This is one of the big BIZEN ware vases that has been sitting by the entrance of my parents' house in Japan. I remember touching the vase, enjoying its unique feel and texture as a child. It is hard to explain. It is bumpy, but smooth and cool, but warm! That was my very first impression of BIZEN ware. Those lovely vases were originally created between 1573 and 1603. According to my mom, my grandfather obtained them out of his nostalgic memories of his parents who ran a sake brewing business in the southern part of Okayama Prefecture. He remembered that freshly brewed sake had been stored in BIZEN vases to improve the taste.
I found an interesting story behind it, which is not often talked about in history books. Like my great grandparents, many samurai family lost their jobs when Japanese Feudalism ended. Some became part of the public workforce in the military, police or government and some became agricultural business owners. My family took dual duties in the police force and sake brewing business (agricultural business using rice!), but the sake business did not last for a long time. Historically, sake brewing has been a tricky business with many challenges including a large initial investment to pay for raw materials, equipment and skilled workers. In addition, the Japanese government considered the sake industry a significant source of tax income and frequently changed the taxation system, which was very tough for retired samurai families who were forced to be new business owners.
I never expected putting a lot of thoughts into those old vases siting around for a half-century (or more). Here I am, having started a business related to BIZEN ware and trying to be a sake sommelier. Even though I no longer live with my parents, the vases remind me of my roots and are a source of inspiration. My big, fat and old BIZEN vases are true heirlooms that witnessed my family's journey. - Mari
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