Dr. Takashi Taniichi

Zen & Be-zen Exhibition
A Tsuchigama(earthen kiln) project presentation at the Sogenji Temple

In medieval Bizen region the kilns were of tunnel like straight single chamber using hillside slope, different from contemporary multi chamber rising kilns. Such a structure was originaly introduced by Koreans during the early 5th century. In contrast to calling sub-terrain kilns as “floating kiln”, these kilns half under ground are called “sunken kilns”. In ancient days, the ceiling and the wall were made mostly of clay with “Susa” or chopped grass fibers, while medieval kilns were made just with clay and some stone pieces at the front opening to start firing. The major difference of the medieval kilns from today’s kilns is that the former used just clay and the latter sun baked bricks or firebricks. Key characteristics of the medieval Tsuchigama are: 1. Had no chimneys, 2. The floor on hillside, gradually rising, and 3. Applied the dirt from the very spot where the kiln is built.

A kiln was made by covering hillside trench, arched with twigs and bamboos found locally, then covered by clay also found nearby, thus half of the kiln is buried in ground and the top half above the ground level, with a single chamber. The medieval kilns were made wherever people could find pottery clay and trees and bushes for fuel.

From May to August, 2015 Bizen artists Tadashi Hirakawa and Yukiko Akai upon request by Chris Powell, Asst. Prof. and a ceramic artist , Texas Christian University, Fortworth TX, recreated a medieval style Tsuchigama in De Queen, AK. They then produced potteries and art objects using the kiln. The Caddo tribe who inhabited the region where Texas, Oklahoma and Arkasas state borders meet, used to make earthenware. Hirakawa and his party studied the region soil and found thirteen different clay type . Locally found clay was then used to create new works. They insisted to use local trees to form the ceiling and the wall.

After the kiln was formed the inside wall was baked empty at 1000 degrees C, a la terra cotta. Bamboo framework forming the arch was burnt off and the wall was baked hard, to make the wall strong enough to function as a kiln. The team preferred to use oak and pine wood fallen by storms and discarded material to be eco friendly. Prior to return home the team held symposiums on Tsuchigama concept, exchanged information with a number of museums and colleges, presenting their accomplishments at exhibitions.

It should be noted that Hirakawa had managed a reproduction project of “Tokushu Kidai “ a terra cotta objects found in megalithic tombs dating back to the second century, believed used in ceremonial purposes. The project, supported by funding from the Fukutake Education and Culture Foundation and by the Marusen Sports and Culture Foundation, was carried out from May to November, 2014. Kidai is the name for terra cotta object found in Kibi and surrounding areas believed to be used exclusively for ceremonies to honor tombs built during late Yayoi period. Kidai is a tubular terra cotta object featuring triangle and “Tomoe” or swirl shape cut outs as well as woven string band design decorating the body. Placed on upper part of the body tube is a mouth ring or band, and the body section is placed on the base stand. A decorative pot with ornamental bands with open bottom (not functional as a vase), is put on top of the Kidai pieces and offered to the tomb altar. In a semi air tight field kiln, the project team recreated a Tachizaka type Kidai originally unearthed in Tatetsuki tomb in Kurashiki City, archived at the Okayama Univ. Archeology Center. Also recreated were Mukohkimi Kidai excavated at Nishie ruin in Niimi City, which is a collection of Department of Archeology, Okayama University and another Kidai with a vase from the Miyayama ruin in Soja City owned by the Okayama Prefectural Museum. Thus the project proved the Bizen ware root is in this region during the Yayoi Period.

Region. Bizen, one of the so called “ six medieval wares”, is also called Inbe(in-beh) or Kagato (also pronounced kagatsu). All these were named after haciendas ruled by local lords. The terra cotta technique was inherited from kilns in Oku district. In late Heian period, blue grayish Bizen were made in reduction firings. Cups, bowls, pots and roof tiles were made for consumption only in Kyoto and Osaka area. By mid Kamakura Period, firing temperature was higher as seen in black/grey cups, pots, mortar and large pots. Excavations show that they were used in Kyoto, Osaka as well as in Kamakura. The period was when Zen Buddhism spread from Kyoto to Kamakura.

The exhibition, Zen and Be-zen, held at the renowned Sogenji Zen Temple, intended to recollect the encounter of Zen by Bizen ware and attempted to trace a linkage between the two, a great effort encouraging thoughts about what the relationship may develop into in future generations. We believe it was the very first exhibition focused on merging of Zen philosophy toward exquisiteness and the appealing originality possessed by Bizen ware. We will be most pleased if a much wider general public would find this exhibition report and the photographs stimulating to recognize the origin of a profound expression of an art and its potential in future development.

Takashi Taniichi
Director, Hayashibara Art Museum
Vice President Sanyo Gakuen University