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Bizen project proposal-- Comparison of Bizen and Jingdezhen

Because of Bizen’s special historical background and geographic location, increasing unsuitable modern elements may undermine the integrity of traditional culture. In my opinion, to promote the Bizen pottery tradition and encourage the growth of local business, public art or sculpture can attract public’s attention but may not tackle the root of problems. It is necessary to analyze this project from the history context first and then discuss how can we change the current situation and revitalize Bizen. So I did some research first and compared pottery industries according to different places and time, and then thought out four plans to try to solve problem. I will deepen one or two plan after it. Because of cultural difference, some research and understanding may be not accurate.

Comparison of ceramic industry in different country

I saw the words in the Bizen brochure that Bizen ware does not use glaze but is created only with clay and flames as a representative example of the Wabi Sabi culture. We should respect Japan’s distinctive aesthetic to express simple and serene beauty. Some modern western public art and sculpture may not be very suitable for the eastern natural environment and historical context of Bizen.

I try to research the current situation of pottery industry in Bizen and find problem from history context. Because my project is the development of traditional handicraft in Jingdezhen. It is difficult to think how the traditional culture can be inherited and innovated, making modern people pay more attention to heritage of traditional culture. I think both of city have similar situation, with traditional craft, similar material, long history, eastern environment. Both of them want to revitalize the boom period. This project is helpful to broaden the way of thinking about my project. For the Bizen project, maybe it is helpful if I can think about the successful change of Jingdezhen.

Comparison of ceramic industry in different pottery industries in Japan and Bizen ware’s flourish and decline

I asked my BA course classmate who are now in Kyoto City University of Arts about the pottery production in Bizen. He said that although Bizen is one of the six oldest pottery production sites in Japan, its production is not popular like Shino ware which has The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park because of government. Although Bizen is the most utilized of all types of ceramic ware in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, after the 19th century, people prefer to use colorful, glazed ceramics, Bizen ware was gradually forgotten. I was thinking the reason leads to Bizen ware’s flourish and decline as well as the change of Japanese aesthetics, to find a solution to promote the Bizen pottery tradition and encourage the growth of local business.

In the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, Sen no RikyūIt’s success in “wabi-cha” , which was believed that its real beauty was not in extravagance, but in its austere simplicity. Because of Bizen ware’s earthy colors and ability to bring the best out of the focus of attention, it perfectly match with wabi-cha and used widely in “Chanoyu”. But in Edo Period, tea ceremony was developed by Kobori Enshū who prefer "kirei sabi". It was defined by having an objectivity to it that anyone could accept. Kirei sabi used appealing tea equipment, mainly white, and was used to entertain guests in tea rooms. In this way, the earthy-colored, rustic Bizen ware clearly did not fit into kirei sabi. Bizen ware’s shares were taken away by such vivid ceramic wares as Arita ware and Seto ware.

I learned that “design aspects of the Bizen wares are not well refined and often relying too much on the effects derived from firing”, the form of Bizen ware need to be developed. However, Bizen ware has more than one thousand years, the greatest feature of this simple pottery is neither glazed nor painted, only by firing different flame in kiln to change its pattern. This is this city’s original purpose to show “Wabi Sabi”. So I am not sure if Bizen ware change this character, it can be a real Bizen ware. Maybe Izuru seitou’s work with color clay is an attempt for innovation.

Izuru Seitou’s works

Comparison of Bizen and Jingdezhen

As I mentioned before, because Bizen’s special historical background and geographic location, Increasing unsuitable modern elements may undermine the integrity of traditional culture. In order to return Bizen to the ideal place for pottery making and tourism, I think reserve the antique flavor of Bizen is reasonable for the sustainable development.

Jingdezhen has some changes because of some projects supported by the government. For example, Sanbao ceramic village is an arts and crafts community for international exchange, created by Jackson Li. A group of farm houses and an adobe building were chosen as the site for this art center. And also an art museum called Sanbaopeng was built this year, this space aims to explore the ambiguous relationship between visitors and the space.

Plan 1 – Creating a spiritual world and recycling fragment of pottery

For the purpose of turning Sanbao village to an Utopia of ceramic artists, except the best use of natural environment and appropriate advertising, Jackson Li invited Wen Na to create some wall painting. China has the traditional customs of worshiping Kiln god. In order to use the antique flavor of Jingdezhen, Wen Na add some element of immortal in her painting. She created some imaginary immortals for blessing ceramic production of Saobao village. For example, in the “Blessing Kiln”, the immortal “restraining sea (it is hard to capture water, clay can be a medium to mold the form of water)” is in charge of clay making , “Taking on stone (taking on colorful clothes for clay)” is for glaze making and “Adjusting cloud” controls the firing atmosphere. She imaged immortals for every process of ceramic making.

