Traditional Japanese Crafts: The Complete Guide to Japanese Ceramics
There are many original types of ceramics that have come out of Japan, most of them classified as “Imari ware” or “Bizen ware.” However, they can be grouped into the even larger categories of “toki” (pottery) and “jiki” (porcelain), and each have their own characteristics. Different areas across Japan produce their own versions of ceramics, including Kutani ware, Satsuma ware, Hagi ware, Mino ware, Shigaraki ware, and Mashiko ware, all of them gaining popularity both within Japan and overseas. This article will introduce these ceramics, including their charms, history, and characteristics.
Sep 14 2020
The Difference Between Toki (Pottery) and Jiki (Porcelain)
Toki is made predominantly of clay and is fired at 700℃ - 1,300℃. After the final shape has been set, it may be painted with a glaze called “yuyaku,” which creates a glossy, multicolored finish on the surface of the clay. After firing, the glaze turns glass-like, and has waterproofing properties. There are also many toki pieces that are fired without the yuyaku glaze being applied.
Toki that have been fired after being glazed with yuyaku include Kasama ware (Kasama-Yaki) and Hagi ware (Hagi-Yaki), and toki that have been fired without yuyaku include Bizen ware (Bizen-Yaki) and Echizen ware (Echizen-Yaki).
It is important to remember that not just any clay can be used. For example, Kasama ware uses clay taken from the area spanning Mt. Tsukuba to the Kasama region (Ibaraki Prefecture), as its plasticity is perfect for molding. Similarly, Bizen ware uses clay that has been mined near the Katakami area of Bizen City in Okayama Prefecture. This iron-rich clay becomes a reddish-brown color when fired, and the texture and appearance can vary greatly depending on the properties and composition.
Unlike toki, jiki is made up of crushed pottery stone such as that pictured above (picture: Izumiyama Quarry, the site of a mine where pottery stone used for Imari-Arita-Yaki was excavated). It is fired at an extremely high temperature of 1,250℃ - 1,300℃. Compared to toki, jiki is rather light and hard, and is often painted with vibrant patterns atop a white base, as seen on Imari-Arita ware (Imari-Arita-Yaki) and Kutani ware (Kutani-Yaki). However, similar to toki, the area of origin and properties of the pottery stones used changes based on the product being made.
Both toki and jiki use clay that is full of minerals such as feldspar and silica, but the clay for jiki has a higher percentage of these minerals. Because of this, firing at high temperatures allows it to crystallize and harden.
There are many famous types of jiki, including Imari-Arita ware (the first jiki in Japan), Kutani ware, Mino ware (Mino-Yaki), and Satsuma ware (Satsuma-Yaki).
Types of Toki
The History of Mashiko Ware
The story of Mashiko ware (“Mashiko-yaki”) begins in 1853, towards the end of the Edo Period. The location is the town of Mashiko in Tochigi Prefecture in the northern Kanto region. Keisaburo Otsuka, a potter from the neighboring Kasama domain (Hitachi Province, which is now modern-day Ibaraki Prefecture), moved to Mashiko and found clay of exceptional quality. He established a kiln there to turn this clay into ceramics, marking the beginning of the Mashiko ware tradition.
Soon enough, he invited other potters over from Kasama, and with the aid of the local domain, they produced large volumes of daily necessities such as water jugs, vases, plates, and bowls, and exported them to Edo (now Tokyo).
As Japan transitioned from the Edo Period to the Meiji Period, Mashiko ware became so mass-produced that the quality began to deteriorate. In response, local manufacturers founded the Mashiko Ware Guild in 1903, as well as the Mashiko Ceramics Training Center, with the aim of training a new generation of skilled artisans who could recover the Mashiko brand’s reputation.
As metallic and glass kitchen items became increasingly common, Mashiko ware fell in popularity. However, the Great Kanto Earthquake turned the tides; the 1923 catastrophe flattened large numbers of homes in Tokyo, and as the city began rebuilding, there was enormous demand for kitchenware, including Mashiko ware pieces. It got to the point where craftspeople had difficulty catching up to all of the orders.
Another milestone in Mashiko ware’s history was the Mingei (or “Folk Crafts”) Movement, which was started in 1926 by philosopher Muneyoshi Yanagi and potter Shoji Hamada. Hamada, who resided in Mashiko and produced pottery, sought beauty in the everyday items he made, and his pieces became highly regarded as works of art. Hamada’s philosophy influenced the next generation of potters and contributed to the development of Mashiko ware.
The Tochigi Prefecture Ceramic Earthenware Association was established in 1951. Additionally, during Japan’s miraculous postwar economic growth, workers from throughout the country moved to cities, inspiring a mass wave of nostalgia for the countryside and traditional crafts. As a result, folk crafts like pottery exploded in popularity between the late 1950s and 1970s.
Mashiko ware was officially designated as a Traditional Japanese Craft in 1979, and today there are some 250 pottery studios specializing in the craft in Japan.
The Characteristics of Mashiko Ware
When describing Mashiko ware, the first thing to note is the feel of the clay. Because of its many sand particles, it is coarse, rough, and not very sticky. This means that the material is easy to mold and quite resistant to fire.
