Japanese ceramics have a long history and they have been created by highly skilled craftsmen. They are popular not only in Japan but also throughout the world for their functionality and design.
Each region of Japan has its own distinctive pottery, and there are more than 30 different types. Many of them are designated as national traditional crafts.
In this article, we will explain the difference between pottery and porcelain, how to care for it, the characteristics of pottery from different regions, and related keywords to help you understand and become more familiar with Japanese ceramics.
Features of Japanese Pottery and Ceramics
In Japan, ceramics have a history of more than 10,000 years, beginning with earthenware made in B.C.
Japanese cuisine, a part of Japan's culinary culture, has attracted worldwide attention not only for its delicious taste and gorgeous appearance, but also as a healthy food, and has been registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.
Japanese ceramics have continued to develop along with Japanese cuisine so that Japanese cuisine can be enjoyed visually.
Japanese ceramics have been well developed not only for their outstanding design, but also their functionality, size, weight, texture, ease of handling, and durability, resulting in high quality.
Japanese ceramics are also strongly related to traditional Japanese culture, such as teapots, teacups, and matcha bowls for Sado (Japanese tea ceremony), flower vases for Ikebana (flower arrangement), sake cups, and ochoko (small sake cup), and is essential to the enjoyment of each culture.
There are many kinds of Japanese ceramics, but they can be divided into three categories: pottery, for which Hagiyaki and Mashiko ware are famous, porcelain, for which Kutaniyaki and Aritayaki are famous, and stoneware, which is somewhere in between.
In the following section, we will describe the features of the three types of Japanese ceramics.
Difference between Pottery and Porcelain
Japanese ceramics are made all over Japan, and each ceramic has its own characteristics depending on its region of origin. The ceramics can be roughly divided into pottery, porcelain, and stoneware, which falls somewhere in between.
We will first describe the differences between pottery and porcelain, explaining the differences in materials, firing methods, products, and care. Then we will describe stoneware.
Differences in Materials
The main materials for both pottery and porcelain are clay, vitreous feldspar and silica stone.
Pottery has a larger percentage of clay. Depending on the type of clay, such as white clay, red clay, black clay, porcelain clay, semi-porcelain clay, and potting clay, the surface color differs after firing due to the reaction of the iron content. Pottery absorbs more water than porcelain.
Porcelain, on the other hand, is made from clay with a high content of glassy feldspar and silica stone and low iron. As a result, it has low water absorbency and its surface color is white.
Differences in Firing Method
There is also a difference in the firing process between pottery and porcelain. First, porcelain is fired at higher temperatures: 800 to 1,250°C for pottery and 1,200 to 1,400°C for porcelain. As it is fired at a higher temperature, porcelain is harder and less likely to crack than pottery.
There is also a difference in the firing method. Pottery is fired in a blue flame with more air, called oxidizing firing. This causes its surface to turn yellowish. Porcelain is fired by a method called reduction firing, which does not involve much air. Even if the same material is used, the color of the ceramic will vary depending on the firing method.
Differences in the Finished Product
Finished products of pottery and porcelain have different characteristics depending on materials and firing methods. Light does not penetrate pottery, but porcelain does.
While ceramics come in a variety of surface colors, porcelain is almost exclusively white.
Thickness varies by type of ceramics, but pottery tends to be thicker and porcelain thinner. The appearance of pottery tends to show the texture of clay, making it rustic and soft, while porcelain is glassy, smooth, and refined. Pottery absorbs more water, porcelain less.
Different water absorbency will require different methods of care. Next, we will describe how to care for pottery and porcelain.
Differences in Care Methods
Pottery and porcelain are used repeatedly in daily life, so it is important to care for them properly for long-lasting use. Due to differences in durability and water absorbency, pottery and porcelain require different methods of care.
As pottery is highly absorbent, you should soak it in warm water at the time of purchase or use to prevent cooking oil and odors from sticking to it.
It must be dried thoroughly after use before storage. When you wash it, you can use ordinary detergent, but you should avoid using soaking detergent as pottery may soak the detergent. Use a soft sponge when washing.
Porcelain is easier to care for because it absorbs less water. Unifying dishes with porcelain makes your dishwashing easier. While hand washing with a soft sponge and dishwashing detergent is optimal, using a dishwasher will not cause major problems.
