Posted on 14th Dec 2019
The other day, an event by Dai-Niigata City was held at the local department store. Apparently such events are held occasionally, and I was unable to forget the taste of the Tochio deep-fried tofu so I visited there again to buy it again. When I entered the event hall, there was a pottery work booth around the entrance. A slightly large man was explaining the pottery works of Sado Island in a passionate voice there. This was related to my business so my interest was piqued and I decided to visit the booth to hear him speak.
The man himself was the creator of the pottery works displayed at the booth, and he was a Mumyoi Ware creator from Sado Island named Hosono Toshio. According to Master Hosono, if you drink tea and alcohol from a cup of Mumyoi ware, the taste of the water changes and improves the taste. The red soil from the Sado Gold Mine contains high levels of iron and this makes the water poured into the pottery ware made from such soil more mellow. Apparently the iron content far exceeds that of Bizen Ware. I recalled a story which I heard at a tea shop in a Yokohama Chinese town in the past, and felt that I wanted to try this and decided to buy one un-glazed pottery cup.
Once I came home after safely buying the Tochio deep-fried tofu, I had my usual oolong tea from Master Hosono's cup. I was first surprised by the taste from the first mouthful. The tea was smoother than usual and the water tasted softer than usual. Additionally, it was less bitter and tasted sweeter than usual. When comparing the tea from a glass cup, the difference was stark. My wife also tried it - she shared the my opinion, and insisted that she wanted one for herself, and thus she went to the Dai-Niigata event to buy another of Master Hosono's cups the following day.
I was able to hear the story of the Mumyoi Ware from the creator himself, so I will be sharing this information with you all as well. The following is a description of Mumyoi Ware.
Mumyoi is a type of red soil which contains a rich amount of iron oxide which is produced from around the Gold Mine, and the Mumyoi pottery uses it as its pottery clay, which is then baked at high temperatures.
The character of the clay is such that it requires special work such as polishing while raw and then polishing it with sand after baking it.
In addition, the pottery clay goes through "elutriation" - a way to get rid of sand and impurities in the process of balancing the clay particles - using a 200-mesh sieve which makes the baked pottery clay shrink by around 30% due to the loss of these particles.
Therefore the product is extremely hard and when hit it makes a clear metallic sound and the more use it gets the more it shines.
The Mumyoi Ware products are gaining attention as a means of improving the taste of tea, alcohol, beer and coffee.
In China, Mumyoi had been used as a type of herbal medicine to cure hemostasis since ancient times, but as they did not know the source of the effect they seemingly named it Mumyoi (no name). In Japan this was gathered only around the Sado Gold Mine. It was a byproduct of mining operations during the 1640s - the height of the gold rush on Sado Island after the discovery of the Aikawa mines.
The history of Mumyoi ware began with Ito Jinpei creating Raku Ware using the Mumyoi produced from the Sado Mines in the 2nd year of Bunsei (1819).
Afterward, Miura Jozan (1836-1903) realized that Mumyoi produced from the Sado Mines has a very similar nature to Yixing clay. He doubled his efforts to change the usual Mumyoi ware, which was quite fragile, into strong pottery similar to the pottery created from the Yixing kiln in China, and he completed a piece of strong, high-temperature Mumyoi pottery. Tea tools in Mumyoi ware became popular among people who like green tea because they made tea delicious like Chinese Yixing ware.
According to a record, the famous shogunate retainer, Katsu Kaishu bought tea tools from Miura Jozan.
In 2003 Mumyoi Ware was registered as a National Important Intangible Cultural Property.
The Agency for Cultural Affairs is attempting to register Sado Aikawa gold mines in the World Heritage List now. Unfortunately, because of this, it became very difficult for potters to obtain Mumyoi from around Sado Aikawa gold mines because collecting the mine soil from the area was banned.
Master Hosono's pottery is apparently not only pursuing the art style of standard Mumyoi but is also pursuing changes in the colors of the pottery through heat by using a glaze which is a combination of natural stones in Sado and tree ash in the ascending kiln.