Old Tanba Storage Jar

Edo Period, early 17th Century

Inv. Nr. #18.017
Date Edo period (1603-1868), early 17th C.
Material Ash glazed stoneware
Dimensions H 27,8 x Diam. 21 cm

Price on request

Extremely rare early Edo period storage jar from Sasayama in present-day Hyōgo Prefecture. With its broadly rounded shoulders, wide flat base, and slightly tapered body, this jar illustrates a Japanese type of storage jar invented by Tanba potters to promote and export one of the local famous goods known as asakura sanshō, or "Japanese pepper". Asakura sanshō (Zanthoxylum piperitum var. inerme) is a local variety of common Japanese pepper, which is closely related to Chinese Szechuan pepper. However, asakura sanshō only grows wild in the mountains of Hyōgo Prefecture and has been popular throughout Japan since the late 16th century for its fresh and bright aroma.

Keeping the dried spice fresh to preserve its delicate aroma was no easy task in the humid climate of the Japanese archipelago. This explains the distinctive shape of these jars. They have very thick walls to protect the contents from moisture, and the narrow shape makes it easier to lift the heavy jars safely with both hands. Another type of this jar can be found in the Shigaraki pottery for senbei, or rice crackers, which was most likely created under the influence of the popular Tanba jars.

This fine example from the early 17th century is made of bright red clay with a natural ash glaze. Tanba clay is darker and has less quartz impurities than Shigaraki clay. The ash glaze is dark green in color and shows heavy encrustation on the lower part of the vessel wall. This effect is also found on the rim of the mouth and is a result of the ash that circulated through the kiln chamber during firing. On later sanshō tsubos - most of which were completely glazed - the name of the spice was stamped into the wet clay with a wooden die. This is not the case here, however, but is the case in another example in our gallery (Inv. No. #21.024).


Tanba jars were favored for their strong natural impression, and the irregularities that were initially accidental in the making of these wares were soon forced on the potters to meet the aesthetic expectations of their customers. As in this example, we can see two deformations on the front wall of the vessel, which were created by the potter to give the piece a more natural-looking, "accidental" expression, typical of early 17th-century wares.