Useful Facts about Ceramics / How to Care for Ceramics

Japanese ceramics can be divided into two main types, according to composition: porcelain and pottery. Porcelain is made of a special clay consisting primarily of aluminum silicate, combined with feldspar and kaolin, etc. It is fired, often times glazed, giving it a surface much like glass--white, transparent, and nonporous. Pottery, on the other hand, is made of clay. The temperature at which it is fired, the region in which it is produced, and the type of kiln used vary according to its type. Many of these are porous and are not transparent. And some are not even glazed, but fired until they become hard and nonporous. Included in this category are Bizen-ware and Shigaraki-ware, Kohiki glaze with its white powdery coating on top of a transparent glaze, ash glaze made of plant ashes, and Hagi-ware which is made of soft, porous clay--all of which improve with use. These are pieces bring added pleasure when well cared for. When one acquires a piece, it should be lovingly cared for and enjoyed for as long as possible. If cared for properly, the ceramic piece will take on a deeper meaning.

When First Acquiring a Ceramic Piece

After purchasing a piece of pottery, the first thing to do is to check the foot rim, if it is a tea bowl or plate. For a dish, check the rings on the bottom. Long ago, when one purchased a product, the china shop would sand the bottom down. Now, however, before delivery to the shop, they are already sanded to eliminate rough edges. One should still check, nonetheless. If left as it is, the piece may scratch the table or damage a lacquer tray. And if it is being stacked, it may scratch the other pieces. If it feels rough to the touch, use fine sand paper and sand it carefully. Next, objects made of clay should be boiled. This is for sanitary reasons and for increasing resistance to heat. First, fill the piece with water which was used to soak rice in, allowing the porous openings to absorb it and making it difficult for dirt to enter. Next submerge the piece in a pot of water and boil for about thirty minutes. Then let it cool naturally. After that, dry the piece thoroughly. However, if you are using the water from soaking rice, you will need to rinse it off in water, then dry. For antique pottery, place in lukewarm water, then wash carefully with a mild detergent. Use a brush to remove dirt from the foot rim and the yellowed areas. And if you are still concerned, leave it overnight in bleach, then rinse off well. For ceramic pots, cracking is common, so first cook vegetable scraps and sticky rice gruel in it to strengthen the surface of the pot and to remove impurities. The heat will also remove moisture on the outside and dry it and begin boiling from a low temperature. Do not heat ceramic pots if empty or apply sudden changes of temperature.

Making Your Ceramic Pieces Meaningful With Special Care

Between the clay particles in pottery, there are little spaces. For Shigaraki-ware which uses no glazes and Kohiki and Hagi-ware which use soft, very porous clay, submerge in lukewarm water for a long time, until the water is absorbed, and then use. If used just as it is, the sauce from food and oil etc. will stain the pot, which can be difficult to remove. This is also a cause of mold. Soak in water for10 minutes to one hour--even a half day is fine. For Bizen-ware and other ware which use high temperature firings to make the pieces hard and nonporous (yakishime), the qualities of pottery are enhanced when moistened. Crackle glazed pieces, with their glass-like surfaces and tiny cracks, are used in tea ceremonies. The tea is absorbed in the cracks, giving it a particular color and flavor which aficionados of tea favor. This is one special feature of Japanese ceramics. This kind of added color is different from staining. The more care applied to a piece, the more it will develop a color and depth of its own. When finished using a piece, quickly wipe it with a sponge and wash it with a mild detergent. For particularly oily and difficult-to-remove stains, wipe first with a paper towel before submerging it in water. Because pottery absorbs water, if it is left as it is, it will develop mold. As soon as the grime is removed, place it in hot water, and dry it completely before putting it away. For sake flasks with narrow mouths, use a small brush to clean the insides, then turn it upside down, drain well, and wipe it carefully. And for teapots, the inside base of the spout where tea stains collect is difficult to reach, so by brushing them sometimes with a toothbrush after the pot has been dried, the stains can be removed. By leaving it in diluted detergent, it will become clean.

How to Make the Most of Gold and Silver Leafed Pottery

Gold and silver leafed decorated pottery, is eye-catching and a must for special and formal occasions. It does, however, need special attention. Cleansers and detergents with abrasives will damage the pieces, so soak in mild detergent and wash with a soft sponge. This same basic care should be applied to gold and silver dishes. Gold is a very stable material, changing very little. Silver, however, tarnishes upon oxidation. Some people like this tarnish, but in order to remove this, use silver polishing cream sold in stores. If not, use a little toothpaste and apply it to a piece of cloth such as gauze or tissue paper and polish. When not in use, wrap in Japanese paper or soft material or some kind of wrap so that air does not come in contact with it, preventing oxidation and maintaining its beautiful color.

To Maintain Its Beauty Forever

After washing, dry the piece well and store it in a cupboard. Japanese ceramics are different from western ceramics in their many different sizes and shapes, which make storing difficult. Tea bowls, plates, dishes all have different shapes and should be stored accordingly. Stacking them will not occupy as much space. Be careful not to overstack pieces, as they will topple over. About 5-6 pieces should be the limit. For dishes and pieces with height, 3 is the best. And for things stacked together, pieces should be rotated so that the ones on the top are not always used. When putting away a piece just used, place it at the bottom of the stack. In that way, they will last longer. Even when one is careful, pieces may become damaged. For rinka (flower wreath) shaped and warizanshou (cracked Japanese pepper corn) shaped rim, damage may occur during stacking. Therefore lightweight pottery and those will colored illustration and gold or silver decorations should be handled with care as they are easily damaged. When stacking, place a piece of Japanese paper or packing between them. It is not necessary to buy special wrappings for them. The wrapping that came with the pottery can be used. For sake flasks and tall and deep pieces, an aluminum wrap on top will keep dust from falling in, making it easier to wash and ready to use. And for things that are rarely used, wrap in Japanese paper or cotton cloth and leave it in the box. Line the box with rolled up newspaper to fill up tiny spaces in the box. For large plates and dishes, wrap in packing and old towels to keep out the moisture and put away in a dark place. No matter how precious it is, pottery exists to be used. Occasionally take them out and they will last longer.

When Pottery Breaks

The longer one uses a favorite piece, the chances of breaking it increase. When you realize it, it is too late; everyone has had regrets like this sometime or another. When a favorite piece breaks, a specialist will repair them using lacquer or gold or silver to mend and fill in the cracks. Discuss this with the china shop owner or the antique dealer. For such repairs, gold and silver may be used. A specialist will do it so well that the repairs are unnoticeable. This gold or silver filling will give the piece an added design and a layer of elegance and depth. For everyday pieces, it is often said that it is more expensive to fix them than to buy them, but if it has been cared for for a long time, love for that piece usually wins out and it is repaired for continued use. Fear of breaking it and then putting it away is the same as if it were dead. For a piece of pottery, the enjoyment derived from caring for it even after having it repaired with gold and silver, becomes a record of the relationship between the user and that piece.

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