


In this stage, filings or rags are used to polish the pieces off. If pieces end up stuck together, work is done to separate them without breaking them. A check is done for chipping, and if a piece is too damaged to be used it is shattered.


Polishing the pieces off following these steps, the distinct Bizen ware earthy color begins to appear, and this is the moment that it finally becomes a marketable work.

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