Izushi-yaki is traditional Japanese white porcelain from Izushi Town, Hyogo Prefecture. Since Izushi-yaki has very mystic white color, it is known as ‘too white color porcelain’. The surface of it is very smooth, and the beauty of the smoothness is often compared to silk.
The History of Izushi-yaki
Since the era of Emperor Suinin (from 29 BC to AD 70; various theories), potters have baked pottery around present Izushi Town. It is considered that the beginning of its industry was in 1764 (the Edo Period) because the first kiln to bake unglazed earthenware was built in this year. In other words, Izushi-yaki was started as pottery. In 1789, Zaemon Nihachiyasan, a potter, hit upon an idea which was starting to bake porcelain. He got supported by Izushi han (a federal clan in Izushi) and visited present Arita region, where produces now world-famous Japanese porcelain – Arita-yaki, to acquire skills. In 1799, Izushi han started to promote the development of industry by managing kilns directly. At this time, potters found high-quality stones for porcelain, and they considered that Izushi-yaki would develop very much soon. However, Izushi han was not able to profit enough from the industry of Izushi-yaki even though the porcelain had great quality, and the clan disposed of its kilns. It is considered that the Tempo Era (1830 – 1844) is the time when Izushi-yaki developed quite rapidly. The porcelain baked until this era is called Ko Izushi-yaki (Old Izushi-yaki), and it is differentiated from present porcelain. Izushi-yaki has developed and won a lot of praise in many exhibitions, such as Paris Exposition. In 1980, Izushi-yaki is authorized as one of the Japanese traditional crafts by the government.
The Porcelain Which Pursues Pure White
There are some major areas that produce white porcelain in Japan, for example, Arita, Seto, and Kutani. Porcelain from these regions is famous for breathtaking paintings on the surface. Bright blue and red colors create an outstanding contrast to the white color of porcelain. Izushi region is also one of major white porcelain producing areas, but what differentiates it from other areas is that Izushi-yaki does not have colorful paintings on it. In other words, Izushi-yaki succeeded to create a salient characteristic in the white porcelain market by sticking to literally being pure white porcelain. Not having paintings on the surface does not mean that Izushi-yaki is too plain and boring. The typical design of Izushi-yaki is chrysanthemums that curved on the surface of porcelain.
The Blessed Izushi Region
As mentioned before, Izushi region has been blessed with a high-quality stone which is suitable for making porcelain from. The stone is called Kakitani Touseki (Kakitani porcelain stone), and it contains a surprisingly low percentage of iron. Ceramists are very proud of such a great quality local material and put a lot of effort to make full use of it. This is another reason why Izushi-yaki is established as pure white porcelain.
Plates, sake bottles, and pots have been the common types of Izushi-yaki for a long time, and recently wind-bells and flower vases have been produced for tourists. Since Izushi region is also famous for soba noodles (buckwheat noodles), soba noodles restaurant in the region serves meals with Izushi-yaki. Tourists enjoy the taste of the regions.
The Procedure of Izushi-yaki
The whole procedure to create Izushi-yaki usually takes around 20 to 30 days. Almost all procedures are done by hands, and ceramists require obtaining high skills especially when they curve out delicate patterns on the surface. Even though they are succeeded to create beautiful patterns, they can be ruined very easily if the temperature of kilns is not controlled perfectly. Each part of procedures needs to be adjusted perfectly. Usually, ceramists make Izushi-yaki dry first before they fire it for the first time. When they carve out designs on the surface, carving is done after the drying step. The first firing process is called Su-yaki in Japanese, and it means basic baking without glazing. One of the main effects Su-yaki can give is that porcelain will not be reverted to clay. The other effect is that Su-yaki can make porcelains less fragile and easy to get glazed. These effects happen because the porcelain itself shrinks and gets firm by being heated. In Su-yaki, porcelains are fired for 12 to 20 hours with around 800 to 900-degree fire. The process after Su-yaki is glazing. The common types of glaze are transparent glaze (to make gloss finish) and mat glaze (which is made with talc). Both glazes play an important part in protecting porcelains. After glazing, porcelain is fired for 20 hours with 1250 to 1300 degrees. Porcelains get cool down for 2 days in kilns. On the third day after firing, Izushi-yaki is completed and took out from the kilns.
Traditional Techniques Are Still The Core of Izushi-yaki
Hiroshi Kunimura, one of the present Izushi-yaki ceramists emphasizes the importance of traditional techniques when they make Izushi-yaki. He mentioned that 95 percent of the technique is traditional, and only five percent of the new technique is required to create Izushi-yaki. He even said that the percentage of traditional technique could be 99 percent and one of the new skills would be only one present. Since the succeeded techniques are very crucial for Izushi-yaki, every single procedure needs to be done precisely to create good Izushi-yaki. In other words, there is almost no room for improvement caused by chance. Other Japanese pottery and porcelain sometimes depend on chances causing beautiful shades when ceramists glaze and bake. While other Japanese pottery and porcelain aim at the beauty which happens accidentally on the top of great techniques, Izushi-yaki aims at the beauty which only happens in perfection. Without precise work and through control, it is impossible to create good Izushi-yaki. Since then, it is considered that it takes more than ten-year training to be semi professional ceramists. To become professional Izushi-yaki ceramists, it takes over 20 years.
How to Use
When you use Izushi-yaki, there is not any special cares or things you need to avoid. To keep porcelain beautiful for a long time, using soft sponges is recommended when you wash it. It is for avoiding scratches on the surface. Besides that, some part, which is carved to create designs, does not have glaze so that please wash the part especially very gently.