Unpack the wonderful harmony of Japanese tableware


The Japanese often say, “Me from taberu” (“You eat with your eyes”), something I really understood the first time I stayed in a ryokana traditional Japanese-style inn.

This is where I was served a multi-course meal in a range of delicate, impeccably plated dishes served on beautiful ceramics of all shapes and sizes. The experience marked me and, therefore, the research and collection of Japanese tableware became one of my passions.

Japanese artist and chef Kitaoji Rosanjin once compared the tableware to a “kimono for food”, and the care taken in moritsuke (plating) takes into consideration the food that is served as well as the choice of plates, bowls and cups, and how they are placed.

Moritsuke is governed by a number of aesthetics, including a preference for odd numbers (seven patterns, five colors, three styles of arrangement), contrast, and an aim to recreate elements of nature on a plate. The notion of mom (negative space) applies to Japanese plating as well as calligraphy, architecture and arts, and at least 30% of the plate should be left empty.

According to Japanese culinary expert and cookbook author Elizabeth Andoh, moritsuke takes into account the color, shape, seasonality, materials, and textures of foods and their serving dishes. Each container is chosen with careful attention to texture nuances, shape and mouthfeel.

The way the food is arranged is carefully executed to showcase the chef’s skills and present the food in the most appealing way, including showing off the patterns or textures of the chosen dishes. Unlike Western convention, the dishes used are rarely from a single oven or artist, and part of the joy of Japanese cutlery is the creativity it allows to mix and match different shapes, textures, heights and colors. , as well as adding seasonal accents.

A nice aperitif set consisting of a collection of small bowls placed in a lacquer box | MUSABI OVEN

As sourcing and choosing high-quality Japanese tableware can be overwhelming, especially for overseas customers, a new company has taken the guesswork out of table settings and thoughtfully explains the history and different styles of ceramics, lacquerware and other Japanese accent pieces.

Musubi Lab, founded by brothers Mototsugu and Takatsugu Fusada, is headquartered at the Denen Mansion in Setagaya, which was once used as the computing center for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The brothers’ love for traditional Japanese tableware came from an early age. The Fusada family moved from Kobe to Ehime, where their father took the brothers to the Tobe Dish Oven to make their own rice bowls. As adults, they realized that the culture of traditional tableware familiar to them was gradually disappearing, and it was difficult to find authentic tableware despite the popularity of Japanese cuisine overseas. So they decided to connect. musubi — Japan and other countries.

Musubi Lab opened a store specializing in Kutani ware called Japan Kutani Shop in May 2020. In June 2021, Musubi Lab launched Musubi Kiln, an online store for English-speaking countries that specializes in Kutani ware and other ceramics and traditional lacquers. Musubi Kiln introduces traditional Japanese tableware and culinary culture to an international audience, including specialized web pages for restaurateurs, shopkeepers and culinary experts. Both stores have had over 10,000 customers since opening.

In addition to highlighting various makers and the main styles of Japanese ceramics (see box), the website also showcases the craftsmen and techniques behind the works. By sharing the stories behind its pieces, Musubi Kiln helps its customers better appreciate traditional tableware and encourages a more meaningful dining experience. The store has been featured on a number of popular Japan-themed blogs and websites, including JNTO, Marc Matsumoto’s Just One Cookbook and No Recipes as well as New York Magazine.

Part of Musubi Kiln’s mission is to reverse the decades-old decline in Japanese tableware sales. Compared to other manufacturing industries, the percentage of older workers is high in the ceramics industry, including traditional Japanese tableware workshops, and sales of Japanese tableware have declined by 75% over the past 20 years. Aging artisans, declining domestic demand and more and more kilns going out of business each year have all played a role.

However, in cooperation with the Kutani Ware Cooperative and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, Musubi Lab hopes to pass on traditional techniques to a new generation of artisans, preserve traditional ceramics for future generations, and stimulate interest in Japanese tableware that will reverse the decline in demand. .

