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  • Richard L. Wilson

Japanese centre of ceramics production. High-fired ceramic wares were manufactured from the end of the 12th century in and around the village of Inbe, Bizen Province (now Okayama Prefect.). This region had been a centre for manufacturing Sue-style stonewares and Haji-style earthenwares from the 6th century ad (see Japan, §IX, 2, (ii), (a)). At the end of the Heian period (794–1185) the potters moved from the old Sue-ware sites around Osafune village to Inbe, just to the north. In response to increased agricultural development, the new kilns manufactured kitchen mortars (suribachi), narrow-necked jars (tsubo) and wide-necked jars (kame). During the 13th century the wares show less of the grey-black surfaces typical of the old Sue tradition and more of the purple-reddish colour characteristic of Bizen. In the 14th century Bizen-ware production sites shifted from the higher slopes to the foot of the mountains. Kilns expanded in capacity, ranging up to 40 m in length. Vast quantities of Bizen wares, particularly kitchen mortars, were exported via the Inland Sea to Kyushu, Shikoku and numerous points in western Honshu, establishing Bizen as the pre-eminent ceramics centre in western Japan. By the 15th century the Bizen repertory had expanded to include agricultural wares in graded sizes; wares then featured combed decoration and such functional additions as lugs and pouring spouts. Plastic–forming was assisted by the introduction of a fusible clay found 2–4 m under paddy-fields. This clay, which fires to an almost metallic hardness, is still in use today.

That Bizen adjusted quickly to demands from cultural centres is seen in its early manufacture of tea ceremony wares, particularly water jars (mizusashi) and flower vases (see Japan, §XV). Bizen teaware is first mentioned in the diary of the tea master Tsuda Sōtatsu in 1549. Tea practitioners were particularly fond of the decorative accents that occurred in the long, high-temperature firing: hidasuki, red scorch marks left by the straw cords in which the pots were wrapped for kiln packing; hibotan, blush marks created by the irregular play of the fire on the pots; botamochi, resist patterns created when wares are stacked one on top another; goma, a speckled pattern created by a shower of ashes on the pots. These effects were produced deliberately from the 17th century onwards. Also from the 17th century, in response to competition from the nascent porcelain industries, the Bizen potters manufactured a crisply formed product called Inbede. A line of decorative earthenware and stoneware figurines, variously known as Ao Bizen (‘blue Bizen’), Shiro Bizen (‘white Bizen’) and Saishiki Bizen (‘coloured Bizen’), began to be produced a century later. Some of these were exported to the West. The Bizen kilns declined in the Meiji period (1868–1912) but revived in the tourism and ceramic boom that began after World War II. The area now has about 300 potteries.


  • M. Katsura: ‘Bizen to sono shūhen’ [Bizen and surrounding regions], Nihon yakimono shūsei [Collection of Japanese ceramics], ed. C. Mitsuoka, S. Hayashiya and S. Narasaki, 9 (Tokyo, 1981), pp. 104–15
  • S. Uenishi: ‘Kodai-chūsei no Bizen gama’ [Bizen kilns in the ancient and medieval periods], Nihon yakimono shūsei [Collection of Japanese ceramics], ed. C. Mitsuoka, S. Hayashiya and S. Narasaki, 9 (Tokyo, 1981), pp. 98–102
  • Nihon no tōji [Japanese ceramics] (exh. cat., ed. Y. Yabe; Tokyo, N. Mus., 1985)
  • B. Chang and others: ‘Bizen: A Living Tradition’, Ceramics (Australia), 38 (1999), pp. 90–92