( image from : http://item.rakuten.co.jp/tenryuhp/9-25b/ )
When we think about the most basic function of bowls, what would come up on our minds first? It must be being able to hold food or liquid perfectly without any leaks. Interestingly, Hagi-yaki does not have the right qualification for it. It sounds like Hagi-yaki is not perfect pottery if you only focus on this function, but you will see why it has been loved by many people throughout this article.
History of Hagi-yaki
Hagi-yaki is from Hagi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture located in the southwest side of Japan. It is considered that Hagi-yaki was started about 400 years ago. Before Hagi-yaki created, the tea ceremony has thrived incredibly, and ceramics and pottery for that were in great demand. The origin was that Terumoto Mouri, a federal lord, brought potters from Korea and built kilns in Matsumoto, Hagi region. These potters got a lot of support from a federal clan, and the kilns became exclusive to it. In Matsumoto, Kyusetsu Miwa, a potter, also built kilns in 1661. The kilns were also belonging to the federal clan as well. As you can see from those kilns, Hagi-yaki in this period got a strong backup in this age, and Hagi-yaki succeeded to achieve high productivity and improve the quality. Until the 19th century, Hagi-yaki thrived on producing a lot of variety of pottery, not to mention the pottery for the tea ceremony. With modernization in Japan, which started in 1868, both kilns under private management and kilns run by companies developed a lot by improving productivity. In Taisho Period (ca. 1920-1925), potters focused more on traditional technique and ingredients, and pottery for tea became the main stream of Hagi-yaki again. Since 1940s, Hagi-yaki has been attracting a lot of attention because many artists create a lot of masterpieces as one of the way to show their art. History and artistry of Hagi-yaki are proven especially by three potters. Two potters of Hagi-yaki are recognized as Japanese Living National Treasure, and a potter was officially commended for contributing to Japanese culture.
Features of Hagi-yaki: Clay
Generally, Hagi-yaki is very simple because it hardly has any decorations or painting on its surface, moreover, it focuses on utilizing the nature feel of clay. Especially experts in tea ceremony are fond of this feeling of clay, and they regard it as important point when they appreciate Hagi-yaki. The question then arises: what does make the special taste? The taste is created by the combination of clay, the way to glaze, lines drew with pallets or brushes, and the heat of fire. As you see, characteristics of Hagi-yaki are made by simple and plane methods, but in other words, the work is truly genuine work with a lot of experience. Any deceptions won’t work on it. The touch of Hagi-yaki is very soft and gives us feel warmth. These impressions are also brought by the feature of clay which is used. The clay itself is quite soft and has the nature that it does not shrink a lot even after a baking process. The core factor of the texture of Hagi-yaki is created by blending some kinds of clay. Basically, the mixture is made with three types of clay. Firstly, the base clay of Hagi-yaki is called ‘Daidou clay (Daidou-tsuchi: tsuchi means clay or soil in Japanese)’, and most of basic features of Hagi-yaki are brought by the properties of this clay. One of its properties is the high plasticity, and that is the reason Daidou clay is very suitable for the foundation. The color is light gray color, because it contains relatively small amount of iron. The second clay is Mitake clay ‘(Mitake-tsuchi)’, also called Mitakeyama clay. This is white-color sandy clay and always mixed with Daidou clay to make the viscosity of Daidou clay moderate. Besides that, Mitake clay is able to heighten the resistance to fire of Hagi-yaki. Third clay is ‘Mishima clay (Mishima-tsuchi)’, which is dark red color clay containing a lot of iron. This clay is extracted from Mishima Islands that are located in the Sea of Japan (45 kilometers away from coastlines). The use of this clay heightens the feeling of clay and enhances the color of other clays. Mishima clay is not only mixed with other clay like Daidou clay and Mitake clay do, but also it is used at the part of decorations. These three clay are carefully blended to make the perfect balance and also to create the synergy between the clay and glaze. Also, these clay do not just only affect on the features or feeling of Hagi-yaki, but also they play an important role in creating beautiful colors of pottery. When a pottery is made to focus to show the beauty of Daidou clay, it becomes flesh color or loquat color (soft light orange color). On the other hand, it becomes brown or grayish blue when potters focus on Mishima clay. White color Hagi-yaki is also possible by adding ash glaze. These colors are the main stream of Hagi-yaki, and Hagi-yaki has relatively small color variety. Incidentally, besides these three clay, other clay from local, such as Matsumoto or Fukawai, are also sometimes used, and the choice depends on idea or concepts potters have.
Features of Hagi-yaki: Water Absorbency – Nanabake
Another outstanding and interesting feature of Hagi-yaki is high water absorbency. As mentioned at the beginning, Hagi-yaki is not perfect if we expect it not to have any leaks. The reasons why it has water absorbency are firstly because the clay is quite coarse. Besides that, the clay does not shrink a lot after the bake. Therefore, soil particles are big and have a lot of gap between each other, so that water can go through the gap. Another reason is because Hagi-yaki has a lot of cracks on the surface. The cracks are made since clay and glaze have different shrinkage. The difference between the two materials makes the cracks, and the cracks are the points that water goes through. As we use Hagi-yaki long time, tea incrustation fills the cracks, and water cannot penetrate through the pottery easily anymore. At the same time, the tea incrustation changes the color of pottery too. These changes are call ‘Nanabake’, which means seven transformations in Japan. It might feel that it is not useful to have pottery with high water absorbency at first. However, the feature gets interesting and fascinating more and more as you use it since you see and feel transformations of pottery every time you use. The change is as if the pottery grew up to respond your care or love. How it changes is totally depends on you. The beauty of Hagi-yaki is not only made by experienced potters with great technique, but also made by people who use. In other words, Hagi-yaki cannot be perfect until you use it, and it becomes literally ‘your’ Hagi-yaki. This is the reason why Hagi-yaki has a lot of devotees.