The coarse texture of Mashiko clay is less suited to making thin, fine items, so Mashiko ware tends to be quite thick. This helps items fit easily in the hand and gives it a certain warmth, contributing to its appeal.
Mashiko ware also tends to use plenty of glaze. Glazes with natural tones are common, such as persimmon glaze, black glaze, straw ash, tree ash, or a rice-husk-white glaze made from rice husk ash. This gives the products a warm and refreshing quality without being too heavy. Other glazes like amber and celadon (jade green) have a fresher air to them.
Products tend to consist of simple decorations made by simple, accessible tools. The shape is made with potter’s wheels, wooden molds, or simply by molding by hand. Decorative textures are added with brush tips or combs, and planers can be used to etch on some further textures.
However, although the techniques may be simple, the multiple generations of Mashiko artisans have brought forth a wide variety of products. Some, like Hamada, made their works with the explicit aim of carrying on a folk art tradition, while others’ creations were far more free-form. You could say that the sheer breadth of possibility is a distinguishing feature of Mashiko ware.
Mashiko Ware Today
Those who wish to get to know the artisans of Mashiko ware should visit the Mashiko Ceramics Market*, an enormous event that is held every spring and every winter, which when combined bring about 600,000 visitors each year. This is an excellent chance to see recent Mashiko ware items from young, up-and-coming artisans.
Over 500 Mashiko ware retailers and artisan tents are lined up throughout the town, and there you can find a wide variety of products, from daily household items to works of art, on sale at significant discounts.
Recent consumers tend to look for tableware that can fit into a simple and natural-looking decor. Mashiko ware, due to its gentle and natural hues, also provides a perfect visual complement to various cuisines.
*The Mashiko Autumn Ceramics Market—planned for October 31 through November 4, 2020—has been canceled due to the coronavirus.
Mashiko Ceramics Market Official Website: http://www.town.mashiko.tochigi.jp/page/page000110.html (Japanese only)
There are also long-established manufacturers trying out new things. For example, there’s an “ekiben” lunch box called “Toge no Kamameshi” that’s famous for its exquisite container, which is sourced from the long-established Mashiko ware maker Tsunamoto, established in 1864. While Tsunamoto is Mashiko’s largest pottery producer, they have been adjusting with the times and are placing greater emphasis on earthenware pots for individual use.
There is also the Wakasama Pottery Studio, which has gained popularity through its series of “shabby turquoise” items, with “shabby” here referring to its rustic look. Plates and bowls with this rough turquoise look are a perfect match for international cuisines! The studio offers Mashiko ware with a wide variety of designs, from polka dot motifs to items with a Northern European flair, which are microwaveable and dishwasher-safe as well. Their design and functionality makes clear that these items are designed with today’s sensibilities in mind, and they can easily find a role in modern life.
The History of Echizen Ware
Echizen ware (Echizen-Yaki) has a long history. It is a type of ceramic made mainly in the town of Echizen in Fukui Prefecture, located in central mainland Japan on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Echizen ware is known as one of the “Six Ancient Kilns of Japan,” which are six representative “schools” of ceramics (and their production areas) that have existed since before the Kamakura Period (1185 - 1333) up to the present day. Other than Echizen ware, there is the "Bizen ware" from the city of Bizen in Okayama Prefecture, "Seto ware" from the city of Seto in Aichi Prefecture, "Tokoname ware" from the city of Tokoname in Aichi Prefecture, "Shigaraki ware" from the city of Koga in Shiga Prefecture, and “Tamba ware” from the city of Sasayama in Hyogo Prefecture.
Echizen ware is characterized by its reddish-brown color and rustic texture, which comes from its rich iron content. Most Echizen ware is produced without the use of any glaze or “yuyaku” in Japanese. This is a glass-like coating on the surface of ceramics that serves to waterproof and add color and a glossy finish to the product. Without the use of any glaze, one of the beautiful characteristics of Echizen ware is the green pattern formed by ash from the firewood melting and fusing onto the surface.
The history of Echizen ware dates back to around 850 years ago. From the end of the Heian Period (794 - 1185), many Echizen ware pots, jars, mortars, sake flasks, and other everyday items were produced. Echizen ware was used to store water, sake, and grains by common people as it was leakproof and very durable. During the Muromachi Period (1336 - 1573), Echizen ware spread throughout Japan, carried by ships sailing from Hokkaido to Shimane, along the coast of the Sea of Japan. The Fukui Prefecture ports of Tsuruga and Mikuni were known as two of Japan's leading port towns, and it is thanks to the presence of these large ports that Echizen ware was able to spread nationwide.
However, in the Meiji Era (1868 - 1912), due to modernization and changes in lifestyles, the demand for Echizen ware pots and jars plummeted. This led to a gradual decline in the popularity of Echizen ware. In response to these changes, the production of tableware such as “tokkuri” (a flask used to serve sake) and tea vessels began. However, this new style of Echizen ware was not very well received, leading to the closure of many kilns.
After World War II (1935 - 1945), Echizen ware began to regain its popularity. The historical value of Echizen ware was re-evaluated through a study on ancient kilns conducted by researchers such as Fujio Koyama and Kyuemon Mizuno. Fujio Koyama went on to dub the areas that the aforementioned six types of ceramics (“Bizen ware,” “Seto ware,” “Tokoname ware,” “Shigaraki ware,” “Tamba ware,” and “Echizen ware”) came from as the “Six Ancient Kilns of Japan.” As a result, Echizen ware—previously considered to be items for daily use—came to be known as a traditional Japanese craft.
