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Japanese Art - CERAMICS

 

Jomon and Yayoi Period ca. 11,000 - ca. 250 BC

Japan has the longest continuous ceramic tradition in the world dating back to 10,000 B.C. The earliest examples are known as Jomon or "coil impressed" pottery. One can see the impressions of ropes in the example. All pottery was made by hand as there were no pottery wheels at this time. Only in Japan are found these examples of ceramics by non-agricultural peoples. The creators were fishermen who lived off the bounty of the sea as well as gathering nuts and fruit and hunting birds and other animals. They impressed their lifelines - their nets - upon their art.

 

Small effigy figures, called Dogu hail from the Jomon. This example is from approximately 2000 BC. Dogu were representation of human figures shaped out of proportion to realism. The heads were large with small arms and hands. The bodies were also small. Although their purpose is not clear, many researchers believe they represented specific persons. Illness and misfortune could magically be transferred to the Dogu which would then be broken to cure the disease or remove bad luck.

 

This is an example of a storage vessel of about 400 B.C. The Yayoi Period is named after a district in Tokyo  where excavations uncovered the pottery. Immigrants from mainland China, farmers, are given the credit as the creators. The Yayoi were Mongolians and the forerunners of modern Japanese in ancestry.
Yayoi pottery was similar to that found in Jomon: hand-built and simple. It was fired using
pit kilns.

 

Pit kilns are a shallow "pit" dug in the ground. Pottery is loosely stacked in the pit. Wood and other flammable materials are placed around and above the pottery and the fire is allowed to burn down. The pots are cooled, cleaned and used. Ceramics prepared in this manner are very fragile and porous because the temperatures can never become hot enough. Glazing is not possible and many pieces break due to the uneven temperature and poor insulation.

 

 

Kofun Period ca. 250 BC - 552

This grave figure is of a seated woman in costume from the late Kofun Period, 400-500 CE. Kofun, literally means grave mound. This period is named for the large graves built for the rulers of this time. Circling the mounded graves were terra cotta figures like this. They were men and women, animals such as horses and birds. The figures illustrate characteristic Japanese art form that is unlike the glazed elaborate forms of the Chinese burial figures. Instead these were left unglazed in their natural clay form. The figures were also thought to embody principles of Shintoism - the belief that god fills all things living and no-living, therefore everything is sacred.

 

Kamakura Period 1185-1333 and Muromachi Period 1336-1568

 

This period saw the rise of the 6 Ancient Kilns (Seto, Bizen, Tamba, Shigaraki, Echizen, and Tokonome), the sites of pottery-making villages. The pottery in its early stages all looked similar in that they were heavily thrown and ash glazed storage vessels. In the first example on the left is a representation of pottery from Tachikui, one of the Tamba sites. You can see the accumulations of ash from the firing in the anagama (hole) kiln. These kilns were dug into the sloping hillsides to take advantage of the natural updraft. Temperatures reached about 2300 degrees F. The wood ash would lay on the surface of the clay causing it to melt and form a glaze. The glazes reflect the color of the clay from which they were formed. This natural ash glaze is called bidoro.

 

The use of these tunnel kilns, stoneware clays and ash glazes were first developed in China. It is believed that a potter named Toshiro brought the techniques to Japan. He studied the techniques in China, returned to Japan in 1228, and began to make pottery in the Chinese style. From here, the use of tunnel kilns, stoneware clays, and ash glazes spread to the other Ancient Kiln sites, such as Tamba.

 

Momoyama Period 1573-1603

This period is referred to as the 'Golden Age of Japanese Ceramics,' As the kilns at Seto declined, they were replaced by the Mino kilns. At Mino, the classic tea ceremony wares Shino and Oribe were produced. Among the many recognized types of Shino is the Painted Shino seen in this tea ceremony water pot (mizusashi). Typically a wooden lid would adorn the top of the jar. The reason for a wooden lid was to muggle the sound of it being placed. Wood would not be loud or jarring as a ceramic lid might be. The Shino glaze was unique in its interesting imperfections. It is said to be "beautifully imperfect". The design on this piece is painted in iron oxide depicting reeds blown in the wind on a deserted beach.

 

It was during the Momoyama, when feudal lords competed to build magnificent castles and residences, and adopted the tea ceremony, previously practiced by just the intelligentsia and the aesthetes. The tea ceremony is still practiced today, and is called cha-no-yu, the way of tea.

 

Edo Period 1603-1868

These bowls represent four styles found in the Edo period. Ri Sampei is credited with the first production of porcelain in Japan in the Korean style in 1616. His success caused such a stir that soon there were over 40 kilns in production causing a shortage of wood and clay.

 

The first bowl is an example of porcelain developed 50 years later by another Korean immigrant potter, Sakaida Kakiemon. His pieces were significant for the overglaze enamel technique employed by Ming potters. Kakiemon feared that his discovery would be stolen, so would only reveal the secret to his eldest son, sending his second and third sons into adoption to safeguard the secret. All to no avail, as during his own lifetime, other potters in Arita also experimented and learned how to overglaze porcelain. As the example demonstrates, Kakiemon ware is significant for its pure white porcelain body adorned with bright colors surrounded by large amounts of negative space to offset the design.

 

The next bowl is an example of Imari ware named after the port in Arita on the island of Kyushu through which pottery was exported to Europe by the Dutch East India Company. The porcelain body is a fine, white translucent clay. The design is done in the underglaze cobalt (like the fish jumping from the waves seen here). All other colors are in the overglaze red, green, rose and gold. Imari ware has an ornate, European quality about it, probably because it was made primarily for the export market. Edo period Imari is hand painted and lively.

 

The third bowl from the left is another example of overglaze enamel ware produced in Arita during the Edo period called Nabeshima ware. These were made especially for imperial use. It is perhaps the highest quality overglaze work in porcelain ware. Designs were first painted in underglaze cobalt and this is seen in the blue areas of this plate. Nabeshima ware often features large objects painted in the foreground against a textile design background. Nabeshima color schemes are soft, pastel colors, and often the clay body can be seen in a large area of white.

 

Finally there is the beautiful example of the work of Nonomura Ninsei who was a Kyoto potter of exceptional skill. His most celebrated works are chatsubo (tea jars). He alone exerted the greatest influence on Japanese pottery manufacture. This example is a large tea jar designed with poppies in full bloom. It was extensively damaged in an earthquake and skillfully restored. It is registered as an important cultural property, and considered his finest work.

 

 

References

Art 198 Image Gallery

Edutainment - Japanese Art History

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