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.
To ensure proper vitrification of Bizen’s sticky, mineral-rich local clay, wood-burning kilns must maintain a temperature of over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit for one to two full weeks, sustained by adding logs to the fire every five to 10 minutes around the clock for the duration of the firing period.
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 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.