Asahiyaki and the famous Enshû's seven kilns
What do the first ladies and gentlemen present at G20 in Osaka, major French luxury brands and the palaces of Kyoto have in common? Refined ceramics; Uji pottery and porcelain. Going by the name “Asahiyaki”, the ceramics are handmade in limited quantities on the banks of the Ujigawa River.
The history of Asahiyaki ceramics began over 400 years ago in Uji city, Kyoto prefecture; at the foot of the mountain of the rising sun, known as “Asahiyama” in Japanese. It was a pivotal period for Japanese ceramics, linked to the art of tea, contemporary with the master “Sen no Rikyū”; an iconic and essential figure of the tea ceremony in Japan.
Chosen by the disciple of Sen no Rikyū; the master Kobori Enshu, as one of the "famous Enshû's seven kilns"
Uji is not only the place of origin of Asahiyaki ceramics, it is also the capital of green tea in the land of the rising sun. 800 years ago, when the Zen monks brought the first green tea seeds from China to the Kyoto region, Uji was the ideal place to set up the first major tea leaves productions in Japan. 400 years later, tea is an integral part of Japanese culture; Uji its capital. Sen no Rikyû developed the "chanoyu" or "sado", the famous tea ceremony. It was then that the first grand master ceramicist Tosaku I established the first kiln which would be used for the development of luxurious Asahiyaki ceramics. With an extraordinary know-how, these porcelains and ceramics form an integral part of the "chanoyu". They will then be chosen by the disciple of Sen no Rikyū, the master Kobori Enshu, as part of the "famous Enshû's seven kilns", namely the absolute utensils in the arts related to tea in the Japanese archipelago.
A unique know-how passed down for 16 generations.
This unique know-how of the Japanese art of ceramics has been passed down from generation to generation and nowadays, the Asahiyaki factory is managed by two brothers; descendants directly from the master Tosaku I. Mister Toshiyuki Matsubayashi occupies the position of manager, while Mister Hosai Matsubayashi XVI continues to pursue the art of creating perfection in the making of Asahiyaki ceramics. His works, renowned throughout the world of Japanese porcelain, have been exhibited throughout Japan, the United Kingdom and France. Unique and special techniques have been kept within the family, passed down with passion for 16 generations, remaining exclusively to the works of Asahiyaki. This recognition has manifested itself on great occasions, such as G20 Osaka 2019, where the official gifts for the First Ladies and gentlemen were beautiful pieces of porcelain from Asahiyaki. We can no longer count their collaborations with major luxury brands, and can often find the Japanese dishes in 5-star hotels in Kyoto.
An iconic work by Ashiyaki, the "benikase" matcha tea bowl
Some of their works like the matcha tea bowls
which means "the deer spine " are exclusive and do not exist elsewhere. They are the result of a mixture of Uji clay aged for over 50 years, and local Japanese clay. This particular combination of clays allows the appearance of patterns during the cooking process, which resemble the backs of Sika deer that inhabit the Japanese mountains. Each Benikase bowl is unique, as the patterns and colors appear randomly depending on the baking process. As a result, there is no similar one either in terms of color, or arrangements of patterns. Speaking of baking, Asahiyaki fire their ceramics two types of kiln; one being conventional gas, while the “noborigama” kiln is in service only once or twice a year. This type of furnace has four stages and is permanently fed with wood, which gives unexpected results to the ceramics linked to this particular firing. It is said that these consequences are the doing of spirits that live inside the kiln.
The noborigama, a wood-fired oven in use only once a year.
To learn more about the “Noborigama”, as well as the ceramics and porcelains of Asahiyaki, Unjapan invites you to watch the interview with Mr Toshiyuki Matsubayashi, who has exclusively opened its doors to us during the annual start-up of this kiln.
The interview with Mr. Matsubayashi can be viewed here (Activate subtitles in the Youtube player)