1.6-millennia-old pot arrived to Misako's Treehouse

March 7, 2023

Two weeks ago, 1600-year-old Haji-ki, Haji pottery arrived


Think about it. On the other side of the earth, about this time, the Roman Empire(Western) fell.

The pot took ten days since it started its journey from Nara, Japan, to San Rafael, California. The pot is big, round, and thin. While waiting for its arrival, and even after receiving the box from the courier, I was a nervous wreck. Rarely a vessel from the era (Kofun period -  300AD to 538 AD) survived in this good condition. It survives for a reason; I'll let you know why later. I was nervous. What if I broke it? Well, I did not pack it, am not the shipper, and did not throw the box into a truck or airplane. It doesn't matter. That's not the point. It was my decision, and it was my responsibility. If it came out of the box broken, how can I apologize to the potter who made it thousands of years ago, to the pot itself, to the families and folks who used it, and to the long time that passed protecting the pot?  

Finally, it appeared.
It is big, round, thin, and glorious.
No new damage whatsoever.
The breakage at the collar happened millennia ago. 

Haji-pottery evolved from Yayoi pottery in the Yayoi period (300 BCE to 300 AD) to the Kofun period (300 AD to 538 AD). They were primarily used in the household, storing food and eating utensils.


The shape, or the design of this pot, is breathtakingly stunning. The curvature and balance are as excellent as any significant pots in history and now. The collar has considerable damage, but the rest is perfect. A few examples survived from this era show big cracks or put broken pieces glued together. Meaning they are mostly broken pieces. Why, then, this pot survived in this good condition? Because it was deep under the river for over a millennium. During that time, the surface and inside of the pot were protected by and in contact with the finest grain of sand. As a result, its shape remained unbroken, and its color changed from muddy terracotta to exquisite white beige. Yet the original geometric pattern to decorate the surface made by scratching stayed here and there, as in the below images. 




The inside of the Vessel 

is where a Secret Time Travel happens.


The entire surface of the interior is covered with an outstanding pattern. Looking inside with a flashlight is like going into the Chauvet cave of Southern France. But why did the potter decorate the inside of the vessel, which purpose is to store food, most likely grain? Nobody will see it. I would love to connect the potter's sensitivity to that of the Mingei artisans' sensitivity. Or, even better, I would love to talk with the potter. You and I can talk about the delicious mystery of the decoration inside some other time. 
The next mystery is why and how a food storage vessel with only damage to its collar went underwater. Under rivers and lakes, archeologists find mounds of vessels of the era. It is thought that the people of the period threw away broken pots and plates in one place in their village. They were buried gradually, and rivers or lakes covered the site. They went further down to the earth's womb and stayed there until they were dug up. For our later-developed Japanese sensitivity, this pot's breakage is as attractive as the beauty in the imperfection. But, of course, 1.6 millennia ago, function was the priority. The collar was broken. The dweller found it inconvenient, so they brought it to the heap. The heap turned out to be the best recycle bin for us. 
Haji ware is thought to have been made by digging a shallow depression in the ground, placing fuel and pottery, and covering it with straw. Because it is a simple firing facility, it is rare to find traces of firing sites of Haji pottery. It is one of the reasons that we do not know precisely when it started and when it ended. The production method was:
      1. Making strands of clay;
      2. Coiling up to make the rough shape;
      3. Smoothing out the outside and inside of a pot;
      4. Refining the form;
      5. Decorating the surface and interior with a wooden fork-like tool;
      6. Firing it.
The method continued into Heian Period, which ended in the 1100s. Still, a large bulbous shape like this is surmised to be produced in the Kofun period and gradually changed to smaller utensils, such as plates and bowls.

Also, a very interesting and widely accepted surmise is that women made the early unglazed pottery. Men helped with the work from clay mining to product transportation—another seed of thoughts and research for some other time.
The pot is pregnant with silent, serene beauty and enigma. Its presence is mighty and elegant. At the same time, the design is remarkably or eerily modern. The curvature of the pot is healthy and sensuous. 
It has the beauty you can feel with your body, not your brain.
Seeing this magnitude of beauty created 1.6 millennia ago is spellbinding. It is the same level of beauty as the paintings in the Chauvet cave, as mentioned earlier. 
They used the vessel on the mud floor of their dwelling, buried halfway to the ground. As such, the bottom is round and cannot stand alone. I put it on the ring made to fit it and to be stable. You can choose the angle of your liking.
It has been a long time since I encountered this magnitude of work. I am honored that it came to me to be a temporary steward, and I sincerely hope that the vessel decides on one of the subscribers as the next steward/owner.
You get to live with a striking object created during the time of  Alexander the Great or Pythagoras was active.

It is a big responsibility, but it will reward you visually and spiritually.
Please feel free to ask away any questions you may have.



Food storage jar,
Circa Kofun period (300 AD to 538 AD),
Size:  34” h X 37” diameter,
Price: Please Inquire. 

About the author

Misako Mitsui

Add a comment