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Panari Earthenware

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Panari wares were produced on the Aragusuku Island until mid 19th century
Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Okinawan wares can be roughly divided into two, Jō-yachi and Ara-yachi. The former are glazed and baked at a high temperature, while the latter are glazed with manganese or doro-yū1, or unglazed at all, resulting in a texture similar to the yaki-shime chinaware of mainland Japan. Both are baked in a climbing kiln. Wari-dake style—characterized by a straight ceiling—without partitions, resembling the dragon kiln of Tachikui, Tanba2, is used for baking Ara-yachi. Meanwhile, Jō-yachi employs the renbō style with domed chambers. 

Panari belongs to the Ara-yachi. They were burnt on Aragusuku Island, situated between the Ishigaki Island and Hateruma Island. Its name is said to be referring to this island also called Panari, or the annex. Compared to the well-known Tsuboya wares of the Main Island of Okinawa, which consisted mainly of Jō-yachi, most of the Yaeyama pottery is Ara-yachi.  
 In particular, Panari has an ingenuinity that can be recognized at first glance. Its random and vigorous form contains an infinite charm, as simple as it is. Due to the unique nature of soil, its baked surface is rough and red which lures an affection of a different kind from that of the Shigaraki ware of mainland Japan.

Unlike the yaki-shime, Panari ware has very little glaze from natural ash. Though, some can have scorches on them. In my utterly personal opinion, I presume they may have had a completely different kind of influence from somewhere, given that the Tsuboya wares are influenced by mainland Japan and the Chinese Continent. 

Like the Jōmon earthenware which gives a very different impression from the later Japanese wares, Panari also is tinted with a feel that calls on an inexhaustible nostalgia for the ancient times. (TAKAHASHI Osamu)

As expected, the wind was coming from the sea.
 The potter, burning his passion for the restoration of the long-gone Panari earthenware, was very much aware that the island wind blows from the sea towards the land. 
 The evening calm and the morning calm. Among the numerous winds dwelling on this island, they are only some ordinary winds blowing at the break of the day and the night. Yet, in the summer, they become quite fierce. They rush up from the sea in a breath, as if they came dashing from faraway. 

It seemed to be time for him to truly grasp what he had been secretly hoping for. The potter glanced at the sea again, straightened himself, and started the fire.
 A secret was hidden in the shaped clay too. Powdered seashells were mixed within. Green turbans were often used, and he said that it was to prevent them from cracking during the firing. 
 “This is the key,” he said and dusted the seashell powder in a manner almost like a prayer. 
 The white powder reflected the sunlight and shone in a rainbow color from time to time, glowing beautifully on the red soil.  

In order to make the variously shaped clay-made things into works, well, we have to pass them through the fire. A naturally created kiln was situated at the end of the island, where the wind could rush up from the sea. In other words, it was set on the path of the winds.
 As we settled the shaped clay around the instructed space, the potter told us to surround them with coral stones. Most of the stones lying around were corals, so it wasn’t much of a trouble. We gathered plenty and surrounded the whole with firewood. And it was all set.
 Hence, the potter had fixed everything and left the rest to the divinities. 
 The fire grew fierce, diagonally along the surface of the island, as if to embrace the winds, as if to cry out while dancing. In a sense, they seemed—or sounded—like an expression of a madly love…such thoughts crossed my mind. 
 At this point, I understood why he cradled the pottery with coral stones. What a wonder, the corals burn. I had experienced and had known this fact, but I had never imagined employing them as firewood. To think about it, corals are made of bones. Bluish-white flames rose and wavered for this reason. What a beauty. Beautiful, again, irresistibly beautiful. 

The historian was with us. Working as an extra hand, he had witnessed the event from the start, and now was gazing at the fire with a boy-like expression on his face, on the opposite side of me.
 Everyone was silent, with their gaze on the figure of the flames.
 I don’t know how much time has passed. The memories were absent, apart from the scene where the potter raised the fired pot high up to the sky. Between the stubbly beard and the sun-burned raw skin, his eyes brimmed with joy, standing upright under a sky full of stars. With the revived Panari pottery, he himself had returned to a fine Jōmon3 human.
 The name of the potter was Omine Jissei.
 Raising toasts of exuberance, the historian—Takara Kurayoshi, as people call him—smiled in his sleeves; it seemed like he had found some fruit for his work. 
 Finally, the producer who worked behind the scenes and enjoyed even the hardships to lead everything to this place, Tamaki Atsuhiro, also creased his yanbaru-jirā (a stout and wild face) even more in delight. 

The Panari clay needed seashell powder.
 The coral stones holding the pottery had to be burned together.
 And most of all, they could not come into this world without the island wind working as the bellows.
 As long as the wind dwells on this island, the Panari pottery will not cease to exist.
 That is what it is.
(NAKA Bokunen)  

Editor’s Note:

  1. Mud-glaze; a glaze composed of lead and oxidated metal, which ends up in a mud-like texture.
  2. A region famous for pottery in Hyogo prefecture, Japan.
  3. Jōmon people are a group of hunter-gatherers who lived in the Japanese archipelago during the Jōmon period, approximately 13,000~400 BC.