The Characteristics of Echizen Ware
Echizen ware is characterized by its simple look that is brought out by the fine texture of soil. By using locally-sourced red clay that is rich in iron, the product is fire-resistant and highly durable. Most Echizen ware is produced without the use of glaze or coloring. When baked at a high temperature, ash from the firewood sticks to the clay, melting into the surface and creating a unique finish.
Interestingly, Echizen ware is technically classified as a type of stoneware, not pottery or porcelain. Stoneware has properties that place it midway between pottery and porcelain, and it is durable and water-resistant.
One of the distinctive techniques of Echizen ware production is the coil-molding technique known as “nejitate seikei.” First, a layer of clay is formed into the base. Clay is then rolled into long coil-like pieces, which are piled on top of each other around the base layer to form different shapes. In 1986, this distinctive molding technique was registered as an intangible cultural heritage of Fukui under the name “Togei Echizen Ogame Nejitate Seikei”.
Echizen Ware Today
In 1971, the Echizen Pottery Village was built in an effort to make Echizen a hub for regional development and to promote the growth of the Echizen ware industry. As a result, potters from all over the country flocked to the area and the number of pottery workshops increased. Today, many potters continue the techniques and traditions handed down from ancient times, and are working hard to create new pieces. In 1986, Echizen ware officially gained the government’s designation as a traditional Japanese craft.
It is possible to enjoy Echizen ware at a variety of locations near the Echizen Pottery Village, including the Fukui Prefectural Museum of Ceramics, the Industrial Technology Center of Fukui Prefecture, and the Echizen Yaki no Yakata (pictured above). The area also has a variety of lodging available, making it a wonderful place to visit for a cultural experience.
In addition, a new project in Fukui Prefecture called “RENEW” was organized and launched by the cities of Sabae and Echizen, as well as the town Echizen. The project aims to help create sustainable development in the region by opening seven different craft studios to the public, including Echizen ware. By organizing studio tours and workshops, visitors are able to understand the crafter’s thought processes, see them in action as they work, and even purchase crafts to take home. This example makes it clear that it is really the entire community that is involved in not only passing down the techniques of Echizen ware but also promoting the further development of the craft.
RENEW Website: https://renew-fukui.com/ (Japanese only)
The History of Shigaraki Ware
Shigaraki ware (Shigaraki-Yaki) is a type of pottery that originated from Shiragaki in the city of Koka in Shiga Prefecture. This prefecture is roughly in the middle of Osaka Prefecture, Aichi Prefecture, and Nagoya Prefecture, all three of which are in the Kinki region, slightly west of the center of the Japan mainland. Its roots extend as far back as the 8th century during the Tenpyo Era.
The Shigaraki ware we see today, however, is believed to have been created in the 13th century (Kamakura period) and firmly cemented in terms of craftsmanship and style by the 14th century (Muromachi period). This time also happens to be when the production of Shigaraki ware water jugs, pots, bowls, and other useful everyday tools started increasing.
In the 16th century (Azuchi-Momoyama Period), Shigaraki ware gained attention thanks to influential people such as Nobunaga Oda and Hideyoshi Toyotomi. These shogun were fans of the Japanese tea ceremony, and claimed that although Shigaraki ware made refined tools, they were also perfect for Japanese tea ceremonies as they carried a taste of the earth and had a rough texture, both characteristics lending themselves to “wabi-cha,” a style of Japanese tea ceremony that emphasized simplicity. These statements led to a striking improvement in the overall reputation of Shigaraki ware, with more and more Shigaraki ware tea ceremony tools being made.
In the 17th century (Edo Period), Shigaraki ware started to be mass produced thanks to the Noborigama kiln (pictured above to the left), a type of kiln wherein multiple kilns are built along a steep mountainside. At the same time, demand for colorful Shigaraki ware began to increase, so more of that type started to be produced. Shigaraki ware started to become something essential to the people’s everyday lives, appearing as sake bottles, earthenware pots, and other everyday items.
In 1868 (Meiji Period), railroads were created, and the pots used to pour tea for railcar guests were Shigaraki ware. Around the same time, tanuki statues—pictured above to the right; granting good luck and are still often seen at shop fronts today—were made. These statues were Shigaraki ware and symbolized how the pottery was spreading to the masses. In the 19th century, Shigaraki hibachi (charcoal braziers) were made. They were quick to heat up as well as cool down, which earned them such a reputation that they were the most produced product at the time.
After World War II, electric and gas heaters started to become commonplace, resulting in the eventual end of the production of Shigaraki ware hibachi in 1965. However, thanks to the continuous efforts of Shigaraki potters, Shigaraki ware eventually gained its current designation as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1975.
The Characteristics of Shigaraki Ware
The most unique characteristic of Shigaraki ware is how the coarse clay soil makes it take on a pink, red, or sometimes even a reddish-brown hue after being fired. This is a natural occurrence that happens due to the mineral content, such as iron, in the soil.
