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About Donabe, Japanese Pottery and Wabi-Sabi

Iga-Yaki Donabe and Pottery from Iga, Japan

What is Donabe?

Donabe (doh-NAH-bay) is Japanese traditional earthen cookware. The Kanji characters that make up the word mean "clay pot": do (土)  is "clay" or "earth," and nabe (鍋) 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.

All of our donabe products are hand-crafted by Nagatani-En in Iga, Japan. You can find more information about the pottery of Iga (Iga-Yaki) and Nagatani-En below.

 

The Art of Imperfection

Iga-yaki (伊賀焼), or pottery from Iga, Japan 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. 

Pottery is one of Japan's most highly-regarded crafts. 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 guaranteed. 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.

 

Ichigo-Ichie / 一期一会

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 (侘び寂び) 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 donabe, 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 / 貫入

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.

 

Stone Texture 

Small stones present in the clay can appear on the surface after firing. These can create cracks and mounds on the surface of the clay. There may also be color or pattern variation in the glaze around the form of the small stones. Along the edges of the pottery, small depressions and uneven shapes may be present. These are part of the unique look of Iga-Yaki pottery.

 

Your Donabe Will Develop It's Own Characteristics


The more you use your donabe, the more prevalent wabi-sabi will be. That's something you can cherish and be proud of (as it shows you have actually been using it).

  • 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
  • The bottom will change color through use. Black spots will appear on the bottom and is a sign that the donabe is well-used and loved, which is something to be proud of! (as it shows you have been actually using it!) However, if the bottom turns black through just a few uses, this is an indication that the heat is too high

Shop the collection.

     

Other Wabi-Sabi Characteristics in Hand-Crafted Pottery from Japan

Along with our collection of Iga-Yaki donabe we also carry a wide variety of ceramic artisanal Japanese tableware items, home goods and more. These products come from many esteemed manufacturers around Japan, each with their own signature style. 

Just like our donabe, no two items are quite the same. Below is a break down of some additional common characteristics of Japanese pottery you may not be familiar with. These unique elements are to be celebrated, as they show the true beauty of the artist's hand in each piece. 

 

Variation in Size, Shape and Color

Because these items are handmade, there will be slight differences in size, shape and color between each. Even between items sold in the same set, no two will be identical. 

This feature can be especially noticeable in the way an item is glazed. Washes or drips of color in the glaze will be unique to each item. These subtle nuances will help strengthen your connection with each piece. 

 

Hand-painted Items 

Some of the ceramics we carry are decorated in hand-painted designs. Even if two bowls are painted with the same motif, the delicate nature of hand painting ensures that each piece will be one of a kind. With many of our pieces, the natural glazes and pigments used by the artisans will feature different depths of color and texture. This is all part of the charm of wabi-sabi.

  

Iron Powder

Small pieces of Iron powder in clay used for pottery creation can create marks on the surface of pottery. This is a result of artisans making these pieces using unrefined soil which is not common in mass-produced objects. They appear like dark dots sparingly on the surface of pottery and are perfectly natural. This rich, unrefined clay has a depth and texture you will grow to love.

 

Discover Your Personal Pieces

In Japan, it’s very common for each person in a family to have his or her own rice bowl or other tableware pieces. This allows one to grow personal attachment to them. It’s also common to mix and match tableware items instead of having a set of the same design or color of tableware. We hope you will find something personal and special from our hand-crafted pottery and enjoy it for a long time.