About Donabe, Iga-yaki Pottery, and Wabi-Sabi
What is Donabe?
Donabe (doh-NAH-bay) is Japanese traditional earth cookware. The Kanji characters that make up the word mean "clay pot": do is "clay" or "earth" and nabe is "pot". Donabe-ware is versatile: you can use it for a hot pot, soup, stew, for steaming fish or vegetables, making rice, or even grilling! Donabe cookware shouldn't be reserved for special occasions; it's designed for everyday cooking.
The Art of Imperfection
Iga-yaki ceramics are truly one-of-a-kind works of art; each piece is hand-crafted by skilled artisans and, as a result, the shape, color, and patterns are slightly different from one another-- this is the beauty called wabi-sabi, something you will not get from products made by machine.
The pottery is one of Japan's most highly-regarded ceramics. The Iga region, where the clay is sourced, was once the bed of Lake Biwa about 4 million years ago. Nagatani-en, the family owned producer where we source our beautiful ceramics, has been making authentic Iga-yaki pottery since 1832. Each piece produced by Nagatani-en goes through multiple strict quality checks at the property before it is released to the market, so that quality is assured. Once the products arrive in our shop from Iga, Japan, we inspect each piece at our Los Angeles store before we put it on our shelves to sell.
We take immense pride to passionately deliver the highest caliber of Japanese products and goods to our customers. As such, we would like you, our customers, to hold the same appreciation for these products and invest in taking care of them. We hope you enjoy not only the products, but the attention to detail, and love in each one of our items.
The Japanese philosophy meaning “one time, one meeting”. We approach each interaction with true sincerity and treasure it as if it were the last. As a pottery producer, Nagatani-en makes donabe with special attention to the uniqueness that is inherent in every piece because this phenomenon can only occur once-in-a-lifetime. These rare experiences can never be replicated and that is the beauty of it.
What is Wabi-Sabi?
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese cultural viewpoint that embraces imperfections, transience, and individuality, touching on a melancholic understanding that "natural imperfections are inherent in our universe. It serves as proof that each piece has its own character, its own story, and its own place in the world. Just as no two people are the same - no two donabes, cups, plates, or bowls will be identical."
The aesthetic is something that is simple, natural, irregular, or incomplete, and values the aging beauty of art.
You will see wabi-sabi all throughout our Iga-yaki pottery collection; each piece will have their own individual characteristics, whether it be different nuances of glaze patterns, certain spots and speckles, marks or bumps, and coloration-- making each item one-of-a-kind!
Kan-nyu refers to the thin crevices formed in the glaze of pottery, similar to leaf veins. It is a desired feature in Japanese pottery and is a characteristic of wabi-sabi.
Iga-yaki pottery is renowned for its beautiful kan-nyu. Many people new to this style mistake cracks for flaws, when the opposite is true: kan-nyu is an intentional, highly valued aesthetic.
When glazed clay is fired, the high temperatures allow the glaze to fuse with the clay. As it heats, the clay expands; as it cools, it shrinks. The rate of shrinkage of the clay and glaze are different-- the glaze shrinks more than the clay, forming the beloved cracks, or kan-nyu.
These tiny cracks do not affect the functionality of an item. In fact, for donabe, the small cracks allow for more space to "breathe", enhancing its durability and allowing for efficient expansion and shrinkage during use.
For both tableware and donabe, kan-nyu could develop after multiple uses, or kan-nyu can also be part of the original design of a product. Iga-yaki’s historic glaze, “bidoro” (shiny deep green glaze) is one of the famous types of glaze often associated with natural kan-nyu design.
Kan-nyu is a cherished Japanese aesthetic, part of the wabi-sabi philosophy of the true nature of beauty.
Wabi-Sabi in Donabes
The more you use your donabes, the more prevalent wabi-sabi will be.
- Kan-nyu will be more noticeable in the glaze of the donabe. This is because the donabe will repeatedly expand and shrink through the heating and cooling of normal use
- Bottom will change color through use. Black spots will appear on the bottom and is a notion that the donabe is well-used and loved, which is something to be proud of! However, if the bottom turns black through just a few uses, this is an indication that the heat is too high