Apart from that, in general, Shigaraki ware is unique in how the firing process changes its appearance. For example, it can take on a glassy coating from the wood ashes of the fire that fall onto it, as well as turn a burnt brown when completely surrounded by firewood ashes.
The clay soil used for Shigaraki ware is not just tough but also flexible, making it easy to shape. For this reason, you can find Shigaraki ware in all sorts of shapes and sizes—another great characteristic that it possesses.
Shigaraki ware is artistic when it takes the form of tea ceremony tools, but it’s also more than that. It has an old-fashioned charm brought about by its appearance which has been created from a multitude of natural conditions that cannot be replicated by humans.
Shigaraki Ware Today
Although it has been difficult to train successors in the art of Shigaraki ware, potters all over Japan are making more of an effort to do so as they recognize its value as a part of Japanese culture.
For example, in recent years, thanks to increased attention from overseas on Japan’s traditional culture, Shigaraki ware potters have made the move to Munich, Germany, in order to show students how to make Shigaraki ware and how to perform a Japanese tea ceremony.
More and more young potters with a focus on sustainability have also been appearing recently. Instead of throwing away substandard works, they break them down and reuse the parts. For example, they’re used as the gravel in a Shigaraki ware goldfish bowl or as a part of underwater sculptures.
You can view the works of experienced and young potters in one large hall at the Shigaraki Ware Festival* held every October. 2020 will be the 67th time they’ll be holding the festival. At this popular festival, the works of many workshops and potters will be for sale, often at 20-50% off.
*It will be held from October 9 - 18 in 2020. However, it will not be held in one large hall like in the picture above, but rather in several participating stores.
Shigaraki Ware Festival Website: https://www.shigaraki-matsuri.com/ (Japanese Only)
The History of Bizen Ware
Bizen ware, known as “Bizen-Yaki” in Japanese, originated in Okayama Prefecture in the Chugoku region, which lies in the western part of mainland Japan. It was created around 794 during the Heian Period. This so-called “pottery with a 1,000-year-old history” has been beloved throughout Japan for centuries. Its ancestor is an earlier form of earthenware called “Sue pottery,” which were used by people of the past as everyday utensils. Bizen ware came into existence thanks to Okayama’s mild climate and its natural resources, including the local, high-quality clay and red pines used in their kilns.
Bizen ware dishes with concave surfaces have been produced since the Kamakura Period, which began in 1185. As time went on, the discovery of new kinds of clay as well as the spread of the potter’s wheel made it possible to mass-produce Bizen ware. Around 1573, at the end of the Muromachi Period, Bizen ware utensils became especially prized by masters of the tea ceremony. Over the years, many kilns were constructed in different areas, leading to fierce competition. Thankfully, potters continued to pass their techniques down to the next generation, allowing this ancient Japanese craft to survive to this day.
Eventually, the craft started being safeguarded by the country, but the person who most contributed to its prosperity was the potter Toyo Kaneshige. For his efforts, in 1956, he was named a Holder of an Important Intangible Cultural Property (i.e. a Living National Treasure). With this designation, the popularity of Bizen ware spread not just in Japan but also around the world, giving birth to other Living National Treasure artisans such as Kei Fujiwara or Toshu Yamamoto.
The Characteristics of Bizen Ware
People love Bizen ware for its distinct reddish-brown color, which it gets thanks to the precious hiyose clay found in the Inbe region. Bizen ware is fired without glaze and isn’t painted afterwards to bring out its natural, warm earthen features.
There are four kinds of Bizen ware. There is the dark grey “yohen,” the “goma” (lit. “sesame seeds”) characterized by sesame seed-like sprinkles in its finish, the “sangiri” which uses copious amounts of charcoal, and the “hidasuki” which is characterized by patterns achieved by firing the pottery while wrapped with straw or string. The exact patterns on Bizen ware will differ depending on the firing or contact with the ash, so even items in the same form never come out exactly the same, which is part of their charm.
Bizen ware is fired in all sorts of kilns, from classic cellar kilns to modern electric kilns and also traditional “ascending kilns.” An ascending kiln is a large furnace built on a spacious, sloped area. Using this difference of elevation, multiple chambers are built atop each other, and dishes can be fired differently by placing them in different chambers. When using this type of kiln, potters must be careful about where to place each dish to fire it correctly. Firings happen only a few times a year, producing a limited number of products.
Bizen ware is incredibly durable. It’s said that being fired at extremely high temperatures makes this pottery impossible to crack, even if you throw it. Indeed, much like Echizen ware which was developed later, Bizen ware is technically earthenware, with properties between pottery and porcelain.
Another characteristic of Bizen ware is its irregular surface. The porous surface allows you to enjoy the fine texture of individual beer bubbles and makes drinks taste smoother. Bizen ware is also air-permeable, so it can be used as a flower vase. As you can see, Bizen ware is both beautiful and functional, which is why households have long used it for all kinds of purposes.
Bizen Ware Today
Japan’s oldest, most noteworthy "schools" of ceramics which have survived from the Middle Ages through to the modern day are referred to as the “Six Ancient Kilns.” They were designated as Japan Heritage in 2017, and Bizen is of course one of them. Many modern furnaces today keep its history alive.
