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

Saishiki Bizen ("Painted Bizen"): a unique breed of Bizen ware


Bizen ware has a long history, starting in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). The tea culture in Japan reached the peak of its glory in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603), the heyday of the tea culture.


However, that momentum began to dwindle upon entering the Edo Period (1603-1868). In the middle of the Edo Period, extravagantly decorated, elegant ceramic ware began to be the talk of the town, rather than the earthy-colored Bizen ware. A type of Bizen ware that was born out of these tough times was saishiki bizen, or "Painted Bizen".


The history of Saishiki Bizen
Bizen ware works are produced through a production process that makes use of clay in its natural state. However, it was this distinctive feature that actually made people of the day feel that Bizen ware was behind the times.


It was a time that saw sales of Bizen ware dry up, and it was at this time that pottery differing from ordinary Bizen ware began to be fired — shirobizen and saishiki bizen are two examples of this kind of Bizen ware. Shirobizen used white clay and such to create Bizen ware that was white in color, and today there are still some artisans that create shirobizen using methods that differ from those used in the past.


Saishiki bizen, which is Bizen ware featuring paintings done in natural mineral pigments (a kind of pigment used in Japanese-style paintings), also began to be made. With Bizen ware, whose appearance could only be modified by its burn color, saishiki bizen can be considered to be almost heretical.


These saishiki bizen works were drawn by artists of the Domain and fired by potters in Inbe, Bizen City. Saishiki bizen works would never make their way to the public and continued to be made solely as tributes to the Domain.


1715 is said to be the first year in which saishiki bizen was made, while the Domain's involvement would cease about 20 years later. All saishiki bizen works were made by pressing a mold, and later, a scant amount of saishiki bizen was produced. However, the works would become cruder and cruder with the passage of time.


Since it differed from traditional Bizen ware, saishiki bizen would thus be gradually forgotten.


Today, a small number of artisans produce saishiki bizen. Although its ambience and appearance differ greatly from Bizen ware, works like the saishiki bizen masterpieces made in its initial period are still being fired today.

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