Bizen Pottery, also known as Bizen Ware or Bizen-yaki, is a prominent and long-standing ceramic tradition in Japan that has been produced in Imbe – Bizen Pottery Village for nearly 1,000 years.
We love Japanese ceramics and porcelain and have visited well-known ceramics towns such as Arita, Kaga, and Yomitan Pottery Village in Japan. While Nami has a preference for colorful Japanese porcelain, I have always been drawn to the earthy and rustic beauty of Bizen Ware (aka Bizen Pottery, Bizen-yaki). Ever since we received a few Bizen Ware cups as a gift many years ago, I have been captivated by their charm and had always desired to visit Bizen Pottery Village.
When we planned our trip to Okayama and discovered that Bizen Ware is created in the nearby town of Imbe, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore Bizen Pottery Village..
What is Bizen Ware
Bizen Ware is a rustic pottery with an elegant and noble quality made in the Bizen area (Okayama Prefecture) with a reddish and brownish color. What sets them apart from other Japanese ceramics is they are fire unglazed and fueled by pine wood for a duration of 8 to 20 days. The temperature of the kiln reaches as high as 2282ºF (1250ºC) and the pottery becomes naturally glazed with pine ash.
Depending on the placement of the pottery within the kiln during the firing process, three distinct types of Bizen Ware patterns emerge:
- Sangari – Pottery located on the kiln’s floor, shielded from flames and ash, resulting in blue and grey colors.
- Hidasuki – Rice straw-wrapped pottery resulting in red streaks.
- Gomma – Pine wood ash landing on pottery inside the kiln resulting in sprinkled sesame look on the pottery.
Click here to learn more about how Bizen pottery is created from clay through the firing process.
Bizen Ware possesses a substantial and thick feel, setting it apart from most Japanese pottery. Each finished piece is slightly different from the coloring to the finish, reflecting the beauty of individualism. As it’s used over time, the color and texture continue to change as if it’s a living product.
History of Bizen Ware
This traditional Japanese craft started almost 1,000 years ago during the Kamakura period (1185-1338). Prior to that time during the Heian period (794-1185), pottery was mostly used by the wealthy and for religious purposes. The design tends to have thin walls and delicate features.
Starting the Kamakura period, ceramics trends started changing and became designed for daily use. Over the next 300 years, Bizen Ware became one of the most popular ceramics in Japan due to its durability and water-preserving qualities. It continue to flourish into the 16th century but the craft nearly disappeared as porcelain became the more popular ceramic, as well as Japan’s westernization influence the mid-1,800s.
After WWII, Kaneshige Toyo and other masters of Bizen Wares’ revival efforts allow it to prosper again.
Imbe – Bizen Pottery Village
Though known Bizen pottery, most of the kiln and pottery shops that produce the pottery are located in Imbe.
Imbe is about a 1-hour train ride from Okayama Station to Imbe Station on JR Ako Line. Adjacent to Imbe Station stands the Bizen Pottery Museum, which unfortunately was closed for remodeling in May 2023 and is scheduled to reopen in April 2025.
The museum offers insights into the history of Bizen ware and exhibits works by renowned artists, including Japan’s living national treasures.
Across from the train station lies an area housing numerous Bizen Ware pottery workshops and ceramic shops. These establishments can be easily spotted with their red brick chimneys dotting the landscape.
A short walk from the station will lead you to these stores, where each offers a unique selection of pottery crafted by skilled artisans. We thoroughly enjoyed browsing through the many shops, exploring their bowls, vases, and plates.
Some of the stores also provide visitors with the opportunity to experience pottery-making firsthand through pottery classes and workshops.
Historic Tempo Kiln
Towards the back of the Pottery Village is the historic Tempo Kiln. During the peak of Bizen Ware in the late 1500s, the kilns were as large as 150 feet long (50 meters). Although these large kilns have vanished, stone pillars now mark their locations.
During the Tempo period (1830-1843), smaller kilns built to improve efficiency and decrease the number of days required to fire. Several of these kilns were built, and one such kiln, the historic Tempo Kiln, remained in use until the 1940s. While the Tempo kiln has largely decayed over time, the local Bizen ware society is actively involved in its preservation.
Futaba Shokudo Restaurant
There are not many dining choices in Imbe and we ate at Futaba Shokudo near the station. It’s a Japanese diner offering classic Japanese diner food. They include yaki-udon, okonomiyaki, and various stir-fry over rice.
If you have an interest in delving deeper into the world of Bizen pottery or exploring the artisan shops, we highly recommend visiting Imbe when you’re in the Okayama area. Additionally, there is an annual Bizen-yaki festival held in October, during which potters offer their works at discounted prices.
Lastly, if you find yourself with spare time while at Imbe train station, be sure to explore the large gallery showcasing works from nearby kilns.