If you visit Okayama, you’ll of course be able to buy Bizen ware tableware or vases, and there are also numerous restaurants that serve food in Bizen ware dishes. The prefecture naturally has museums and galleries, but you should also directly visit a kiln if you ever get the chance.
Bizen ware can come in all sizes and shapes and serve all sorts of functions. Bizen ware craftsmen go far beyond the traditional items and make various ornaments that express their individuality. But, as mentioned before, while they’re certainly beautiful and decorative, the real charm of Bizen ware is its functionality. They need to be used to be fully appreciated, and thanks to their durability, they will stay with you for a long time. And the more you use them, the more their surface irregularities will be worn down, causing the utensils to fit perfectly into your hand. So, please enjoy the simple beauty of this Japanese craft with both your eyes and your hands.
The History of Hagi Ware
The origins of Hagi ware (Hagi-Yaki) are somewhat complex.
After the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), the feudal lord Terumoto Mori moved his stronghold from Aki (in modern-day Hiroshima Prefecture) to Hagi (modern-day Hagi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture). Then in 1604, Mori established the Hagi Domain’s “goyogama” kiln with Korean craftsmen brothers Shakukou Lee and Kei Lee at its helm. A “goyogama” is an official kiln, under the protection of a feudal domain, that is established for the purpose of creating gifts for the feudal lord and shogun. The techniques brought to the kiln by the two brothers are considered to be the beginning of Hagi ware.
During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868, the era in which the Tokugawa shogunate ruled the entirety of Japan from Edo (modern-day Tokyo)), Hagi ware was mainly created for the daily use of the local feudal lord or as gifts for the Tokugawa shogunate. Only select nobles could use Hagi ware, and common people did not have access to it.
Hagi ware tea utensils have long had a strong reputation, particularly the “chawan” (small bowls traditionally used for drinking tea), and local feudal lords and shogun are said to have used Hagi ware chawan in their tea ceremonies.
Up until the formation of the Meiji Government through the revolution known as the Meiji Restoration (1853 – 1867), the “goyogama” kiln operated under the protection of the local feudal lord. It was then privatized in the Meiji Period, causing a business dilemma for the kiln. Since then, due to changing lifestyles and economic depression, Japan saw a decrease in demand for traditional handicrafts. In response to this, the production of Hagi ware for daily use began, including items such as teacups and bowls, instead of just traditional tea ware.
During the Pacific War (1941 – 1945), the number of craftsmen working as individual artists began slowly increasing, and in 1957, Hagi ware was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Asset of Yamaguchi Prefecture. In 1970, Miwa Kyusetsu X was recognized as a Living National Treasure, followed by Miwa Kyusetsu XI in 1983. Through the actions of these masters, the artistic value of Hagi ware continues to be appreciated and thus the culture is preserved.
The Characteristics of Hagi Ware
The characteristic trait of Hagi ware is its subdued appearance that makes use of the texture of the clay and fine cracked patterns known as “kannyu” (crazing). Kannyu refers to tiny cracks that form on the surface during firing due to the different rates of contraction of the coarse clay and the pottery glaze. Through extended use, tea or sake penetrates the tiny surface cracks and the color of the glaze will gradually change. This phenomenon is known as “Hagi nanabake” and is praised throughout the world.
The secret of Hagi ware’s popularity is that its appearance changes the more you use it, making each vessel a one-of-a-kind piece.
Rather than from added decoration, the charm of Hagi ware’s appearance comes from the mixture of clays used and the way the glaze is applied, making each piece look as though it were created accidentally. For this reason, specialty clays such as “Mishima,” “Mitake,” and “Daido” are used to produce the texture of the clay.
You will often see a notch cut into the bottom of Hagi ware tea bowls or other pots. This is something known as “kirikodai” (cutting foot). The “kodai” or “foot” is the ridge that skirts the base of the vessel. It stabilizes the vessel to prevent it from falling over, and also allows someone to hold the hot bowl without burning their hands.
There are various theories about the notch in the foot, but it is commonly said that this began as a way to circumvent the rule against common people using Hagi ware. The Hagi ware was damaged by deliberately making a cut so that it could be sold to common people. This technique of cutting a notch into the foot is not exclusive to Hagi ware, however, and you may also see pieces without the notch in them.
Hagi Ware Today
There was an increased interest in the Japanese tea ceremony and a heightened demand for ceramics during Japan’s post-war economic boom (1954 – 1970). In 2002, Hagi ware was officially designated as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Modern-day Hagi ware is not limited to traditional tea ware. An extensive range of pieces are produced, such as small teapots like the one pictured above, cups, and plates. As they can be purchased inexpensively, they are highly popular as daily-use items.
There are also now innovative projects underway, such as the development of sake drinking vessels in cooperation with sake breweries and collaborations with Instagrammers.
Types of Jiki
The History of Kutani Ware
Kutani ware, known as “Kutani-Yaki” in Japanese, is a traditional Japanese craft that originated from Ishikawa Prefecture in the Hokuriku region, which is located in northern mainland Japan. Its history spans over 360 years.
It is believed that Kutani ware was first created in 1655 in the early Edo period. As with many other styles of ceramics, Kutani ware was named after the place it was created in, Kutani Village. People found pottery stone there, and from it created many porcelain works.
