This yokobe, or barrel-shaped vessel with a neck on its side, was produced to store liquids, primarily sake. It was coil-built in sections and smoothed by being beaten with wood tools. Fired standing on its side in a high-temperature, Korean-style single-chamber tunnel kiln (anagama), it acquired its streaked surface from falling ash.
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Title:Recumbent bottle (yokobe)
Period:Kofun period (ca. 300–710)
Date:late 6th century
Medium:Stoneware with natural ash glaze (Sue ware)
Dimensions:H. 14 5/8 in. (37.1 cm); Diam. 17 3/8 in. (44.1 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
This large recumbent vessel, or yokobe, is impressive for its unusual watermelon shape, its tough, dark gray body, and the horizontal streaks of glaze that appear to have been blown across the surface by a high wind. The side opening is unique to this type of ware, which was first produced in the mid-fifth century. Known as Sueki—from sueru (to offer) and ki (ware)—it is usually made of blue-gray clay and is often thin-bodied and hard, having been fired at temperatures of roughly 1,100 to 1,200 degrees centigrade, a range similar to that used to produce modern stoneware and porcelain. Unlike earlier Jōmon or Yayoi pots, yokobe were fired in a Korean-style kiln called an anagama, a single tunnel-like chamber half buried in the ground along the slope of a hill. Such kilns were introduced to Japan sometime in the late fourth or early fifth century A. D.
The lineage of Sueki reaches back to the Longshan pottery of ancient China ( ca. 2500–1700 B.C.), but its direct precursor is the grayware of the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.–A.D. 668) in Korea. Technically more advanced than Jōmon and Yayoi pottery, or even a Kofun-era ware of a slightly later date called Hajiki, Sueki marks a turning point in the history of Japanese ceramics. Here the wheel was used for the first time, though only to produce smaller pieces and to finish the shapes of larger vessels. Beginning in the second half of the seventh century, green glaze was intentionally applied to ceremonial objects. Natural ash glaze was often used to decorate wares intended for everyday use, such as the yokobe shown here.
Many Japanese settlements with kilns and kiln sites are named Suemura (Sue villages), but scholars generally agree that the first kilns to produce Sueki were probably located south of Osaka—the political and cultural heart of fifth-century Japan—where more than five hundred kiln sites have been discovered behind a cluster of tombs. Initially the kilns must have been operated by immigrant Korean potters, since the earliest Sueki look very much like Korean wares. In their casual appearance and the asymmetrical placement of the neck on the body, they most closely resemble Korean pieces from the Kaya region, on the southern coast. From the end of the fifth through the early sixth century, the new technique spread to many other areas of Japan, and to elate more than two thousand Sueki kiln sites have been discovered. After the decline of production at Suemura kilns in the Osaka area in the tenth century, Sueki kilns in other provinces continued to turn out pots as late as the fifteenth century.
In addition to the use of the wheel, Sueki manufacture also differed from that of the Jōmon and Yayoi wares in that it was the product of an officially organized systematic effort that enjoyed court and temple patronage, and professional male workers were involved. A great variety of shapes were created—for everyday use, for the ceremonial functions that evolved in the more complex and advanced society, and for burial of the dead. Sueki was adapted even to the needs of the newly introduced Buddhist ceremonies.
In use from the beginning of Sueki history, a yokobe such as this one, a barrel-shaped recumbent bottle with the neck on the side, is the most basic type of storage jar for liquids such as sake. (It is shown here as it would have stood when not in use, so the liquid would not pour out. Like many other yokobe, it was formed in sections by the coil method. The neck also was made separately and later attached to the opening on the side. Three disks were used to finish and close the aperture at one end. These may have been finished on a wheel, as they bear whirl lines left by a turning motion. The vessel itself was smoothed on both the exterior and the interior by being beaten with wood tools, with care taken to keep them from breaking through the relatively thin body. The exterior was further smoothed with another wood tool, carved with a checkered pattern, while the interior was finished with a tool carved with a wave pattern. The finished vessel was made to stand on its end in the kiln; the ashes from burning embers that fell on its surface during the firing created the random vitreous glaze that runs across the body, a technique that has continued into modern times. This vessel, with its simple, well-formed body of iron-rich clay and stripes of natural green-brown glaze, vibrates with raw energy, its strangely vivid quality singularly appealing to modern taste.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 Miwa Karoku in Pearson et al. 1991, p. 53.  Narasaki Shōichi 1990, p. 92.  Tanabe Shōzō 1989, p. 121.  Narasaki Shōichi 1990, p. 108.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
Richmond. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Jewel Rivers: Japanese Art from The Burke Collection.," October 25, 1993–January 2, 1994.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art. "Jewel Rivers: Japanese Art from The Burke Collection.," February 26, 1994–April 24, 1994.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Jewel Rivers: Japanese Art from The Burke Collection.," October 14, 1994–January 1, 1995.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," July 5, 2005–August 19, 2005.
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 4, 2005–December 11, 2005.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," January 24, 2006–March 5, 2006.
Miho Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 15, 2006–June 11, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Contemporary Japanese Ceramics in Historical Context," September 24, 2018–April 11, 2022.
Tsuji Nobuo 辻惟雄, Mary Griggs Burke, Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha 日本経済新聞社, and Gifu-ken Bijutsukan 岐阜県美術館. Nyūyōku Bāku korekushon-ten: Nihon no bi sanzennen no kagayaki ニューヨーク・バーク・コレクション展 : 日本の美三千年の輝き(Enduring legacy of Japanese art: The Mary Griggs Burke collection). Exh. cat. [Tokyo]: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2005, p. 60, cat. no. 4.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia W. Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Ake Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 2, Japanese Objects, Korean Art, Chinese Art. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , p. 25, cat. no. 577.
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