You can even use ovens with porcelain, but if it has gold or silver decorations, you should not use ovens to avoid ignition. Porcelain is sensitive to sudden changes in temperature, so avoid pouring boiling water on it for disinfection.
Stoneware is a type of ceramic that lies between pottery and porcelain. Like ceramics, it is mainly composed of iron-rich clay, but like porcelain, it is fired at 1,200 to 1,400 degrees Celsius. It is not permeable like porcelain, but it absorbs less water. Tokoname ware and Echizen ware are well known as stoneware.
Characteristics of Pottery and Ceramics from Various Regions
Japanese pottery and porcelain have a long history, with the famous Kutani ware and Arita ware having a history of 300 to 400 years. During that time, Japanese ceramics with various characteristics were created in various regions. Here, we will introduce in detail the characteristics of ceramics from various regions of Japan, divided into pottery, porcelain, and stoneware.
Major Japanese Porcelains
First, we will introduce the characteristics of porcelain from various regions.
Kutani ware (Ishikawa)
Kutani ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Ishikawa Prefecture. It is so popular for its painting that it is said, "No painting, no Kutani”.
In the middle of the 17th century, Maeda Toshiharu, the lord of the Daishoji clan, a branch of the Kaga clan, ordered Goto Saijiro, a wrought metal craftsman, to learn pottery making techniques in Hizen Arita.
After Saijiro's return home, he opened a kiln in Kutani and began making porcelain, which is the origin of Kutani ware.
However, after about 50 years, the kilns were closed and production ceased completely.
(This early type of pottery is called Kokutani）.
After about 80 years, it was restored, and through the efforts of its craftsmen, it has flourished to the present day.
As the saying goes, "No Kutani, no painting", the most distinctive characteristic of Kutani ware is its overglaze painting.
It is mainly painted with green, yellow, red, purple, and dark blue Japanese paints, and there are various techniques ranging from bold compositions to elaborate and detailed paintings.
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Imari-Arita Ware (Saga)
Imari-Arita ware is a traditional handicraft produced mainly in and around Arita Town, Saga Prefecture in Kyushu, located on the western side of Japan. It is characterized by its fine, smooth texture and translucent white porcelain, and is painted with gosu indigo and vivid red painting called Aka-e.
Although Imari-Arita ware look thin and fragile, they are highly durable because of its porcelain nature.
Imari-Arita ware originated in the 16th century, when potters who came to Japan during Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea began making porcelain.
This is said to be the first porcelain in Japan, and even today it is one of the leading porcelain production areas in Japan.
The difference between Imari ware and Arita ware is that the name “Arita ware” is known better in Japan and abroad and considered to be a broader term.
The name Imari ware originates from the fact that Arita ware was shipped from Imari Port in the past.
Today, those produced in Arita are called Arita ware, while those produced in Imari are called Imari ware, and are distinguished from each other.
Mikawachi Ware (Sasebo City, Nagasaki)
Mikawachi ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Nagasaki Prefecture.
Its white porcelain is painted with indigo-colored gosu, and is especially famous for its Karakoe. Its elegant and exquisite patterns can be seen on everything from daily necessities to luxury items.
It is also characterized by techniques such as "Sukashi-bori (openwork carving)" and "Rankakude," which is so thin that light can penetrate through it.
Mikawachi ware is said to have originated in the early 17th century, when people began to make ceramics on the order of Shigenobu Matsura, the lord of the Hirado domain.
After that, it flourished as the official kiln of the Hirado domain until the Meiji Restoration.
Himetani Ware (Hiroshima)
Himetani ware was porcelain produced in Kamo Town, Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture.
It is said to have been made by a potter who died around 1670, but the kiln was closed due to lack of successors. The circumstances and technical lineage of the kiln are unknown, and it has given rise to various legends and different theories as a mythic kiln.
In addition to white porcelain, celadon, underglaze blue, red glaze, and ceramic earthenware were also fired, and many of the surviving examples are Japanese-style colored plates with a clean and elegant appearance.
Hasami Ware (Nagasaki)
Hasami ware is a traditional handicraft produced mainly in Nagasaki Prefecture.
There are nearly 90 kilns in the production area, and 40% of the town's workers are involved in porcelain production.
Hasami ware is reasonably priced and fashionable. It has its origins in the construction of Noborigama kiln (climbing kiln) at the end of the 16th century on the order of Omura Kizen, lord of the Omura domain.