The above picture shows the Yoshidaya Kiln which was built in the latter half of the Edo Period (1781 - 1867). Even now, it remains exactly as it was at the time of excavation and is open to the general public.
Since its creation, Kutani ware designs have constantly adapted with the latest trends of the time, from the bold and colorful Ko-Kutani style to the Aochibu style (pictured above) of the Meiji Era that incorporated blue and white dotted patterns. It’s truly interesting observing the significant differences in the designs and colors based on the artist and the era.
For example, there are Kutani ware with extraordinary designs depicting nature scenes such as the mountains, sea, flowers, and birds. At the same time, there are also Kutani ware that mainly feature animals or people, dragons and other creatures of myth, or abstract patterns. Every piece of Kutani ware has a history that you can see just by looking at it, and by doing this you can unearth an entirely new perspective.
It can even be said that the reason why Kutani ware has persevered until today is because it incorporates traditional crafting techniques yet allows for freedom of expression.
The Characteristics of Kutani Ware
“Sometsuke” is a method of decorating ceramics which are painted on with a brush. With Kutani ware, this typically starts with a dark navy underglaze known as “gosu.” From there, red, yellow, green, purple, and blue are painted over the underglaze.
The process of applying these five colors over the underglaze is known as “overglaze,” and the result is magnificent. The finished design is bold, and when you take a closer look, you can clearly see that all the smaller details have been properly painted in.
This is an even more astounding feat when you realize that Kutani ware artisans are painting not just on flat surfaces like large flat plates, but containers, cups, and intricate ornaments!
Another type of painting method that has been growing in popularity since the Meiji Era (1868 - 1911) is “mori.” This technique involves thickly applying the paint, resulting in an almost 3D effect.
The plethora of painting methods being invented for Kutani ware is impressive, but one should also not fail to recognize the immeasurable skill, knowledge, and effort needed by artisans to create these.
When applying the paint, Kutani ware artisans need to consider not just the tone of the overall piece, but also what sort of design and finish they want the piece to have after it’s been fired for a second time. Since it’s not just about how well you can paint, it takes a lot of time and consideration to get the results you want.
Kutani Ware Today
Kutani ware is a craft that both carries on tradition while ever evolving. Since 1990, two Kutani ware artisans have been designated as Living National Treasures. Kutani ware has taken on a wide variety of expressions over time, and today you can even see it painted with sophisticated designs decorating modern rooms. Demand for Kutani ware eating utensils, ornaments, and interior goods has also risen.
Amazingly, more women have also become Kutani ware artisans. The delicate finishes and intricate beauty that they add to their Kutani ware works will surely give this traditional Japanese craft a new form of beauty.
The History of Mino Ware
Mino ware (Mino-yaki) is a kind of Japanese pottery made in the cities of Tajimi, Toki, and Kani in southeastern Gifu Prefecture, which is situated in the Chubu Region at the center of mainland Japan. The craft began in the 5th century, when the potter’s wheel and “ana-gama” (an old type of kiln made by digging a hole into the side of a hill) were introduced to Japan from the Korean Peninsula.
There are records of Mino ware with a color as white as the white ceramics of China being gifted to the Emperor of Japan during the Heian Period (10th century).
In the 1500s during the late Muromachi Period, a large kiln was built in a village within Mino (a former province in southern Gifu Prefecture), leading to innovations being made for adding color to the pottery. Subsequently, Mino ware saw its golden age during the 16th to the 17th centuries, or the Azuchi-Momoyama Period to the Edo Period.
After Mino was placed under the governance of the Japanese feudal lord Nobunaga Oda in 1567, Mino ware artists made great leaps and bounds in their work. Furthermore, Mino ware gained the favor of tea ceremony masters such as Sen no Rikyu and Oribe Furuta, boosting its popularity.
The tea bowls and tools used for tea ceremonies at the time were Mino ware, and many of the most iconic styles of Mino ware, such as Haishino, Shino, Oribe, Kizeto, and Setoburo were born during this period.
1603, the beginning of the Edo Period, was when Mino ware artists started making everyday tools and utensils such as bowls, plates, and sake bottles. White porcelain and items similar to China’s celadon porcelain started to be produced in this time as well.
From 1868 onwards, potters were able to give color to Mino ware using imported coloring pigments. New techniques for painting Mino ware such as transfer printing and screen printing were born, and production grew in scope.
The culmination of all this progress resulted in Mino ware being designated as a traditional japanese craft in 1978. Today, Mino ware is the most produced type of pottery in Japan, accounting for over 60% of all traditional Japanese tableware.
The Characteristics of Mino Ware
One of the most unique features of Mino ware is just how many varieties there are. The term “Mino ware” refers to not just one style of ceramics, but rather 15 different types, all of which are designated a traditional Japanese craft.
The most representative style is Oribe, made following the aesthetic sense of Oribe Furuta, a disciple of the tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu. It made an appearance during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (16-17th centuries), showcasing innovation yet unseen at the time, and was novel for its distorted appearance and dark green geometrical design.
While Mino ware is widely appreciated all over the world for decoration purposes, it also gives a rustic beauty when used to serve food, and many famous chefs love to use it.
