Oriental China - Bizen or Imbe
( Originally Published 1911 )
THE chief objects made at Bizen were vases, incense-burners, and numerous figures of animals and persons. Amongst the last are found a number of mythical divinities illustrating the two religions of Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism, especially the latter. Before me, as I write, is a good specimen of old Bizen. It is the figure of Hotei, the god of Contentment. Brown glazed ware with a paste of fine, hard red clay. He is standing on a wind-bag with his dress open to his waist, and his laugh is typical of the wonderful facial expression often to be found in Oriental figures. The pottery of Bizen was made at a very early date, but the early specimens were of a coarse, gritty red paste with no glaze, and only common articles were made. Then, in the sixteenth century, more attention was paid to the preparation of the clay, and Chinese copies were imitated. The most valued pieces of this old Bizen are those stamped with a new moon or a cherry blossom. A century later a white-brown paste, fine and nearly as hard as porcelain, was used largely for figures. This was followed by the use of the red clay. It is interesting to notice the glaze applied to this kind of Bizen. The figure of Hotei illustrates this unique bronzing, as it were. The colour and metallic lustre are so good that the figure has often been mistaken for bronze. Choice specimens are to be found with salt glazes, brown, grey, and white, and of these the last is rarest. One other peculiarity of all Bizen is that the glaze is absorbed into the paste ; this is said to be due to continued firing. When struck the pieces ring very clearly, whilst the modern production has a dead, dull sound. The Bizen pottery of our own time is degenerate. The monstrosities to be found in curiosity shops are neither artistic nor interesting.