Wali Hawes 1952 - 2014
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Wali Hawes Potter's Diary

Mino and Hizen

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Mino and Hizen

Two short case studies will demonstrate the applicability of the methodological approaches outlined above to late mediaeval and early modern Japanese history. The first example is the group of Mino kilns in southern Gifu Prefecture, near Nagoya. Because of their central location in the T?kai district, these kilns had prime access to Japan's two most important markets: the urban centers of imperial Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka in the west, and the centers of military government at Kamakura and Edo in the east. First as a production center for Chinese-style glazed wares, and then as one of the major suppliers of glazed tea ware, the Mino kiln group produced Shino, Ki-Seto, Setoguro, Oribe, and tenmoku wares for widespread consumption.66

The relationship between Mino ware and neighboring Seto ware during the late mediaeval period has been an area of contention among scholars of Japanese ceramics. In part, the controversy was caused by the fact that during much of the Edo period the Mino area was dominated politically by Seto. Consequently, Seto and Mino wares were not distinguished from one another until this century. This complicated history is made even more complex by a legend claiming that Oda Nobunaga called the Mino potters to Seto in 1567 as part of his patronage of the tea ceremony. It seems more likely, however, that this tale represents Edo-period views of the hegemonic character of Nobunaga and a conceptualization of Mino as a place dominated and controlled by Seto.67

In part the Seto and Mino confusion is the result of a major historiographical transformation in the study of Japanese ceramics and archaeology _ the demise of the so-called "six ancient kilns" theory.68 The problem began when prewar art historians in Japan found themselves unable to trace the lines of development from ancient sue ware (a high-fired ware with technology imported from the Asian mainland) to late mediaeval tea ceramics. In the early postwar period, the blossoming field of archaeology seemed to provide a solution. Archaeologists postulated that after sue potters began to produce more popular and utilitarian wares at the end of the Heian period, they became concentrated in six primary regions, known by the names of their most famous wares: Bizen, Echizen, Seto, Shigaraki, Tanba, and Tokoname. These six ancient kilns, unlike other small, peripheral mediaeval kilns that ceased operation long ago, maintained production continuously to the modern era.

Since this theory was introduced, archaeologists have excavated dozens of new kiln sites, totaling approximately eighty locations now known. These scholars have demonstrated that many of these kilns not only were active throughout the mediaeval period but maintained production after it. Clearly, the development of mediaeval ceramics was far more complex than the "six ancient kilns" theory could account for. Unfortunately, public perception in Japan has yet to take in this new information; Western art historians have been slow to digest it; and many English-language catalogues and connoisseur's handbooks of Japanese ceramics even in recent years perpetuate this outdated theory. In the words of one prominent curator, "The catch phrase was simply too easy to remember!"

The question of the historical distinction between Mino and Seto wares shall be left aside so that some of the characteristics of the region's ceramic production can be considered. Until the fifteenth century, Seto-Mino potters fired their wares in an anagama or tunnel kiln, a design of continental origin that efficiently made use of a rising slope to distribute heat from a single opening in the front, with smoke and excess heat exiting through a hole at the top of the chamber in the back. The kiln was almost entirely subterranean, eight to ten meters long and 1.5 meters wide, with a slope ranging from fifteen degrees to thirty-five degrees.69 In the beginning of the sixteenth century, a new kiln type was developed that transformed the quality and variety of the glazed-wares for the next century. This kiln, the ?gama or "great kiln," was only partially subterranean, with a larger central chamber, an arched roof supported by pillars, and a side entrance in addition to the front opening and rear exit.70 Finally in the early seventeenth century came the introduction of the renb?shiki noborigama or multi-chamber climbing kiln, which according to documentary evidence from the seventeenth century, was introduced from Karatsu by a Mino potter named Kat? Kagenobu. The noborigama was composed of a series of connected chambers built on a slope, each with a side door for loading and unloading the pots, and stoke holes from which to monitor the progress of the firing. The firing was begun from the main front entrance of the first chamber, and progressed upwards as wood was added through side stoke holes constructed in the bricked-up doors. The kilns had extraordinary firing capacity (the Motoyashiki noborigama, Mino's most famous kiln, was over twenty-five meters in length and had thirteen chambers), and could produce a greater variety of styles and effects by placing groups of pieces requiring different atmospheric and temperature conditions in different chambers. Oribe ware, for example, was produced in these noborigama.71

By what means did these goods flow out of the Seto-Mino region and into distant markets? During the early mediaeval period, producers marketed their own goods at local markets or along set local trading routes.72 Archaeological evidence demonstrates, however, that by the late mediaeval and early modern periods Seto-Mino wares were widely circulated. Records of cargo transport further illuminate patterns of Seto-Mino ware commerce. For example, in 1763 (later, to be sure, than the primary focus of this study, but still indicative of general patterns) 190 packhorse loads of Mino ceramics were imported into Iida, the commerce locus of the Ina valley in southern Nagano Prefecture. From there goods were shipped to various regions of the T?kai region and beyond.73 That Mino producers were actively competing with other production centers, even those as distant as Karatsu in Kyushu, is evident from the similarity in design of many Karatsu and Mino pieces excavated from castle towns and urban residences, dating back as early as 1590. The Motoyashiki noborigama was even producing imitations and interpretations of Iga, Bizen, and Karatsu wares, a clear indication that the circulation of ceramic goods was common and widespread.74

Despite this tantalizing evidence, little research has been attempted on the actual social and economic mechanisms for the distribution of ceramic goods during the late mediaeval and early modern periods. The example of Mino-Seto ceramic production is ideal for the consideration of a number of different issues. How did local rulers in Seto control the distribution of Seto-Mino wares through the ton'ya or wholesale distributors? In the case of Shigaraki, karamonoya or dealers in imported and domestic tea ceremony goods represent an important link between producer and consumer.75 How did urban changes in elite tea taste and new patterns of consumption transform, through the mediation of the karamonoya, the production of Mino-Seto wares? Finally, what precursors to proto-industry can we find in Mino-Seto production of ceramic goods for a national market?