Another style of Mino ware born in the same period, Shino, was a revolutionary kind of pottery as it marked the first time that potters tried adding designs to the pottery before adding the overall glaze for color. Shino is characterized by tinges of fiery red color that appear over a milky white base, as well as its tiny bubble-like holes formed via adding glaze called “Chosekiyuu” to bring color to the piece. When combined, these two features give the pottery a beautiful natural appearance. Depending on the temperature used to fire it, the piece can take on different colors, including dark brown, red, or slate. Apart from tea ware and tools, Shino ware is popular as vases, pots, sake bottles, large sake cups, and incense holders.
Kizeto, another style of Mino ware that’s fired after being painted with an iron-based glaze, has a subtle and simple appearance and is known for its warm yellow color. Its dark green design is painted using a copper-based glaze. Kizeto ware can appear in many forms, including tea ceremony tools and ware, plates, pots, bowls, and vases.
Mino Ware Today
The cities of Tajimi, Toki, and Mizunami in Gifu Prefecture protect the culture surrounding Mino ware today. However, even though Gifu is Japan’s largest ceramics producing area today, there are several problems facing the craft. Not only is there a lack of craftsmen to carry on the work, but they are running out of clay due to over 1,000 years of pottery production.
The great features of Mino ware are the innovativeness and freedom of expression it grants. Many potters over the years have developed the craft in the most groundbreaking ways.
In the present day, there are several young potters specializing in Mino ware who have even created a group in order to spread the love for the craft in ways never tried before, by doing things such as holding workshops with demonstrations using the potter’s wheel.
The local Tono Shinkin Bank Ltd. has also been supporting these potters’ efforts by working together with different kilns and the Mino Ware Branding Council, as well as planning and holding the Minoyakisai (Mino Ware Festival) every mid-October around Tajimi Station*.
These collaborations with local organizations and young Mino ware artists are spreading the word about Mino ware in a way that we can more easily relate to.
*The Minoyakisai will not take place in 2020 due to the coronavirus.
The History of Imari-Arita Ware
The first porcelain to be made in Imari City and Arita Village was crafted in the beginning of the 17th century. These towns are located in west Saga, a prefecture in Kyushu's southwest. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the shogun (military dictator) who first unified Japan, dispatched Japanese troops to the Korean peninsula towards the end of the 16th century, who then brought back Korean craftsmen. These craftsmen found a high-quality ceramic material called “Ryumongan” at Izumiyama (pictured above) in Arita, and proceeded to create Imari-Arita ware from this natural resource.
During the 17th century, at the beginning of the Edo Period (1603 - 1868), Jingdezhen porcelain (pictured above), which was actively imported from China, was commonplace. However, due to a civil war that occurred in imperial China in 1644, the amount of exports sharply decreased. Attention was turned to the domestic Imari-Arita ware, and production increased exponentially. As a result, the type of porcelain that was used in Japan subsequently was mostly Imari-Akita ware.
Later, the Edo shogunate (the government body at the time) implemented the “sakoku” closed country policy. However, special trading exceptions were made for China and the Netherlands, and Imari-Arita ware began to be exported by ship. Doing this along with implementing Chinese porcelain-making techniques continued to increase the quality of Japanese porcelain.
One technique that improved considerably was the “iroe,” or overglaze enamel paintings. The famous “Kakiemon” type of painting that decorates Arita ware came about in the 1660s. During that time, European countries did not have a technique to create white porcelain, and highly favored porcelain with Kakiemon. In the 18th century, many areas across Europe started making porcelain that imitated the Kakiemon design, such as Meissen porcelain.
Imari ware and Arita ware continued to be exported to Europe for around 100 years until 1757, but after that, it began to change to better fit Japanese people’s tastes. Towards the end of the Edo Period, from the 18th to 19th centuries, food stalls and restaurants became quite active, and as the food culture among civilians flourished, Imari and Arita ware became indispensable in the Edo lifestyle.
The reason the name “Imari ware” is popular outside of Japan is because porcelain that was made in Arita was shipped out through Imari Port, so they were not distinguished as a separate type of porcelain and instead collectively called Imari ware.
The Characteristics of Imari-Akita Ware
The surface of Imari-Arita ware is such a clear white that Europeans aristocrats even nicknamed it “white gold.” After “gosu” (indigo pigment) is drawn onto the surface, vibrant overglaze enamels are drawn on in beautiful reds, greens, yellows, purples, and blues.
Imari-Arita ware is also light, hard, and durable. This is due to it being shaped from special clay made from pottery stone, glazed with yuyaku, and then fired at the extremely high temperature of 1,300°C for over seventeen hours.
Types of Imari-Akita Ware
Imari-Arita ware can be categorized into three main groups.
The first is “Ko-Imari-Yoshiki,” or “Old-Type Imari.” This type was made during the Edo Period. Dazzling decorations made of red and gold were laid atop the blue and white porcelain, creating vibrant pieces of art.
The second is the “Kakiemon” type. It uses a milky white for its base, and the designs drawn atop are in the Kakiemon style. Sakaida Kakiemon, the inventor of this technique, used red, yellow, green, and blue colors to delicately portray motifs such as Japanese flowers and birds. The highly beloved Kakiemon type of Japanese porcelain is a great representation of traditional Japanese aesthetics.