It was triggered by the discovery of high-quality pottery stones.
Initially, pottery was produced, but gradually shifted to the production of porcelain.
They have expanded the scale of production by making goods for the masses and mass-produced products.
Hasami was originally a subcontractor for Arita ware, but now produces many unique and fashionable products.
Tobe Ware (Ehime)
Tobe ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Ehime Prefecture.
It is porcelain with patterns painted on the surface of white porcelain using indigo pigment called Gosu.
Tobe ware is said to have originated when Yasutoki Kato, the lord of the Ozu domain, began producing porcelain using whetstone shavings as part of his economic policy.
Tobe ware is white porcelain with patterns painted on the surface in indigo.
The finished product is very hard and sturdy, and its thick, chunky shape is also popular.
It is so durable that it is also known as a "fighting vessel" because it does not break even when thrown in a quarrel between husband and wife.
Major Japanese Potteries
Next, we will introduce ceramics from various regions that are classified as pottery.
Mashiko Ware (Tochigi)
Mashiko ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Tochigi Prefecture.
This pottery is characterized by its massive yet delicate texture.
Mashiko pottery is said to have originated in 1853 when Keizaburo Otsuka opened a kiln in what is now called Mashiko Town.
People mainly produced pots and jars, but this became widely popular in the Showa period when Shoji Hamada began making tableware and vases.
Mashiko ware has a massive appearance because the glaze is applied with a brush made of dog hair.
Mashiko ware was designated as a traditional national craft in 1979, and today there are about 250 pottery studios.
Artists of all ages create a wide variety of works at Mashiko. Some respect traditional style, while others are free and creative, and this diversity is one of the characteristics of Mashiko ware today.
Bizen Ware (Bizen City, Okayama)
The Bizen kiln differs from the other five kilns that are descended from the Sanageyo kiln. It is descended from the Sue ware lineage of the Oku region of eastern Okayama Prefecture.
During the Heian period, it flourished as the nation's foremost producer of Sue ware.
It is characterized by its production method of firing without glaze, its strong reddish appearance, and the patterns created by "Yohen (discoloration through firing).”
The surface of the pottery is a dark brown and is made from a combination of rice field soil called Hiyose and mountain soil that contains iron. It is also known as "Imbe ware" because it was mainly made in the Imbe area of Bizen City.
Hagi Ware (Yamaguchi)
Hagi ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
The colors and decorations are subdued, but the high quality and attention to detail make it an enduring popularity.
It is especially famous as Chatou (ceramics for use in the tea ceremony).
Hagi ware originated in the early 17th century, when an imperial kiln was opened under the order of Terumoto Mori, the lord of the domain.
In the Showa period, Hagi ware was threatened with extinction due to westernization, but the Miwa Kyusetsu the tenth developed white Hagi ware, which became popular again.
In recognition of this achievement, Miwa Kyusetsu X was later designated a Living National Treasure.
Despite its simple appearance, Hagi ware has a strong following due to its high quality.
It is also characterized by a fine crack-like pattern called "Kannyu," which is caused by the clay and glaze.
When you use Hagi ware for many years, tea ingredients seep into the cracks and make it into different textures.
Another feature is the incision in the Kodai (the base of the vessel), which is shaped in various ways by each craftsman.
Shigaraki Ware (Shigaraki Town, Koga City, Shiga)
Shigaraki ware is known for its large size products, It is said to have originally started with the production of roof tiles for the Shigaraki Palace (A detached palace established by the Emperor during the Nara Period in what is now Koga City, Shiga Prefecture).
Shigaraki clay is renowned for its high quality and has a unique rough skin due to the large amount of silica and feldspar mixed in.
In the Muromachi period, its simple texture was loved by various tea masters, including Sen no Rikyu, and it became popular as "Chato Shigaraki”.
From the Taisho era, hibachi (brazier) began to be produced, and in the early Showa era, raccoon dog figurines, which are still a specialty, were also produced.
The raccoon dog figurine was so well-liked by Emperor Showa during his visit to Shigaraki that he composed a waka poem about it, and it soon became well-known throughout Japan.
Tamba Ware (Sasayama City, Hyogo)
Tamba ware refers to pottery made in and around Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture.
Together with Seto, Tokoname, Shigaraki, Echizen, and Bizen, it is one of the six oldest kilns in Japan. In Tamba, each kiln is responsible for the entire process from clay making to firing.
