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 Mountain bowl
New Acquisitions: 2016

"Mountain bowl"

Elderly men from pottery-making regions in central Japan—including Sanage, Seto, and Tokoname—used to tell of playing as children on the forested hillsides and finding stacks of gray, unglazed pottery bowls in the underbrush. Such bowls became toys. Widely known as “mountain bowls” (yamajawan), they had been made throughout the region from the late eleventh century until the end of the thirteenth century.

In the 1950s, vigorous construction of roads, railroads, and other regional infrastructure disrupted the landscape, giving archaeologists an opportunity to investigate these hillsides. The piles of plain gray bowls, they discovered, marked forgotten kiln sites. Most notably, they found that the oldest kilns had produced Sanage ware, a newly identified stoneware now understood as the predecessor to Seto ware and the earliest Japanese ceramic to bear intentionally applied glaze. The best Sanage wares (based on Chinese green-glazed Yue ware) were made to order for Heijo Palace in Nara.

Meanwhile, quickly made bowls such as this one supplied local markets. They were thrown on a wheel, and a coil of clay was pressed onto the flat base to make a footrim (rank 3). Unglazed, they could be stacked in piles for efficient firing. This bowl retains traces of the bowls that were stacked above and below it. Sometimes, as with this example, the hot draught carried burning wood ash through the kiln and deposited it onto the stacked bowls, creating an accidental glaze.

This bowl made its way from a hillside to the antiquities market, probably in the 1950s. Its wooden box is inscribed “Old Tokoname / Kamakura [period]… yamazara [mountain dish]” (rank 4). Perhaps the attribution to the Tokoname kilns, the largest and most prolific production center for unglazed stoneware jars in Japan, indicates precise knowledge of the find site.

The bowl is a welcome addition to the Freer Gallery’s major collection of ceramics from Seto, Mino, and associated kiln areas. It will become part of the forthcoming revised, digital edition of the 1992 book Seto and Mino Ceramics.

Tokoname, Seto, or Sanage ware
Japan, Aichi Prefecture, Kamakura period, 12th century
Stoneware with traces of natural ash glaze
H x D: 5.3 × 15.7 cm
Gift of Pamela and Carl Green

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