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Baizan Kiln -Oldest Kiln For Tobe Ware

by KaunAyano
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Baizan Gama(Baizan Kiln), is the oldest Kiln that crafts Tobe ware in hundreds of years, and they’re doing business not only inside Japan but worldwide. It is surrounded by the beautiful mountains with lots of woods and its nature and their signature, Tobe ware, is designated as a national and traditional craft object. I’d like to invite you to dive deep into their history of how they’ve established the most famous & historical Kiln for Tobe ware today, and couple of fun story behind it.

History of Baizan Kiln

Baizan Kiln is established back in 1882, over130 years they’ve been crafting Tobe ware based on their concept “the Use & the Beauty”, to make it a craft ware that is more lively in our daily life and also very useful. This concept has created Tobe ware to be a little more thicker and rounder than the most craft wares are usually made, so that we can still treat them suitable to a daily use.

With the heat resistance, it can be even used in the dishwashers or in the microwave, which I believe this is one of the huge necessity for most of the households nowadays. Easy to take care of, but not to break easily. Although after Baizan Kiln was established, they had been through their own rocky road until today to become such unique famous kiln as it is often called “when it comes to Tobe ware, Baizan Kiln is go-to”. Let’s dive in more!

The Turning Point

After the Pacific War, people had poured so much energy into revival. Yet, Tobe ware wasn’t developed enough to spread its name all over the country so the prefecture governor at that time asked his friend from college named Shoetsu Yanagi (hereafter Yanagi), who was a founder of the Mingei (folk craft) movement to visit Baizan Kiln and do some observations. Yanagi and his comrade, Bernard H Leach visited the kiln for the very first time in 1953, and they could hardly hide their astonishment when they’d witnessed the process of how Tobe ware was actually made.

Back then, most people had believed that handmade crafting is nothing but the burden of its effective development but at Baizan Kiln, they’re still hand crafting them all. Yanagi was then confident enough that Tobe ware has high potential to revive. After their visit, several of his comrades from the Mingei movement who had become Living National Treasure later on, had visited Tobe district and started providing guidances. Once Yanagi found Tobe ware’s potential, he sent one of his disciple named Shigeo Suzuki (hereafter Suzuki) who developed most of the basic designs that is known as Tobe ware today, directly to Baizan Kiln to give lectures and improve potters’ skills more.

The Baizan Trio

There’re famous three men that are known as “The Baizan trio” whom had most influenced by Suzuki’s teaching. Their names are Shouji Kudou (hereafter Kudou), Atsushi Sawada (hereafter Sawada), and Setsuo Iwahashi (hereafter Iwahashi). It was during their early 20’s that Suzuki came to give them more guidance. Except Iwahashi, Kudou and Sawada were from different prefectures, Kudou was from Aomori prefecture which is northern part of Japan, and Sawada was from Kyoto prefecture which is the former capital of Japan that are vividly affected by its unique western culture.

As you can tell, they’d had or learned different tastes in arts but they needed to immerse their perspectives into something that is more fitting to Baizan Kiln style. Kudou was the one who came up with Tobe ware’s famous arabesque patterns, who was very talented for the designs. This mingle and struggle between the great teacher and his 3 young potters with a promising future was exactly how Tobe ware’s shape/thickness/colors/durableness were constructed. Now that the trio had passed away, Baizan Kiln is dedicating to continue protecting and passing down the Baizan trio’s ideas, hard works, creations and keep their passion alive. Which I strongly felt that those are the reason why it makes handcrafted pottery so valuable especially in this consumer society we live in.

Fun Story Behind Kurawanka Series

One of the signature Tobe ware that Baizan Kiln crafts is called “Kurawanka”. Kurawanka is a western dialect meaning, “would you like to eat?”.

Back then, most of the transportations were by the bigger ship on the river, so the small boats that serve food like vendors come close to the ships and in their western dialect, they used to call out “Kurawanka?” to the potentially hungry people. Needless to say, they were serving their food to people to dine in on their little rocky boats which the food needed to be stabilized. And for that reason, the plates & bowls were required to have thick and a bit higher at the bottom so it won’t spill. This is the story of how this series that is in the picture above were made.

I guarantee now that every time you eat food using this series, you cannot resist imagining the boat approaching to you and say, “Kurawanka?”.

Knowing the history or story behind the kiln and each crafts will give you an absolute change on the outlook of how you use or treat your favorite table wares at home. Lots of time and energy with countless errors & struggles, had been spent on each and every one of creations to be developed and established today. Wouldn’t it be nice to slow down, take a moment to have a meal with these craftsman’s life art work with your loved ones sometimes.

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