Tamba ware is said to have originated in the late Heian period or early Kamakura period.
Anagama kilns were used until the Momoyama period, after which Noborigama kilns were introduced, and at the same time, the technique of Kicking rokuro (left-rotating rokuro, which is rare in Japan) was introduced, and this traditional technique has been handed down to the present.
In the early Edo period, atmospheric tea ceramics were fired under the guidance of tea master Kobori Enshu and others.
In the late Edo period, under the patronage of the Sasayama domain, master potters such as Naosaku and Ichifusa competed with each other, and Tamba pottery became famous.
During the Anagama kiln period, it was called "Onohara ware," but after the Noborigama kiln period, it was called "Tamba ware," "Tamba-tachikui ware," or "Tachikui ware”.
Obori Soma Ware (Futaba County, Fukushima)
Obori Soma ware is pottery produced mainly in Fukushima Prefecture.
Ohori Soma ware is said to have originated in the Edo period when Nakamura feudal retainer Hangai Kyukan discovered pottery clay in Obori and ordered his servant Sama to start making pottery.
Later, under the protection of the Soma domain, more than 100 kilns lined up, making it the largest production center in the Tohoku region.
Obori Soma ware is famous for its ceramics with celadon glaze (blueish, transparent glaze).
It is also characterized by "blue cracks" that appear randomly on the surface, a "running horse" design, and the ”double firing" technique.
Kasama Ware (Kasama City, Ibaraki)
Kasama ware is a traditional craft mainly produced in Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Kasama ware is characterized by its durability, ease of use, and many new pieces.
Kasama ware is said to have originated around the 18th century when a man named Kuno Han'emon Michinobu invited potters from Omi and started making pottery.
Because of its proximity to Edo, Kasama expanded its scale of production through mass production.
One of the characteristics of today's Kasama ware is that a variety of artisans are freely producing innovative items.
Another advantage is that finished products are strong, sturdy, and easy to use.
Mashiko Town in Tochigi Prefecture, where Mashiko pottery is produced, and Kasama City in Ibaraki Prefecture, where Kasama pottery is produced, are geographically close to each other. They have further deepened their friendship through reconstruction efforts following the Great East Japan Earthquake and are working to develop local industries.
Akatsu Ware (Seto City, Aichi)
Akatsu ware is a traditional craft mainly produced in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture.
This pottery is characterized by a wide variety of decorations made with seven different glazes and 12 different techniques.
Akatsu ware has a long history, dating back to the Heian period.
In the Sengoku period, Akatsu ware was in danger of extinction as artisans moved to the Mino region. But when General Tokugawa Ieyasu began his political rule in Nagoya, he brought back artisans, and the city once again established itself as a pottery production center.
Akatsu ware is characterized by the variety of decoration in which the following seven glazes (ash, iron, Koseto, yellow Seto, Shino, Oribe, and Omukai glaze) are used.
Iga Ware (Mie)
Iga ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Mie Prefecture.
This pottery is characterized by a unique texture full of wildness.
Iga ware has its roots in Sue ware, a type of earthenware dating from the 8th century.
In the Azuchi-Momoyama period, Iga ware began to produce tea ceremony utensils such as tea pots, flower vases, and water jars, and Iga ware became widely known.
Iga ware is characterized by a unique texture full of wildness.
It has also become popular for its earthy texture.
The clay of Iga ware was once at the bottom of Lake Biwa, and as a result, it has many air bubbles, making it hard to heat up and cool down.
Izushi ware (Toyooka City, Hyogo)
Izushi ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Hyogo Prefecture.
It is unparalleled, the highest level of whiteness in porcelain.
Izushi pottery is said to have originated in the 18th century when two men named Izumiya Jirobei and Izuya Yazaemon opened kilns in the town of Izushi.
Thereafter, they learned techniques from Arita craftsworkers and discovered high-quality pottery stones in Kakitani and Taniyama.
Although it was in danger of decline for a time, it became popular in the 19th century when it was able to produce the translucent white porcelain it is known for today.
Izushi ware is characterized by its whiteness, and its pure white color is sometimes described as "whiteness that is too white”.
Its surface is decorated with exquisite patterns and finished with elegance.
Iwami ware (Shimane)
Iwami ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Shimane Prefecture.
The pottery is also known for producing large water jars.
