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

Shirobizen ("White Bizen"): a unique breed of Bizen ware


Bizen ware is a flourishing type of ceramic ware in Inbe, located in Bizen City, Okayama, and there used to be some unique breeds of it in circulation. One of those is shirobizen, or "White Bizen".


When Bizen ware comes to mind, everyone envisions its distinct earthy color ambience that lies at its heart and soul. However, shirobizen is not earthy-colored — it is white all around. Exactly as the name suggests, it is white Bizen ware.


The history of Shirobizen
Japan's oldest school for the common people, the Old Shizutani School, is located in Bizen City, Okayama. A kiln was built to fire the school's tiles, and the kiln was also used to make the Shizutani School's dining wares and utensils used in rituals – these wares are referred to as Shizutani ware.


The time was the Edo Period (1603-1868), a period in which Bizen ware was on the decline and fighting to stay alive. Bizen ware's defining feature is that it does not use glaze (glaze is the glass-like substance on the surface of ceramic wares) — it is a ceramic that takes advantage of the natural character of its raw materials. On the other hand, Shizutani ware did use glaze.


If you look at Shizutani ware, you will notice items with different colors than Bizen ware. White Bizen is one example. It is believed that new attempts were being made to keep up with the times and break out of the slump Bizen ware found itself in.


Later, taking the influence of Shizutani ware, pottery ware using white clay as an ingredient, along with white and clear glazes, began to be made. Works being made at this time included plates and bowls, in addition to ornaments.


In 1710, Chōjūrō Kimura made a number of prototypes to research white porcelain based on an order from the Okayama Domain. It is thought that he fired and produced shirobizen beginning the following year.


The works at the time were put to use as gifts of the Domain. The shirobizen that made its way into the hands of ordinary people is thought to have been only damaged works. At any rate, the backing from the Domain ended after several years, and later a scant amount of shirobizen began to be made by potters from Inbe, Bizen City.


Later research made it possible to produce white pottery without the use of glaze, but shirobizen would eventually fade out with the passage of time.


However, there are some artists that make shirobizen even today. It is possible even today to enjoy this unique white breed of Bizen ware that doesn’t use earthy colors, all while maintaining Bizen ware's inherent qualities.

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