Wen Na, “Blessing Kiln” in Jingdezhen Sanbao ceramic village

Wen Na, “immortal for happiness(in charge of kitchen)” in Jingdezhen Sanbao ceramic village

In this way, tourists and local people has a strong impression for Saobao because of these wall painting, it has become spiritual symbol of Sanbao and even Jingdezhen. Memories of it is hard to fade away after years. In order to deepen people’s impression for Bizen, we can consider the spiritual symbol of Bizen. Taking advantage of the inherent warmth of the soil, Bizen pottery doesn’t employ ornate coloring or painting, instead using only natural patterns created by the flame for a beautiful warmth. According to Shinri Murakami on Japanese Bizen Ware website, “we will deliver ‘a warm time and space’ to the world through Bizen ware.” So maybe it can be the core of Bizen.

After the lecture of introduction of Bizen, I think it is a pity to waste a lot of Bizen ware. The ruins of Bizen ware fragment also affect land utilization. After research I think the color and the trace of fire is the symbolic value of Bizen ware. So we can repair these containers’ life. So far, I just think one way to recycling is that collect the fragment and turn it to be the decoration of wall. Except sculpture, wall is another way to attract people’s attention without affecting residents’ daily life. Ceramic has become the material of mosaic for a long history. We can combine mosaic wall and wall painting to express the color of fire and earth, and the concept of warmth and “Wabi Sabi”. So I did some experiment according to the logo of Bizen ware. Expect it, I think Japanese traditional imagoes are very suitable to add immortal elements and reserve the antique flavor of Bizen.


Sculpture of imagoes of immortals can also be created and put in a conspicuous location. These are wenna’s sculptures.

Wenna, sculpture of Immortals

Plan 2 -- Integrate Bizen ware into nature 1

I am interested in earth art. It may suit for Bizen’s natural environment and Bizen ware’s simple beauty. Many of the creating materials are taken directly from the natural environment, such as earth, rocks, organic materials, and water. Especially Echigo-Tsumari Art Field attract lots of artists to explore the relationship of nature and human and also promote local tourism further. Bizen ware is an object bring nature to people’s life. I am wondering how integrate Bizen ware into nature.

Example of earth art

I observed that both Bizen and Jingdezhen inlay waste ware on walls to save building material and also for display and decoration. I think we do not need to build a museum and invite people into interior environment to visit. We can put pottery museum in nature -- build an display wall on two side of the river or pathway in the natural environment. Because of the earthy colors and austere simplicity of Bizen wares, it is very easy to integrate into nature to create beauty of artistic conception.

Plan 3 — Integrate Bizen ware into nature 2

Another way to integrate Bizen ware into nature is that put a support in river and immerse in below water level, then put Bizen ware on the support. It seems like floating in the river. We can decide and change the shape of container according to the reflection of water. For example, it can be bowls in river and we can put light in the bowl. During nights the light reflects in the water, it can be a great scenery that can come into people’s contemplation and meditation. But Japan has a tradition custom Toro Nagashi. I am not sure if it is suitable, maybe it will offend local customs. If so we can choose other shapes and we can change the arrangement of ware.

Besides, we can add candlelight in the ware or self-luminous material on the surface, making them look different between day and night. Luminous material absorbs natural light during the day and then emits light in the night. In the process of the transition from day to night, the light changes gradually. When can use soft material, when the wind blows they will sway gently with the glimmer like firefly. Also, we can show the process of pottery making, show the process how the clay becomes a delicate ware and arrange them in a curved line and have ups and downs in the river.

Plan 4 — Image publicity of Bizen

Actually, I learned that Bizen is near Setouchi which has a famous Setouchi art festival, but I was wondering why it cannot drive Bizen’s growth of economy and tourism industry. Because of language limitation, I cannot research a lot about it.

Because I am not very familiar with Bizen’s situation now, I will gain experience from the successful works about Jingdezhen and then reflect on Bizen’s situation. These are the graphic design works about Jingdezhen from my teacher in BA. Maybe we can design some posters for Bizen’s city image and post in Bizen railway station or other city to increase public attention. But it is a very traditional advertising way, Internet and social media are more effective because its audiences are the people all over the world. To my surprise, there is a documentary called China’s most traditional technique of porcelain attracted people’s attention in Facebook. It was watched 7,280,000 times in 3 months, many people commented on the below that they are curious about this city. It is very strange because actually seldom people in China know this documentary. I am not sure it is because the video platform or different focus of attention in different country.

Reference and resource

Documentary: China’s most traditional technique of porcelain available at

Jackson Li, the introduction of Sanbao village available at

The introduction of Sanbaopeng art museum available at

The history of Bizen ware’s fall from grace with the advent of “kirei-sabi” available at

Bizen official website available at

Izuru Seitou’s works available at

Bizen ware online selling available at

#craft #ceramics #pottery #Bizen #Bizenware #city #Jingdezhen #tradition #handicraft #comparison

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