The Eternal Life of Banko-yaki Ceramics
Eternity. Constancy. These are difficult achievements to come by in the world of ceramics - clay’s fragile nature practically demands an errant elbow eventually turn a masterpiece into shards. But eternity and constancy were exactly what Nunami Rouzan envisioned when he created his first set of ceramic pieces. As a powerful 18th century merchant and avid teaware collector, Rouzan sought pieces that he could pass on to his heirs, and they, in turn, could pass onto their heirs, on and on through the generations. As the story goes, he placed a seal with the words bankofueki onto the commissioned pieces, bestowing the concept of “eternity, constancy” onto a new ceramic form. Ever since, Banko-yaki ceramics have become a symbol of rustic, enduring craftsmanship that withstands the styles and commotion of the passing years.
When Rouzan passed away, the production of Banko-yaki slowed to a crawl and became practically extinct. But with the rise of tea culture during the Meiji period, the interest in the rustic, Banko-yaki style once again increased among collectors. Banko-yaki earthenware teapots especially experienced a strong following among tea enthusiasts for the refined luster they acquired over years of use.
Today, Banko-yaki pieces are made exclusively in Yokkaichi, which produces approximately 70-80% of Japan's earthenware. The style is not limited to teapots- cups, sake flask, vases, plates, and cookware are in constant production in Banko-yaki workshops. For years, the region of Yokkaichi was a center of ceramic artistry, with specialized craftsmen setting up shop in the village.
Everything changed in 2005, when the rise of cheap foreign companies threatened to swallow up these independent ceramists. Unable to compete individually, four Banko-yaki craftsmen joined together to ensure their trade would continue. Though each of them had specialized skills and had competed against each other in the past, their new collective flourished under their alliance and new sense of purpose.
Determined to protect the quality of the Yokkaichi ceramic industry, they decided to band together rather than trying to survive separately. Their rustic, wabi-sabi inspired pieces make up a large portion of Rikumo’s ceramics collection.
At its core, Banko-yaki presents eternity and constancy as the two founding principles of craftsmanship. Handmade Banko-yaki pieces offer a marvelous heat resistance that lasts for years, as well as a timelessly artful imperfection that is impervious to shifting trends. These ceramics have and continue to honor an ancient art by reshaping the techniques of the past to fit the needs of the future. So even if you’re not a direct descendant of Nunami Rouzan, you can still enjoy and take part in his legacy.
WORDS BY MAGALI ROMAN