Bizen Shallot Flask
Item number: T-3244
Size: H 11" x D 6.5" (28 x 16.5 cm)
Era: Momoyama-early Edo Period
Bizen ware; stoneware Like the Shigaraki kiln, Bizen kilns have an early origin in Japan’s ceramic history, going back to at least the 12th century. Bizen became famous for its unusual clay, which has a high iron content and needs to be fired for a longer time than others. The resulting stoneware is easily identified: the color is reddish-brown, the surface is glossy, and the burning marks are more pronounced than in the pottery of other kilns. Due to the ease in creating various burn marks, the potters of the area became adept at producing them, by for example wrapping objects in straw or seaweed or by placing objects close to another during firing, resulting in interesting surface patterns. This particular flask is no exception and features a lively surface action, including a number of mineral inclusions, starbursts, cracking, traces of natural ash, and various burn marks. It is heavy with a low center of gravity and the surface color ranges from red and dark brown to olive green. Whereas the elegantly formed neck and mouth show traces of the potter’s wheel, the rest of the flask surface has a rough and scarred flavor. The bottom of the flask reveals a potter’s mark, a common feature in early Bizen area vessels: as the firing of Bizen clay was a lengthy and costly affair, the kilns were communal and were typically fired only twice a year. Due to the large number of objects and potters, each potter left special marks on their vessels to distinguish their works. Much research has been done to link certain marks to specific periods and potters.1 This kind of Bizen flask is called rakkyō, or shallot, due to its shape. Shallot flasks were used for sake and were popular in the early 17th century and a number of similar examples are extant.2 In fact, there are more examples of sake flasks from Bizen than from any other kiln of the time. This is partly because the Bizen kilns were blessed with an excellent transportation system: based close to the Seto Inland Sea, the objects were easily transported by boat widely across the coasts of Japan. Furthermore, the smooth surface of the objects, the relative heaviness of the clay, and the high firing and density of the clay were all factors contributing to their popularity. The surface and clay features also kept the sake from seeping out through the clay, a fact that was not lost on the sake-lovers of the time.