One of Yamaguchi’s most famous souvenirs is Hagi yaki, or Hagi ware. Hagi yaki is a traditional form of pottery. The city of Hagi takes pride in its Hagi yaki, and in January 2001, this art form was nationally recognized when Hagi yaki was named a traditional handiwork by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
The art of Hagi yaki began in the early 17th century when Korean potters were brought to Japan. The daimyo, or feudal lords, in Hagi were interested in the art of the tea ceremony, and their support enabled the new style of pottery known as Hagi yaku to flourish. The demand from upper class individuals helped to fuel the production of Hagi yaki as well.
The clay used in creating Hagi yaki is a mixture of different types of local clay. The clay itself is very porous. The clay is covered with a very faint glaze, thus allowing the color of the fired clay to be visible.
The color of Hagi yaki is one of its characteristics. The color of Hagi yaki will change over time due to its porous nature. For example, if you consistently drink tea from the same Hagi yaki cup, over time the repeated absorption of tea by the clay will change its color. This absorption also causes fine cracks in the glaze. Hagi yaki enthusiasts enjoy watching and waiting for these changes to take place in their pieces.
Another characteristic of Hagi yaki is its chip on the bottom. This tradition of deliberately chipping the bottom of each piece began in the Edo Period. Potters knew that they could not present visibly imperfect pieces to the ruling Mori clan, so they deliberately marred their wares. This allowed the potters to keep their chipped wares and sell them instead of giving them away for free to the daimyo.
If you plan to purchase or already own Hagi yaki, keep in mind that Hagi yaki must be handled with care! Hagi yaki are not microwave safe. The bottom of some pieces may not be smooth, so be careful when handling your Hagi yaki and be mindful of the surfaces on which you set your pieces. A jagged bottom could potentially damage other items in your home. When you are through using your Hagi yaki be sure to gently wash and dry each piece.