Unlike most ceramics that are made with blended materials, Bizen pottery is produced from an unrefined natural clay, which contains impurities and has a high iron content. The clay used today is similar to the clay that has been used to make Bizen ware for the last thousand years. The textural and variegated quality of Bizen pottery is achieved in the firing process, and cannot be fully controlled, although Fujiwara does, prior to firing, cover parts of his pots with a mixture of clay and straw, which produces patches of colour on the pots. The magic of Fujiwara’s work is achieved, like all Bizen pottery, in the long firing process. The firing temperature is high, probably around 1300° C, but as the firing can take as long as 14 days, the heat-work achieved in the kiln is much greater than you would expect at this temperature. The pots are put into the kiln unglazed and the partial glazing of the pots comes from the wood ash that circulates in the kiln and then is deposited onto the ware.
Bizen ware, pots made of a heavy clay and embellished by the work of the flame and the firing ash alone, are difficult to approach; for all their stunning beauty is of a hidden character like frozen lava after the firestorm of the volcanoes’ eruption.
It is the Japanese attitude of mind formulated in the term Wabi Sabi which best makes the stage for the discovery and understanding of Bizen vessels.
Wabi literally means “to loose will(power)”, to despair, while Sabi designates the type of tranquillity and harmony achieved by the enlightened practitioner of the Dao or the Way of Zen.* In other words, it describes the process as well as the achievement of human beings endeavour to overcome egoistic limitation (desperation) and the realization of universal truth in primordial harmony of the true self.
Since this comprises the antagonism of the all too human imperfection on the one with the perfection of the saint on the other hand in a single one and only term, Wabi Sabi is extremely difficult to be explained. At best it can be illustrated. For example by the appearance of a good piece of a Bizen jar: its shape is irregular but not without good proportionality. It lacks any kind of radiant colour but the raw body seems to be abreath with a contained glow of fire from within. The pine ash, which has settled on large parts of the body, has a rough rustic texture and subdued or even black colours but provides for a most natural coating over the brownish red body underneath.
Fujiwara Yu masterly uses the above in the occasional combination with dot like shiny patterns created by a pinch of salt thrown into the fire, which settles around fire protected areas.
As a national living treasure, the highest possible official award for an artist, he became notorious for his large Tsubo, magnificent almost globular jars of a hard to match authority in appearance – yet almost simplistic when observed superficially.
It was an honour as well as a delight to enjoy Fujiwara’s hospitality at his home in Okayama where all sorts of delicacies were served in self made tableware and Bizen’s naturalness was being brought to shine by the addition of food and wine…
*The etymology of Wabi-Sabi 侘び寂び is disputed in Japan. The term is uniquely applied in Japanese Zen-Buddhism and aesthetics. Our translation is based on the words meanings in the Chinese classics of the “Ballades of Chu” (3rd B.C., Wabi, Chinese Cha) and the Dao-De-Jing (6th BC. No. 25, Sabi, Chinese Ji) In other words it describes the process of as well as the achievement of human beings endeavour to overcome egoistic limitation (despair) and at the same time the realization of universal truth in itself.