Next is the broad example of ceramics produced in the Hizen region of northern Kyushu. The origins of Hizen ceramics are to be found in Karatsu, which is both the name of a ceramic production location in old Hizen Province (now divided between Saga and Nagasaki prefectures), and a term that came to be used for ceramics from (primarily northern) Kyushu.76 The town of Kishidake and its surrounding regions was an active production center of glazed Karatsu stoneware as far back as the middle of the sixteenth century, but there are few sources on the development of those early wares.77 However, the remains of at least seven kilns at Kishidake provide some evidence about kogaratsu or old Karatsu ware. The kilns are of the subterranean climbing type, variations of the anagama; judging on the basis of excavated sherds, they appear to have produced wares glazed with a celadon-type wood ash glaze, a rice-straw mottled glaze (madara-karatsu), and an iron glaze.78

The history of Hizen ceramics is intimately connected to Japanese-Korean relations in the premodern period. In the late sixteenth century the warlord and unifier of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, invaded Korea with the ultimate intention of conquering China. In the course of two invasions and retreats, Hideyoshi and his generals coerced or persuaded a large number of Korean potters to come practice their trade in Japan.79 This voluminous influx of ceramic practitioners, technology, and ideas resulted in the establishment of numerous successful ceramic production centers in southwestern Japan. In Kyushu, in particular, potters who became known for their production of Korean-style ware traced their lineage back to Hideyoshi's invasion of 1592-1598. The result has often been described as a Korean revolution in Japanese ceramics.

Some scholars, however, have argued that the established repertory of Korean potters was largely coopted and manipulated by domain and urban tastes in Japan, and that their primary impact was technological rather than stylistic.80 An official Korean source, the Annals of the Yi Dynasty, records Korean potters entering Japan before the invasions, indicating that Korean ceramic styles were already well known in Japan.81 Considering that technological, cultural, and commercial exchange between Japan and Korea was quite active prior to Hideyoshi's invasions, it is difficult to view the arrival of Korean potters en masse in the end of the sixteenth century as "revolutionary." It seems likely that Hideyoshi and his generals seized those potters they came across, even in the process of beating a hasty retreat, precisely because the skills and styles of Korean potters were already widely appreciated and sought after.82

After the death of Hideyoshi and the subsequent withdrawal of Japanese forces from the Korean peninsula, Korean potters opened kilns or began to work in existing ceramic communities across Kyushu, with particularly high concentrations in Hizen Province. Records also show that some in Kyushu who were dispossessed by Hideyoshi's sword hunt and status divisions turned to ceramic production in this era.83 The collective wares of these various potters and kilns in Hizen came to be known as karatsuyaki. The Karatsu kilns produced both luxury wares for the urban elite and items such as jars, vats, bowls, plates, mortars and graters for regional daily use.

With the discovery of porcelain in Arita in the second decade of the seventeenth century, the second stage of Kyushu ceramic development began.84 The porcelain trade was supported and controlled by the Nabeshima domain, with wares produced first for regional use and then for wide-scale distribution and international export. In the first half of the seventeenth century porcelain-producing kilns that had been founded separately by Japanese and Koreans grouped together under the Got? family, and began the production of simple blue and white underglaze porcelain. In 1646 Sakaida Kakiemon began the production of overglaze enamel decorated porcelain, which soon came to be produced in large quantities by numerous workshops.85 By the middle of the seventeenth century, the porcelains of Hizen were not only being shipped across Japan but also being exported by the Dutch East India Company to Europe, China, and Southeast Asia. In 1659, for example, more than thirty-three thousand pieces were exported by the Dutch. In 1679 there were at least six wholesalers of Hizen ceramics in Osaka. By 1835 over 310,000 hy? of Hizen pottery were being shipped to Japanese ports from the Imari docks.86

Numerous archaeological and documentary sources on this period of ceramic development in Kyushu are available, but a comprehensive study has not yet been undertaken in English. Even at this stage, however, it is possible to problematize several aspects of Hizen ceramic history. First, the contact of Kyushu's potters not only with the rest of Asia but with Europe aptly illustrates the hazy boundaries of the late mediaeval and early modern state. Second, the varying treatment of potters of Korean origin in different Kyushu regions - Satsuma in the south and Karatsu in the north, for instance - indicates that conceptions of race and ethnicity as well as Japanese definitions of national identity were in no way united at this time. Also interesting would be an investigation of changing attitudes towards Hizen ceramics in Japan's urban centers. How did the perception of certain wares as exotic develop over time, and how did it affect patterns of consumption? How did changes in consumption result in changes in the organization of ceramic production? Finally, changing consumption patterns of Kyushu wares could be examined with a focus on the status of ceramic producers and their treatment by the domain where they lived and worked.


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