The third is the “Nabeshima” type. This porcelain was not meant for the common people to use, but was instead sold directly to the Nabeshima clan and was made as offering to many different daimyo (Japanese feudal lords). The porcelain is characterized by its bluish-white background with orderly and precisely drawn patterns. There are many dignified, luxuriously made Nabeshima pieces that are deservingly called pieces of art.
Imari-Akita Ware Today
2016 marked the 400-year anniversary since the inception of Imari ware and Arita ware. Pieces from the Edo Period are still being restored today, and modern artisans and creators are collaborating to create and test new designs. There are even businesses working on developing the world’s strongest porcelain for Imari-Akita ware!
Nowadays, Imari-Arita ware is not just beloved in Japan, but overseas as well, especially in Europe. The paintings decorating the clear white porcelain have varying beauties depending on the era and the artist, and in recent years, refined designs made with techniques such as openwork have garnered attention as well.
Imari-Arita ware decorates museums and palaces all over the world, and is even prized so highly in Japan that it is given as gifts by the Imperial household. The techniques that have been passed down may be old, but the designs have changed in recent times to fit modern aesthetics and lifestyles.
This innovation has increased even more so in recent years, with many in-house porcelain artisans working to create pieces that people can use in their daily lives today.
Every spring and autumn, 1.2 million people gather at the “Aritatoukiichi (*1)” (Arita Ware Market), where many pieces are displayed. Those who are unable to attend the event are able to make purchases through the event’s website, where customers are able to shop online (*2) and find many new pieces.
*1) Spring 2020 cancelled due to COVID-19
*2) Online shopping only available for a certain amount of time (April 29 - May 5, 2020; autumn TBD)
The History of Satsuma Ware
Satsuma ware (Satsuma-yaki) is a form of pottery that originated from a place called Satsuma, in what is now Kagoshima Prefecture in the southern part of the island of Kyushu. It is believed to have been created around the year 1598. At that time, the commander of the Satsuma Domain, Shimazu Yoshihiro (whose statue is pictured below), on returning from a military campaign in Korea, brought a group of skilled potters back to Japan with him. Although the potters numbered only a few dozen, the craft spread to various parts of the region.
Taking advantage of the blessings of their natural surroundings, the potters soon developed their own styles of Satsuma ware. Various schools or styles of pottery now exist under the umbrella of “Satsuma ware,” including the “Katano style,” “Ryumonji style,” “Naeshirogawa style,” “Nishimochida style,” and “Hirasa style.” Each style is based in a different region and features a distinct appearance. It is this variety within the world of Satsuma ware that makes it so interesting.
Interestingly, Satsuma ware first became known to the rest of the world quite a while ago. In 1867, the International Exposition was held in Paris, where Satsuma ware was featured in its own exhibition. This was the moment that the name “Satsuma” took flight in Europe. It seems that many people were captivated by the charm of the pottery, even though it was on display so far from its native country.
The Characteristics of Satsuma Ware
Satsuma ware can be divided into two broad categories: “Shiro Satsuma” and “Kuro Satsuma.” In the world of ceramics, the surface of the ceramic work is often covered with a glaze known as “yuyaku” that, when fired, takes on a glass-like sheen. These two categories of Satsuma ware differ in the type of glaze used.
Shiro Satsuma (pictured above) is typically made with clear, colorless or pale yellow glaze. Another common characteristic is the fine cracks that appear on the surface, called “kannyu.” Shiro Satsuma is also sometimes referred to as “Shiromon.” The term “Noble Shiromon” (Koki-na-Shiromon) is a testament to the historical value of the pottery, as it was formerly the property of only the nobility and was unavailable to the general public. The pottery often features extravagant, colorful designs and is recognized overseas as its own art form.
On the other hand, Kuro Satsuma, or “Kuromon” is most commonly treated with a colored glaze. In contrast to Shiromon, this kind of pottery was called “The People’s Kuromon” (Shomin-no-Kuromon) and was loved and used by the masses. Kuromon is used to make a variety of common tableware, among which the “kurojoga” tea pot stands out in particular. This earthenware vessel (shown on the left side of the picture above) is used for heating shochu (a kind of Japanese distilled spirit). By delving into the details of various wares, it’s possible to glimpse into history and imagine scenes from an older time, such as common Japanese people enjoying a hot drink as a part of their daily lives.
Satsuma Ware Today
With a rich history of more than 400 years, Satsuma ware continues to live on, with a number of Satsuma ware workshops still existing today. The styles that have been passed down vary, but include several of the aforementioned schools, including the oft-gifted Katano style, Kuromon-specializing Ryumonji style, and the elaborately gold-painted Naeshirogawa style. All are made using different techniques and are worth exploring.
One workshop to focus your attention on is the famous pottery workshop Chin Jukan Kiln, located in the Miyama region of Kagoshima Prefecture. It has continued the legacy of Naeshirogawa pottery from the time when Satsuma ware was created to the present day. Although the techniques used to create this type of pottery have advanced over the years and the workshop does utilize modern technology such as electric kilns, it also continues the tradition of firing some pieces in old-fashioned “Noborigama” kilns (pictured above). As of 2020, the thirteenth generation of potters continues the legacy of the Chin Jukan founders. The intricate, hand-crafted line carvings decorating some of their pieces are particularly stunning.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.