Hidasuki mizusashi by Isezaki Koichiro

Hidasuki 緋襷 is one of various types of colouration that features on the works of Bizen 備前 pottery. It literally means scarlet cords. It is made by wrapping rice straw around wares and then placing them in the kiln. The iron in the clay reacts with the alkali in the straw to create a red colour resembling flames. It is a stunning effect which I saw much of on a recent visit to Bizen in Okayama Prefecture.

southern O-gama, Bizen

Just a little historical background: Bizen is one of the oldest pottery areas in Japan that has been producing yakishime unglazed ware for hundreds of years. During the Momoyama period (1573-1600), the golden age of Japanese arts, giant 50 metre tunnel kilns were built. The Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi and the tea master Sen no Rikyu both loved Bizen ware and it was during this time that many tea masterpieces were made. The noblemen, influenced by zen philosophy, began to appreciate tea utensils of austere beauty and elegant simplicity.

Living National Treasure, Isezaki Jun

Living National Treasure, Isezaki Jun

Bizen-yaki continued to flourish during the Edo period (1600-1867), under the patronage of the Ikedas, the feudal lords of the province. However, with the Meiji restoration in 1868 when Japan opened its doors to the west, people lost interest in traditional arts, which was disastrous for Bizen. After 1945 there were cultural revival movements in Japan and it was a potter named Kaneshige Toyo who was successful in making wares of Momoyama period quality. He was designated a Living National Treasure and his efforts are largely responsible for the present day prosperity of Bizen-ware. Recently I revisited Bizen and it was through a friend in Kyoto who teaches kintsugi that I was able to meet the present and fifth Living National Treasure of Bizen, Isezaki Jun. (Japan Times article) 

Tenpo noborigama

 

The morning sun shone over the frost covered rice paddies as I rode the local train. Arriving at Imbe station at 8pm gave me lots of time to wander the streets alone, it was particularly good to see Kimura-san again who I remember from a previous visit, he was eighty-five now but was still bright and warm, he read me one of his poems as he was showing me his pots.

Around noon I met up with the kintsugi sensei and his group. First we visited the local museum seeing masterpieces of old Bizen, then we went to the ruins of the southern O-Gama, huge single chambered kilns, 50 metres long, which were made during the Momoyama period, now covered with pottery shards. After admiring the view of the town with all its chimney stacks we went to see a noborigama climbing kiln from the Tenpo period (1830s). 

 

firing a Bizen anagama

The highlight of the visit was seeing the firing of Isezaki Jun’s anagama kiln tucked in the hills. It was much longer and had a steeper incline than the ones I had seen before.  We chatted to a deshi apprentice who was stoking the kiln with red pine logs. Then we were invited to Isezaki sensei’s home and studio, we could see his modern sculptural creations as well as more traditional works. We enjoyed tea with the master potter and saw a beautiful hikidashi black Bizen teabowl with paddled markings.

    Afterwards we enjoyed dinner and drinking warm saké in the nearby town of Okayama. The next day I was lucky enough to see the exhibition of Isezaki sensei’s son, Koichiro, whose works have a strikingly modern and sculptural feel, yet at the same time remaining true to Bizen’s traditions. His chawans were amazing and I particularly admired one with which had beautiful hidasuki markings. 

           

Hidasuki chawan by Isezaki Koichiro

Hidasuki chawan by Isezaki Koichiro

scarlet cords –

how my heart pines

to return to Bizen

われ愛す
備前緋だすき
陶芸美
またいつの日は
この地を踏まむ

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