Posts Tagged ‘Bizen’

Bizen kamajirushi, about 100 pictures of them.

February 19, 2012

For many pictures of Bizen kamajirushi, see

Antiques 1-22-11

January 22, 2011

The first piece I saw was a Shigaraki bowl with a bad repair job. It is actually a regular bowl that the tea people made into a mizusashi.

The next is a handled  plate fired  Bizen  that I have photographed before. I took the opportunity to photograph the whole set of kamajirushi including the one that is in the bottom of the plate. I have labeled the different periods in the title of the pictures. If you click a picture and read the title it will tell you what period the shirushi are from. It should be noted the shirushi were for identifying work from workshops in the huge kilns and were not signed with an eye toward 500 or so years later and someone trying to read them. That is to say the images in the book I took the photos out of won’t match up perfectly with any one actual piece’s shirushi.

The next piece is a lacquered box, a piece of Japanese made tsuishu. Compare the detail on this Japanese made tsuishu with the Chinese made tsuishu I wrote about here. No comparison. The piece today is from one of the top dealers in Nara, not Mr. Kawase. It features a matsu, pine, take, bamboo and ume, plum motif. This is a strong indication it is newer. Older pieces will only have 2 of the 3 motif elements. The word for this type of 3 plant motif is shochikubai. Sho = matsu = pine, chiku = take = bamboo and bai = ume = plum. This is an interesting point. My children know this already but I think it would take a fair amount of studying to come across this commonly understood way of saying ‘a motif that contains pine, bamboo, and plum’ for a non-native speaker of Japanese.

The last piece is a kind of throw away. I really like the detail and that is why I photographed it. It is a handmade basket maybe from the turn of the century. It is colored from smoke. The material is bamboo.

I have so many pictures I am not going to try to organize them. If you click on the photo there is a title that will explain what it is.

Antiques 12-4-2010

December 4, 2010

I only saw two pieces today. Both are glass, one Roman glass from between 100-200 BC, the other glass beads but I am unsure of the age. The Roman glass was impressive. I didn’t get a lot of information on it as it isn’t Japanese and even though it is beautiful I have less interest in it.

On the way to the antiques shop I passed a temple that had a Bizen show in it. The work is by Akiyama Bokuho. While I was writing yesterday’s post on my Kintetsu show I did some research on some potters in Japan, Mihara Ken to be exact. Reading what people have to say about him would lead someone less enamored with the money = gallery world = money scene to think he is the next coming. I do like his work but also know there are a lot of great artists that are not picked up by galleries. In fact as I was thinking about it today I equated being picked up and promoted  by a gallery to getting a ‘lifetime’ job with a big company. They both are secure as long as you perform. If the production falls off you are liable to be transferred to a subsidiary in both cases.

I was very impressed with Akiyama’s work. It stands on its own. It has presence and is nice to look at. The figures attached to slabs are large. The slabs are about 2 meters tall. Cheap too, about 130,000 yen each. The stack of what looks like sticks is made up of sticks of ceramic that are assembled on site.  I also respect and feel a little relieved that he makes all the slabs that make up some of his work out of hand made, pounded, slabs. The alternative would be using a machine to produce them. I am not against machines but it is nice to see someone else endorse the idea that the process is important. Akiyama himself is a good looking fellow, slim. He was dressed in an  all black kimono. The standout was his hands. They caught my eye immediately. They are thick and hands that can only belong to someone who has put in long hours doing physical work.

I have been trying to figure out how to divide my time this coming year. How many art fairs to do, how much to concentrate on the Internet to sell my work, etc. I am going to give galleries a break in 2011. Seeing the show today only made me feel better about that. I think Akiyama’s work stands up and can hold its own. I am also pretty sure he will go home with almost no sales if not no sales. It is a problem of finding an audience.

Recent finds.

July 16, 2010

It has been raining here for about a week. Pouring, day and night.
I went to an auction I attend monthly in Nara and here are the things I picked up.

First a few notes on the auction.

The market has completely crashed for middle quality Imari. The market for high middle and the lower end of the high market is looking sick too. The very top, Nabeshima, shoki Imari, etc. is holding it’s own.

I am very interested in sobachoko. I have been reading a couple of books I bought recently on  them and I am itching to try out my new found knowledge. I won’t be doing any of that until I scrape enough money to buy some since sobachoko are the one item that has consistently held ground on price. Expensive.

I could have picked up a matching set of 2 bowls done in celedon with underglaze work. They were very beautiful and delicate. I didn’t simply because they were outside of my very narrow price range but after I thought about it I think I really missed an opportunity. I do end up selling most of what I buy so I can’t afford to have a large amount tied up in my own “collection” but they were very beautiful.

