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Iga Ware: The art of fire

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Iga, in Mie prefecture next to Shiga prefecture, is placed near Kyoto and Nara where once the center of Japan.

Iga ware’s origin is called “Sueki”, unglazed ceramic ware baked in kilns, and it dates back to 7th to 8th century. Written documents suggests ancient people used Sueki as seed keeper and later tiles for roofs.

During medieval periods, Iga Ware developed its uniqueness. Since the location is near Biwa Lake, the pottery first looked similar to Shigaraki Ware.

In Momoyama period (1568-1598), natural glazing was utilized and some artisans tried to pursue their ways. As results, Iga Ware established its own style of natural glazing and burned skins in addition to the noisy surface.

The art was adopted to create flower vases and a lot of tea utensils such as water pods. It even developed three major factions, Tsutsui Iga, Todo-uji Iga, and Onshu Iga.

In the middle of Edo period (1603-1867), glazing technique was brought in by inviting artisans from Kyoto and Seto, and another innovation, called “Saiko Iga (restoration of Iga Ware) occurred.

After this historical incident, artisans started to create daily tableware such as plates and bowls, and even casseroles and pipkins, instead of tea utensils.

The form of Iga Ware is not delicate and sensible, at least at the first look, with unevenness and thickness.

However, deformation during firing gives unique looks in their colors and the surfaces with unintended glass-like shiny parts and burnings.

This unintentional beauty is the attraction of Iga Ware, and it can exactly be called the art of fire.

Iga Ware was designated as Traditional Craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 1982.


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