Iwami ware has been produced since around the 18th century, and especially large water jars were exported to the rest of the country on the Kitamae Ship.
The ceramic clay used to make Iwami ware is extremely durable, and many large goods are produced.
In particular, water jars and pickle jars are among the largest in Japan.
Otani Ware (Naruto City, Tokushima)
Otani ware is a traditional craft mainly produced in Tokushima Prefecture.
Otani ware is said to have originated in the 18th century when a craftsman named Bun’emon, who came from Bungo, began firing with red clay.
Later, the lord of the domain, Haruaki Hachisuka, invited craftsmen from Kyushu to open a separate kiln from the one mentioned above, and porcelain was also produced, but the kiln was closed after about three years due to the cost of importing materials.
Later, an indigo merchant of the clan had his own younger brother learn the techniques of Shigaraki ware and build a Noborigama kiln.
Thus began the production of water jars and jars used for indigo dyeing, which became the origin of today's Otani ware.
Currently, there are six pottery studios producing Otani ware.
Otani Pottery uses a unique technique called Nerokuro (lying rokuro) when making large water jars and other items.
One person turns the potter's wheel with his feet while lying on the ground, and the other person makes the pottery from above.
The clay for Otani ware contains high iron and has a unique luster.
Koishiwara Ware (Higashimine Vil, Asakura County, Fukuoka)
Koishiwara ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Fukuoka Prefecture.
This pottery is characterized by patterns decorated with techniques such as Hakeme, Tobi-kanna, and Kushime.
Koishiwara ware is said to have originated in the latter half of the 17th century, when Mitsuyuki Kuroda, lord of the Fukuoka domain, invited potters from Imari to build a kiln.
The British potter Bernard Leach, who was also involved in the Folk Crafts movement, praised Koishiwara ware, and Koishiwara ware won the Grand Prix at the Japan Pavilion, Part 3 of the World Exposition held in Brussels in 1958, attracting attention from abroad.
One of the most distinctive features of Koishiwara ware is the fine geometric patterns applied to the surface using techniques such as Tobi-knna, Hakeme, Kushime, Nagashigake, and Uchikake.
The process of glazing without biscuit firing is also unique, and this pottery’s warm and friendly appearance is also popular.
Agano Ware (Fukuchi Town,Tagawa County, Fukuoka)
Agano ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Fukuoka Prefecture.
Agano ware is not painted, but only glazed, and because it is light and easy to use, it has become popular as everyday vessels.
Agano ware is said to have originated in the early 17th century, when Tadaoki Hosokawa, lord of the Ogura domain, had craftsmen build a Noborigama kiln.
Tadaoki himself was well versed in the tea ceremony as he studied under Sen no Rikyu, which led to the production of many tea ceremony utensils.
Agano ware is unique in that it is not painted.
Various types of glazes are used to decorate only with glaze.
Also, because the pottery is thin and light, it is used not only for tea ceremony utensils but also for daily use.
Karatsu Ware (Saga)
Karatsu ware is a traditional handicraft produced mainly in Saga Prefecture.
It has long been famous as a pottery production center, and has been described in terms such as "Setmono in the east, Karatsumono in the west" and "Ichi-Raku, Ni-Hagi, San-Karatsu.”
Karatsu ware has a long history, with production beginning around the 16th century.
Because of its simple and tasteful appearance, it was valued in the world of the tea ceremony.
Karatsu ware is characterized by its simple and rustic texture.
There is a saying, "Eight parts for the maker, two parts for the user," which expresses the idea of beauty of use, that is, the product is completed when it is used.
Tsuboya Ware (Okinawa)
The pottery produced in Okinawa, with its mild climate and generous people, is full of the charm that is uniquely Okinawan.
In the Okinawan language, pottery is called "Yachimun”.
In Naha City, there is a street called "Tsuboya Yachimun Street" where more than a dozen pottery studios are located.
Tsuboya ware is also designated as a national traditional handicraft.
It has two types of pottery: “Arayachi,” which is unglazed pottery, and “Jyoyachi,” which is glazed and painted pottery.
The difference between Yachimun and Tsuboya ware is that the general term for Okinawan pottery is "Yachimun" and pottery made in Tsuboya is "Tsuboya ware.”
Syodai Ware (Kumamoto)
Syodai ware（小代焼） is a traditional craft produced mainly in Kumamoto Prefecture.
