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Have you ever wondered,

"Why the top-grade Jian wares are collected in Japan?"

In the subsequent paragraphs, we try to answer this question for you.

The earliest recorded history of Jian ware dates back to the late Tang dynasty, which spanned through 7th to 10th centuries AD. However, the golden era of the artwork came during the rein of Song dynasty from 10th to 12th centuries AD. Thereafter, the Jian ware gradually diminished away during the Yuan and the Ming dynasties until finally, it got extinct in the 16th century.

In its years of flourishing during the Song dynasty, many famous poets have praised the Jian ware. Royal poets like Song Huizong wrote several rhymes and verses describing the beauty and elegance of the art form. Although the Jianye was abundant in ancient China, it's interesting to note that most of the best quality Jian art has been found not in China, but in Japan.

The earliest recorded Jian ware manufacturing in Japan dates back to the 16th century, which incidentally coincides with the middle and late Ming dynasty of China. The details of this production by General Ashikaga Yoshihiro are given in the following paragraph.

As is known, the ancient currency for precious items was silk. The "Yohen Temmoku" relic which was worth 10,000 silk cloths, the "Oil-Spot" Jian ware that cost 5000 silk cloths and the "Hare's Fur" Jian ware which was priced at 3000 silk cloths were part of Yoshihiro's extravagant collection.

Jian ware has been an inseparable part of the Japanese culture ever since its beginning. Different styles and types of Jian ware have been prized possessions of the powerful elite in Japan. The Shoguns, the rich merchants etc kept the art pieces with great care. Most of these can now be seen and appreciated in major museums in Japan now. Given under is a ready reference list of the Japanese museums where you can see the beautiful Jian ware collections :

Yohen Temmoku

1. Tokyo National Museum

Founded by the Mitsubishi Group president in 1940, the museum has 7 National treasures. Yohen Temmoku, which is widely regarded as the first bowl of the world is arguably the most valued relic in the museum.

In addition, one of the best "Oil-Spot" Piekou having 19.4cm diameter with clear glazed spots is another of the prized collections here. It's a typical "the spots of partridge feathers" Jian ware which has intact size, shape and density.

2. Fujita Museum

This Yohen was originally a private residence of entrepreneurs during the Meiji dynasty. It was almost completely destroyed during World War II but was rebuilt and opened to the public in 1954. The Tokugawa family preserved this Yohen Temmoku until 1918 and thereafter it was purchased by Fujita.

Yohen Temmoku
Yohen Temmoku

3. だいとくじ / Dai'tokuji

This was founded in 1325 and is the largest temple and a Zen cultural centre in Kyoto, Japan. Dai'tokuji is specifically known for the tea ceremony culture. The temple was destroyed in the war and was rebuilt by the 80-year-old Master Ikkyu Sojun.

The Yohen Temmoku housed here is over 4 centuries old and is one of the most difficult artefacts to see as it's never put on exhibition. NHK TV has filmed it twice in the years 1986 and 2003.

4. The Museum of Oriental Ceramic, Osaka

It's the largest ceramic museum in Japan. It's acknowledged as having the many of Chinese ceramics. The"Oil-Spot" placed here was included in the list of National Treasures in 1951 and was given the same ranking as the first 3 Jian wares. Out of the 14 porcelain pieces, that are in this elite list, 8 are from China and 4 are Jian wares.

Christie's have recently auctioned an "Oil-Spot" for 80 million RMB on September 15, 2016. These facts only highlight the degree of Japanese enthusiasm for the Jian.

oil-spot grain

5. National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo

With a huge list of 87 National Treasures and 634 Important Cultural Assets, this is by far the largest national museum in Japan. There are numerous Jian wares in this, but very few boutiques.

The fact that boutiques neither figure in the list of the National Treasures nor are important cultural assets clearly hints towards the Japanese obsession with power and wealth. It's mostly restricted to family heritage and the public museums don't afford to have top-notch Jian ware.

6. Tokugawa Art Museum

“daimyo” refers to artifacts that have been collected by daimyo in Japanese history. Daimyo belongs to the top of the Japanese aristocracy, with strong political and economic strength, and is proud of the collection of Chinese porcelain, especially the Jian tea cup.


7. Kyushu National Museum

It's the 4th largest national museum in Japan with a large collection. It displays "evolution of Japanese culture through Asian history". The influence of Chinese culture on Japanese cultural evolution can be appreciated easily at this museum. The "Oil-Spot" which forms part of the collections here is from the late Edo period and is an important National cultural asset.

8. Miho Museum

Mostly hidden in clouds, the Miho was founded by Master Imih Ming Pei. It houses a vast variety of Chinese porcelain including the Yohen "Oil-Spot".

Yohen Oil-Spot
Yohen Oil-Spot
Yohen Oil-Spot

With this background, let's go back to the original question.

"Why the top-grade Jian wares are collected in Japan?"

One must appreciate that the understanding of the Song dynasty people may be different from the modern people as far as the best Jian ware is concerned. It may even be the opposite. The ancient poets have written numerous rhymes about the "Hare's Fur" and the "Spots of Partridge Feathers". However, you don't find any poems on "Yohen", which is an indication that it wasn't a great work in the eyes of the Song dynasty people.

Japanese passion for the Yohen comes from the fact that scarcity of an item means that it's precious. The Yohen was only owned by the Shoguns, who was the most powerful of the Japanese state. It's felt that Shoguns kept the Yohen as a status symbol to show their superiority over common men. Hence, the rating of Jian ware in Japan has a definite political shade to it.

On the other hand, the ancient Chinese emperors claimed to own everything in the world and hence, they were not interested in possessing expensive items or showing off. They only believed in dominating the aesthetics just like Song Huizong.

And there is also a very important point that Yohen Tenmoku is made by extremely low probability, and local officials will not give it to the emperor. In case the emperor likes it very much, but can't produce it, the relevant officials and workers are going to be killed, so the emperor may not know its existence.

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