Extremely rare early Edo-period storage jar from Sasayama in today’s Hyōgo prefecture. With its sharp-angled shoulders, its broad, flat base and slightly narrowed body, this jar illustrates a Japanese type of storage jars that was invented by Tanba potters for the promotion and export for one of the local famous goods, known as asakura sanshō, or “Japanese pepper”. Asakura sanshō (Zanthoxylum piperitum var. inerme) is a local variation of common Japanese pepper, that is closely related to Chinese Szechuan pepper. However, asakura sanshō only grew wildly in the mountains of the Hyōgo prefecture and gained popularity throughout Japan for its fresh and bright aroma since the late 16th century.
Keeping the dried spice fresh in order to preserve its delicate aroma was not an easy task within the humid climate of the Japanese archipelago. That explains the distinct shape of this type of jars. They have very thick walls to protect the stored goods from humidity and the narrowed shape makes it easier to lift the heavy jars securely with both hands. Another type of this jar can be found in the Shigaraki pottery for senbei, or rice crackers, which was most possibly created under influence of the popular Tanba jars.
This fine example of the early 17th century was made of bright red clay on which a natural ash glaze was applied. The clay from Tanba is darker and has less impurities of quartz in comparison to Shigaraki. The ash glaze is of dark green color and shows strong encrustation on the lower part of the vessel’s wall. This effect can also be found on the rim of the mouth and is a result of the ash that circulated through the kiln’s chamber during the firing. On later sanshō tsubos – mostly completely glazed ones – the name of the spice was impressed with a wooden stamp on the wet clay. However, this is not the case here.
Tanba jars were favored for their strong natural impression, and some of the irregularities that first occurred accidentally in the process of making of these wares, were soon forced by the potters to meet the aesthetic expectations of their customers. Like in this example, we see two deformations on the front of the vessel’s wall which were created by the potter to give the piece a more natural looking, “accidental” expression.