The Icihiju sansai meal is a simplified form of honzen ryori, the highly ritualized banquet-style meal of the samurai nobility of the Muromachi period (1392-1573).  |  MUSABI OVEN
The Icihiju sansai meal is a simplified form of honzen ryori, the highly ritualized banquet-style meal of the samurai nobility of the Muromachi period (1392-1573). | MUSABI OVEN

For those new to the Japanese cutlery collection, Musubi Kiln recommends this authentic ichiju sansai (one soup and three side dishes). The icihiju sansai meal is a simplified form of honzen ryorithe highly ritualized banquet-style dinner of the samurai nobility of the Muromachi period (1392-1573).

A typical ichiju sansai cutlery includes a bowl of rice (chawan), Bowl of soup (shiruwan), medium plates for main courses, small plates for sides and tiny plates for soy sauce, sauces, garnishes and seasonings. Depending on the type of meal served, this may also include a mushiwan for steamed flans, a ramen bowl or a rectangular plate for grilled fish, sushi or sashimi.

In addition to its website, Musubi Kiln sends out informative digital newsletters and recently launched an online Facebook group dedicated to Japanese tableware.

To make it easier to use Japanese tableware, its website also offers artfully selected tableware settings, recipes, and tips for a wide range of holidays and festive events, including New Year’s festivities, mothers, seasonal themes and traditional Japanese food and sake pairings. , along with a handy list of all featured products, taking the guesswork out of pairing various items in complementary styles and colors. The price range, worldwide shipping and wide selection of traditional and modern cutlery means customers can be sure to find the perfect match.

By incorporating the beautiful ceramics and lacquers of Musubi Kiln, the company envisions that each of us can create our own little world on our dining tables. Musubi Kiln wants to share with people around the world a unique way to enjoy life in Japan – the more people who share their passion for traditional Japanese tableware, the greater the power to support artisans and traditional craftsmanship. strong.

An introduction to traditional Japanese pottery through the ages

Japanese pottery production dates back 12,000 years to the prehistoric Jomon period (10,000-200 BC). Japanese pottery continued to evolve over the following centuries, with the earliest examples of Japanese porcelain dating back to the 1600s.

Sample Mino Items |  MUSUBI OVEN
Sample Mino Items | MUSUBI OVEN

mino items

Mino ware ceramics have been produced for over 1,300 years. Mino pottery is produced mainly in eastern Gifu prefecture and currently accounts for about 50% of total pottery production in Japan. There are more than 15 styles of Mino items that have developed.

Examples of Hasami tableware |  MUSUBI OVEN
Examples of Hasami tableware | MUSUBI OVEN

Hasami Items

Hasami tableware dates back to the Japanese invasion of the Korean peninsula over 400 years ago. Production is centered in northwestern Kyushu around the town of Hasami in Nagasaki. In 1978, Hasami tableware was designated as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Sample Kutani Articles |  MUSUBI OVEN
Sample Kutani Articles | MUSUBI OVEN

Kutani Items

Kutani pottery was created in 1655 by Toshiharu Maeda, the first daimyo of the Maeda clan in Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture. It gained worldwide recognition at the 1873 World’s Fair, where it was exhibited as “Japan Kutani”. Kutani tableware is distinguished by its use of five colors (red, yellow, green, purple and Prussian blue), called Kutani gosai (the five Kutani colors).

Arita Items

Arita tableware was first made in the 17th century, when raw porcelain was discovered in Arita, Saga Prefecture. Since Arita was not located near the sea, exports were made from the nearest seaport, Imari, which is why Arita tableware is known as Imari tableware abroad. Major styles include Ko-Imari, Kakiemon and Nabeshima.

A three-tiered jubako box in Yamanaka lacquer |  MUSUBI OVEN
A three-tiered jubako box in Yamanaka lacquer | MUSUBI OVEN

Japanese lacquer

The tradition of Japanese lacquer dates back to around 5000 BC. The wood is covered with a natural lacquer based on poisoned oak sap. (uruchi) which comes from the Japanese lacquer tree. the maki e The technique of sprinkling gold or silver dust on the surface of lacquerware was developed during the Heian period (794-1185), and lacquerware became widely used in architectural features in addition to tableware. and stationery.

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