Also written "小岱焼" in Chinese characters, this pottery is characterized by the technique of pouring glaze with a ladle.
Syodai ware has a long history and was produced around the 17th century.
This pottery is durable because it is fired at high temperatures and produces a large amount of miscellaneous daily-use ware.
The technique of Nagashigake, in which a white or yellow glaze made from the ashes of straw or bamboo grass is poured over the surface, is also a characteristic feature of this pottery.
Depending on these glazes and the temperature of the kiln, the coloring is classified into blue, yellow, white, and amber.
Ceramics and Characteristics of Various Regions Producing Both Pottery and Porcelain
Some ceramic production areas produce both pottery and porcelain. This section describes those ceramic production areas.
Seto Ware (Seto City, Aichi)
Seto ware is ceramics made in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture, a major city in the Chubu region of Japan.
In the first half of the 9th century, Kaiyu ceramics were newly fired at the Sanage kiln, using glaze made from plant ash.
In the first half of the 9th century, Seto ware was the only pottery of that time that was glazed to increase its strength. At that time, such pottery was called "Shiki,” and was used mainly in the capital and at important temples.
In the Meiji Era, the works were exhibited at the World Exposition in Vienna in 1873, and were also actively exhibited in Philadelphia and Paris, where they were highly acclaimed.
This led to many orders from overseas and spread the name of Seto around the world.
Especially in the postwar period, elaborate novelties (ceramic figurines, ornaments, etc.) attracted attention as “Seto novelties,” and Seto ceramics accounted for a large portion of Japan's novelty exports.
Seto ware is so famous that the word "Setomono," meaning Seto ware, is used to refer to ceramics themselves in Japanese.
Aizu Hongo Ware (Onuma County, Fukushima)
Aizu Hongo ware is a traditional craft of Fukushima Prefecture.
Aizu Hongo ware originated at the end of the 16th century, when tilemakers from Satsuma were invited to make roof tiles for Tsurugajo Castle.
Later, the Seto potter "Mizuno Genzaemon" was invited to develop the technique, and "Sato Ihee" laid the foundation for the present Aizu Hongo ware.
In addition to pottery, porcelain is also made in the area due to the high quality of the porcelain stones.
This area has also produced "gaishi," which is used to insulate electric wires, since the Meiji Era and has been the main product of this area.
Currently, there are 14 pottery studios, keeping the tradition alive in the present.
Mino Ware (Gifu)
Mino ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Gifu Prefecture.
It accounts for more than 50% of all ceramics produced in Japan, and is considered to be the representative pottery of Japan.
Mino ware has its roots in Sue ware, which was made around the 5th century.
Around the 10th century, the production of ash-glazed ceramics known as “Shirashi” increased its fame.
In the 16th century, the economic policies of Oda Nobunaga led to an increase in the number of craftsworkers and the scale of kilns, and the area became a major production center.
Mino ware boasts the largest production volume in Japan. Because of its large scale, there are many workshops and wholesalers, and a wide variety of products are made.
The following 15 types of products are designated as traditional crafts.
Seto-guro (Seto Black)
Kyoto-Kiyomizu Ware (Kyoto)
Kyoto-Kiyomizu Ware (a.k.a. Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki) are traditional crafts produced mainly in Kyoto Prefecture, the historical capital of Japan, which is world famous as a tourist destination.
This ceramic ware is painted after firing using the overglaze enameling technique, which produces elegant designs typical of Kyoto.
The history of Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki is long, and production is said to have begun around the 16th century.
Since then, the tradition of handmade products has remained unchanged, and various products have been produced by artisans.
Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki are fired once and then painted.
Many of the designs are elegant and typical of Kyoto, and a wide variety of patterns are painted by different craftsmen.
Amakusa Ceramics (Kumamoto)
Amakusa ceramics is a traditional craft produced mainly in Kumamoto Prefecture.
It is the collective name for ceramics produced in the Amakusa region in four main production areas: Uchida Sarayama ware, Takahama ware, Mizunohira ware, and Maruo ware.
The oldest is Uchida Sarayama ware, which dates back to the 17th century.
Takahama ware and Maruo ware were first produced around the 18th century, and Mizunohira ware was first produced in 1927.
Amakusa ceramics are of high quality and popular because they are produced in the Amakusa region, which is rich in high-quality pottery stones and clay.
