The origins of Hagi ware with the official kiln of the Mōri clan

Hagi is a quaint town situated in Yamaguchi Prefecture on the Japan Sea. The history of Hagi, as one of the most famous pottery areas in Japan, originates back in approximately 400 years ago. It was around the same time when the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by shogun) was established in 1604. The local feudal lord of Hagi area at the time, Terumoto Mouri, had appointed potters in a castle town of Matsumoto (Hagi city in present time) in order to ensure Hagi wares for his personal use and as gifts. The potters in Matsumoto steadily increased their production so that more kilns were established in Fukagawa territory (Nagato city in present time) during the mid 17th century. The active production of Hagi ware continued throughout the Edo era. However, due to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the potters employed by the Lord Mouri were dismissed thus starting their own independent businesses. Gradually, with the flow of the times, more kilns were built outside of Hagi area such as in Miyano area of Yamaguchi city and also in other parts of the southwest region of Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Hagi ware (萩焼, Hagi-yaki) is a type of Japanese pottery traditionally originated from the town of Hagi, Yamaguchi, in the former Nagato Province. I visited this winter and its not quite easy to arrive there. Master Seigan came to pick me up at Nagato-Oi station, & as i use to collect his works around winter when holidays comes you can breathe the true atmosphere of Samurai era. The history of Hagi ware began when an official kiln for the exclusive use of the Chōshū clan (Hagi clan) was established to utilize the techniques brought to Japan by potters such as Yi Chak-kwang (Japanese: Li Shakkō). These potters came from Korea to work in Japan after the Mōri clan relocated to Hagi in 1604. The kiln was made in the Nakanokura section of Matsumoto village, to the east of Hagi Castle (where the Sakakōrai Zaemon workshop is located today in Hagi´s Chintō district). Hagi Ware would later be called Matsumoto ware (or Matsumoto Hagi) after another official Hagi kiln was established at Fukawa. When we talk about Hagi we need to return in the early 17th century with the introduction of potters brought back from Japanese invasions of Korea. The local daimyo of the time were very interested in tea ceremony and funded production of this ware. Potters mix different types of local clay. The most standard result is a pink-orange color, called Korean clay. Wares are formed on the wheel and decorated with translucent glaze made of feldspar and ash. The signature chip located on the bottom is a local tradition from the Edo period when potters would deliberately mark their wares in order to sell them to merchants instead of presenting them as gifts to the Mori clan. I like  natural glaze cracks, a kind of art that it was made during Meiji Period and is 120 years old. If you visit the Sakakōrai Zaemon workshop, you can still feel the sense the solemnity of the former official kiln used during Japan's feudal period. If u take a look to the Ruins Section we have some special work Saka Kōraizaemon in terms to understand what i talking about.


Clay used for Hagi ware

The traditional clay used for Hagi ware is soft and airy, which is one of the features of Hagi tea ceramics. The clay is a mixture and blend of three main raw clays (Daidō clay, Mitake clay, and Mishima clay) with the synergetic effect between the clay and the glaze. At times, local clay found near the kilns of Matsumoto or Fukawa is also used for the blending to suit production needs. 

JAPANESE connoisseurs have an old saying: ''One, Raku; two, Hagi; three, Karatsu.'' They have long ranked the most precious ceramic wares made for the tea ceremony in this order. The charms of Hagi ware's rough clay and rich, pockmarked surfaces, laced with cracks in the glaze, take on character and deeper tones with age and use. Its blushing, soft reddish and creamy white glazes, displaying the voluptuous warmth of living flesh, are often described in feminine terms. (Raku, known for the assymetrical, hand-built, low-fired tea bowls in a bold, direct and ''masculine'' style, is said to have been originated by Japan's most famous tea master, Sen no Rikyu, who died in 1591. Karatsu ware transmits a tradition, originally Korean, of freehand painting in dark-brown underglaze iron on a sandy-brown body.) Before you set out to see today's Hagi-yaki (Hagi ware) in and around this port city about 60 miles west of Hiroshima, you should first look at some Old Hagi ware (defined as pre-1770) and the Korean rice bowls that formed the base of its tradition. A good place to do this is at the Ishii Chawan Bijutsukan (Ishii Tea Bowl Museum) in the Minami Furuhagi-machi section (open from 9 to 11:30 A.M. and 1 to 5 P.M.; closed Tuesday and the month of January; admission about $2.40; telephone 2-1211). A visit there will give you an idea of Hagi ware's history and also some standards by which to evaluate the work of contemporary potters.

The cult of the tea ceremony, developed in Japan during the 15th and 16th centuries from its origins in Chinese Ch'an Buddhist temples, reached its zenith at the end of the 16th century. Until that time, tea masters had chosen the bowls they used in the ceremony primarily from imported Chinese, Southeast Asian and Korean ceramics that had made their way to Japan by way of often roundabout trade routes. Sen no Rikyu valued the roughness and irregularity of Korean pottery, and developed the esthetic of wabi cha - the tea of subdued simplicity - under the patronage of the military dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his predecessor, Oda Nobunaga. The earthy bowls so admired by Japanese connoisseurs were originally made for eating rice and for dedicating foods at Buddhist temples. In Japan, the preparation and serving of powdered green tea by an accomplished host came to be known as the tea ceremony.

Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597 created opportunities for more direct contact with Korean ceramics. Warrior-lords brought skilled potters from Korea and established seven kilns, including Hagi, in Japan's western provinces. Hideyoshi himself ordered Hagi lord Mori Terumoto to bring back two famous potters, Yi Sukkwang and Yi Kyung. They and a number of other potters accompanied Terumoto to Hagi in 1604. Terumoto had the Yi brothers establish kilns in Hagi and nearby Nagato, and also revived some of the older kilns that had fallen into disuse. Although pottery had been made in Hagi for many centuries, it was not until this time that Hagi-yaki blossomed and achieved the prominence it retains today (to the tune of $25,000 for a tea bowl by Hagi's Living National Treasure, Miwa Kyusetsu).

Recently moved to its present location in Minami-Furuhagi-machi, the Ishii Tea Bowl Museum is now in one room of Mr. Ishii's stucco cottage. His collection of about 300 pieces, of which 138 are on view, include Korean bowls of the Koryo (916-1392) and Yi (1392-1910 dynasties and Old Hagi tea bowls.

The Korean pieces, on the right side of the room, are breathtaking. A deep, rounded bowl for altar dedications features the pink-blushed spots (due to iron in the clay), known as momiji or maple leaves, that became characteristic of Hagi's pottery. Smoky brown shadows cloud another bowl originally glazed white. But when transposed from Korea to Japan, it is the rough, gritty reddish bowls, known as Ido chawan, that become the most highly prized type of Hagi ware. These bowls are characterized by walls that retain the stepped planes left by working the bowl on the potter's wheel and the high ''foot'' ringed with pockmarks.