Bizen ware is made in Western Japan, near Okayama, and is one of the most popular styles of Japanese ceramics. We have several Bizen vases, cups and tokkuri for enjoying sake and shochu at home. Their dark, rugged countours and substantial heft work well with autumn and winter dishes, imparting a sense of warmth to the diner.
Bizen's beauty comes from the clay, which can range from red to dark brown. It is unique in that throughout its history, no glaze was ever used for decoration. Instead, during the firing process, the temperature was skillfully manipulated by alternately stoking the fire and allowing it to cool. This produced variations on the color or the clay, and was called higawari, or "fire changing". This difficult technique was lost at one time, and pieces made during the Edo area have a uniform color and character that seems more utilitarian than artful. Higawari was finally resurrected in the 20th century by a handful of talented and determined potters after a lengthy process of trial and error.
The potters use a soft wood, such as pine, which also produces a fine, soft ash. This light ash gets caught in the drafts of the fire and settles upon the pottery to create a kind of light glaze. In some cases, the ash produces dark spots that fall in random, attractive patterns on the surface. These are called Bizen goma, after the sesame seed-like pattern that results.