The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi is centered around a reverence for the imperfect and the transient, or a meditation upon the unique characteristics of an object. Bizen-yaki, believed to be the oldest form of pottery-making in Japan, embodies wabi-sabi to the Nth degree.
Design and housewares studio Asemi Co. applies traditional Bizen-yaki production to contemporary forms — namely, simple, stackable cups. The series is the product of a process so labor-intensive that local studios fire their kilns just twice a year, yielding approximately 200 pieces annually, each unique unto itself.
And this is how it's happening:
First artisan collects the raw material from different hills and rice paddies in the Okayama area. After the soil is crushed and the clay is prepared , the water is being filtered out.
Several months later Kiko Ando - the artisan behind the Asemi Co. brings the clay into shapes by hands on a potters wheel. Marked by mottled patches of gray, brick red and rust, Bizen-yaki is smooth, slightly pitted and left unglazed. Yet it’s process, not the iron-rich clay collected from Japan’s Okayama region, that wields the greatest influence over the earthenware’s ultimate appearance. Straw is used as a spacer between stacked pieces in the kiln, imparting red and brown regions when burned away; gray spots result from surrounding the stacked pottery with charcoal, which produces ash and slows oxidation of the clay in the kiln.
The preparation of firing wood is very essential. The amount of wood needed depends on the outside temperature. A lot of wood is needed for to fire the kiln for one week straight. It is neatly packed for quick access.
The temperature inside the kiln has to rise above 1000 ˚C .
For one week Ando adds new firing wood every 5-10 minutes.
After the firing the kiln has to cool down, which takes almost a week. When it cooled down the pieces are carefully taking out one by one.
The reason why Bizen-Yaki cups being limited to 100 pieces per size every 6 months is their aesthetics called "Sangiri". It requires a special location in the kiln which allows to pour ash on the cups during the firing process. This area is very small allowing only these 100 pieces being located there.
Taking out the workpieces again takes several days. They will all be checked for leaks. Faulty and out of shape pieces will be sorted out.
Surfaces that are too rough have to be ground. The bottom has to be flat so the vessels stand properly.
After a lot of hard work, finally these masterpieces are finished.
Then they are shipped to Tokyo where they are packed into a signature packaging, sealed and marked with the seasonal stamp and given a unique number each.
The result is a series that’s perfectly imperfect, covetable but not precious, designed for everyday use — and especially conducive to zoning out while sipping coffee on slow mornings.