There were a couple of items I wanted to bid on but left before they came up. One was a Bizen tokkuri that had a kamajirushi in an unlikely spot. I saw a few people looking at the bottom of the piece trying to figure out if what looked like a mark was in fact a mark. I walked over and did the same, deciding it wasn’t a mark. As I was putting the piece back into the basket I noticed a distinct and identifiable mark on the side that I am sure most people missed. The tokkuri was at least 300-400 years old so I might have gotten a deal if the mark wasn’t noticed by anyone else. The other piece I wanted to bid on was a shoki Imari plate. Very simple underglaze gosu design. One of the most simple designs I have seen. I forgot both of them and only remembered them as we were heading home.

The first is a piece of wood from I don’t know what. It has old and rusted nails holding it together. Very beautiful and delicate.
The second piece is a celadon glazed plate with extensive underglaze work in gosu or cobalt. Gosu is Japan’s natural cobalt. At some point the plate was repaired with gold fill. I really like pieces with this type of repair and I think this plate looks fantastic with it.
The next piece is a printed plate with a brown edge.
The next plate is interesting in that it has a variety of different motifs.
The next plate is a typical piece decorated with cobalt. The color is much more intense than gosu.
Mountain Fuji plate is next and in the plates the last one is a stork and pine tree theme.
I also bought a tea ceremony furo and kama.
Lastly are 3 candelabra. The smallest is very nice. It looks like it belongs in a temple. The second one is very Japanese and the last one is more western.

New finds

June 17, 2010

These are some of the things I bought this week .

I was mostly interested in the Bizen vase, the Nanban vase and the mountain coral. I was haughtily informed that it isn’t a “Nanban” vase but a yakishime vase. Fair enough. Lately I have been trying to figure out how to reconcile  the use of the  word as it is used in regular conversation and its real meaning  anyway. Nanban as it is used by antiques dealers, tea practitioners and other shady characters is restricted to the true meaning of the word in Japan.  I have a more detailed post here. So, it is a yakishime vase.

The Bizen vase interests me because it is by the same person who made a vase I already own. I don’t know who made the vase I own but when it was given to me as a gift I was aware it was an expensive gift. The way it was handed over and the surrounding comments were the clue.

The mountain coral cost the most and sparked the longest bidding war. My wife will use them in the jewelery she makes. They look like they are the oldest of all the items.

Japanese antiques 4-4-10

April 5, 2010

Today was very interesting.

The first piece is a Momoyama period Bizen mizusashi. It has an identifiable kamajirushi on the bottom. Kamajirushi are “signatures” used to identify individual potters firing together in a community kiln. There are also kamajirushi that identify a single individual potter but I would think they would be more appropriately called signatures. It also seems to me to be a mis-labeling to use the word kamajirushi. Kama = kiln + shirushi, jirushi = seal or sign because as I understand the ancient kilns kamajirushi were used to identify work in the huge kilns. A number of production houses would band together and put all the work into one kiln as the kilns were 50-100 meters long. The signature would actually not be for the kiln but for the production house, each kiln load would have a number of kamajirushi in each firing.

The next set of photos are from a book which I didn’t get the name of. They are kamajirushi starting in the Kamakura period running up through the Momoyama period. Interesting.

The next piece is a sake cup made in Japan for a Dutch order. It was probably exported and seems to have been modeled on a Seto piece or design.

The next piece is a Momoyama period Oribe Shino incense holder. The design motif is of the warabi plant.  The link is to warabi mochi, not the plant.

The last piece is an Edo period tea ceremony box. It is a medium sized box. This would have held all the utensils for a tea ceremony under the cherry blossoms. The really nice boxes would have had everything including a small kama for heating the tea water. This particular box has a fantastic patina. The weaving of the box inspires respect for the level of craft in Japan.

The writing on the box lid is in old Japanese. The first photo shows “Ekaratsu” or Karatsu with an image, i.e., underglazed iron pigment.

The next photo shows “Oribe Karatsu ko” which means Oribe Karatsu is the type of ceramic ware, ko means, in this case, an incense holder.

The last photo of writing says “nijuni go”. It is a cataloging reference and probably was used by the owner to signify that the piece was #22 in his collection. Nijuni = 22, go = a counter meaning #

Kyono Katsura’s Bizen firing. 4-1-10

April 3, 2010

Kyono Katsura is a Bizen trained potter living in Marubashira, between Iga and Shigaraki. The pictures show his small kiln that he fires Bizen ware in. He will be firing from Friday the 2nd. through Sunday or Monday. The total size of the kiln is small, about .7 cubic meters. It holds two stacks of 30cm by 40 cm. shelves, for a total of  4-6 levels in each stack. The fourth picture shows what looks like broken greenware. He uses them as bases for cups or other tall ware. The shielding created by the base helps to make “keshiki”, landscape in the finished piece. The landscape is the change in the design in the surface of the finished ware. A piece that is all one color isn’t very interesting, a piece that has an abstract design drawn by flame, ash and color is.

The picture that shows three bins of cut and split Japanese red pine also shows, to the right, what looks like charcoal. The packages contain a processed “log” of red pine oil and resin. They are cheap, about 700 yen per package. In a small kiln  they are useful because they give a small, intense flame that doesn’t have the trademark 5 meter long flame that Japanese red pine has. It would be the same as using oak or other short flamed wood, only much cheaper.

He has an interesting answer to very cold throwing water in the winter.

Echizen, Tamba, Bizen and Tokoname shapes.

March 31, 2010

The pictures show a wide difference in roughly the same type of jar. The question I have is why such different shapes would evolve. The pictures are of roughly the same eras even though the time line ranges from the beginning of the 1200s. through the middle of the 1300s. There are minor differences in size but these are the closest comparisons I could find.  The “obvious” reason would seem to be differences in what they were used for. Another “obvious” reason would be the type of clay and the type of firing. The fuel would have been wood. I don’t believe coal was used or is a reasonable candidate.

Looking at the pictures the right side of the photo shows the profile of the thickness of the wall, the left side of the photo the outside profile. Bizen seems to have the finest clay with Echizen coming in as the roughest.

As I have been looking through the set of books I bought recently I have discovered the period from the late 11oos, the Heian period up through the middle 15o0s, the end of the Muromachi period is my favorite time frame for Japanese ceramics. The bigwigs in the early 20th. century were reproducing those works.

Echizen? Tokoname? Tanba?

March 22, 2010

I am trying to figure out the visual differences between Echizen, Tokoname, Tanba, Bizen and Shigaraki. Bizen and Shigaraki are easy enough but 14th. century work from the other areas is more difficult. It is easier on more famous pieces but as I look at minor work they all look Greek to me as far as telling where they came from.

What is Nanban?

February 5, 2010

So, what is Nanban. The word is interesting in Japanese. It has two characters, 南蛮 The first means south or southern and the second one means unrefined. Taken together they mean Southern barbarians or if combined with a noun  mean Western ….  An example would be the combination 南蛮渡来の品 which means items brought in from Indonesia, Phillippines and Thailand. This combination dates from the Muromachi and Edo period but is still used today for antiques that are from that period and originate from those areas. Another example is 南蛮画、the last character means picture in this combination. This word has two meanings. Paintings brought into Japan from the West during the latter part of the sixteenth century. The second meaning is Japanese painters that painted in a Western style in the Edo period. One last example is 南蛮人 which means Westerners, in particular Spaniards and Portuguese.   The important part of the meaning to remember is its original meaning of unrefined. I have seen some dictionaries define the base word Nanban as “wild red-haired barbarians”. It isn’t hard to imagine the Dutch being blessed with that definition back in the day. Just a couple of notes on words for non-Japanese. The one that some people  like to trot out is 外国人, gaikokujin or gaijin in its shortened form. This is usually used for non Asian types. Another one is 西洋人, seiyoujin, an older word that was used for people of European descent, including North Americans and generally a polite word. You’ve come a long way baby.

How about today?

I should first of all say it seems completely right that a non-Japanese, me, should do Nanban firing in Japan.  The meaning of Nanban today is of a type of firing that is  low temperature  stoneware. I fire my work to a target of 1100 Celsius. The “keshiki”, literally landscape or decoration, is the color changes in the clay. This puts it into direct contrast with what is typically imagined when one says wood fired. The typical wood fired piece in the West is heavy on fly ash and reduction or in many cases non-reduced fly ash.  If you look at most wood fired work from outside of Asia it seems the influences  come from two general groups. Group one is Shigaraki and Iga. Group two is Bizen, Tokoname, Echizen and Tamba with Bizen being the best marketed therefore best known.  There are   more styles than these two groups .  Sue, Yokkaichi-banko and Nanban to name a few.

Nanban is a wide category. It is often called Bizen by Japanese but the differences are many. It is probably easier to define the differences first. In Bizen fly ash isn’t seen as a problem, in Nanban it is an undesirable point. Undesirable to the point that stoking proceeds so as to not stir up ash. That means no vigorous stirrings of ash in the primary fire-box, etc. The temperature of Bizen is often cited as 1,300 Celsius. That makes for a very hard looking surface and melts the fly ash. In Nanban one of the most desirable traits is a soft feeling and looking surface. There is  a finish that is characteristic of Nanban that I call a frog finish. Here is a link to a bowl I fired recently with that kind of finish. The picture of the inside best illustrates the effect.

The most desirable color for Nanban is bright orange to red. Colors that are possible are black, green, orange, red, purple, browns and whites. It shares a characteristic with Bizen in that single colors aren’t as desirable as a “landscape” of color.

Some good pictures of Nanban  here. Some good pictures of Bizen above for group one. A few examples of my work  are  here.