The pottery is double glazed, and unique products are also produced, such as Namako-yu and Koku-yu (black glaze).
In porcelain, translucent white porcelain and products with a familiar texture made from oak ash are produced.
Satsuma Ware (Kagoshima)
Satsuma ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Kagoshima Prefecture.
It consists of three main products: white satsuma, black satsuma, and porcelain.
Satsuma ware originated at the end of the 16th century when Shimazu Yoshihiro, the 17th lord of the Satsuma Domain, brought back potters during the Keicho War and built a kiln in his hometown.
When it was exhibited at the World Exposition in Paris in 1867, it was well received abroad, and its fame grew.
Satsuma ware is classified into two main types: high-end ceramics called "Shiro satsuma (shiro-mon)” and ceramics for the masses called “Kuro satsuma (kuro-mon)."
There are five different kiln lineage: Naeshiro-gawa, Tateno, Ryumonji, Nishi-mochida, and porcelain. The three that remain today are Naeshiro-gawa, Ryumonji and Tateno.
Major Japanese Stoneware Production Areas and Characteristics
Stoneware is a type of ceramic that falls between pottery and porcelain. It is characterized by the warm texture unique to ceramics, combined with the advantages of porcelain, such as durability and low water absorbency.
This section describes the characteristics of stoneware in various regions.
Echizen Ware (Echizen Town, Nyu County, Fukui)
It is said that Echizen ware began about 850 years ago, at the end of the Heian period, when the region originally produced Sue ware, but began to produce pottery by introducing techniques from Tokoname.
Hard and durable, Echizen ware was transported by ship from southern Hokkaido to areas along the Sea of Japan coast and other regions, where it was useful for storing water and grain, indigo dyeing, and as coin vessels.
Since the Muromachi period, "o-haguro tsubo," a lacquerware used by married women to blacken their teeth, has been widely produced.
These vases were later favored by the fashionable and were used as vases for single flowers and other purposes.
From the end of the Meiji period to the Taisho period, the tradition seemed to have died out as potters closed their businesses one after another. But in recent years, the momentum has been revived once again, and many ceramic artists are making new history.
Yokkaichi Banko Ware (Mie)
Yokkaichi Banko ware is a traditional craft produced mainly in Mie Prefecture.
It is a semi-porcelain (or stoneware) that combines the properties of both pottery and porcelain.
Yokkaichi Banko ware is said to have originated in the 18th century when a man named Nunami Rozan began making pottery in present-day Asahi Town, Mie County.
The name "Yokkaichi Banko ware" was derived from engraving the word "Banko Fueki" on the products at this time.
After the death of Nunami Tosan, the history of Yokkaichi Banko ware temporarily ceased, but was revived by Mori Yusetsu and others.
Tokoname Ware (Tokoname City, Aichi)
Tokoname kilns are descended from the Sanage kilns.
The earliest ones are called Ko-tokoname, which have a very long history and were the oldest and largest of the six oldest kilns.
It is estimated that more than 3,000 kilns were built in total until the Azuchi-Momoyama period.
A large number of pieces were excavated over a wide area, suggesting that Tokoname ware was widely distributed.
During the Heian period, in addition to daily necessities such as small bowls and plates, kyozuka-tsubo (sutra mound jars) were made to hold written Buddhist sutras.
In the Edo period, in addition to unglazed earthenware called Akamono, the "Mayake" pottery technique was introduced, in which ceramics are fired at high temperatures.
In the Meiji period, Western European technology was introduced, and production of ceramic pipes, shochu bottles, brick tiles, sanitary ware, etc. began.
One of the characteristics of Tokoname ware is the technique of making the iron contained in the raw material turn red.
Pottery clay with a high content of iron oxide is said to remove the bitterness and astringency of tea by the reaction between the iron oxide and the tannin in the tea when brewed, resulting in a mellow taste.
For this reason, Tokoname ware teapots are very popular among people who enjoy Japanese tea. The Japanese Kutani Store sells special kyusu, a collaboration between Tokoname ware and Kutani ware. It is very rare and the number of items is very small. For more information, click here.
Here are some keywords that are important for a better understanding of Japanese ceramics.
Yuyaku is a layer of glass adhered to the surface of ceramics. Yuyaku is also referred to as "Uwa-gusuri''.
The role of the glaze is not only to express color and pattern, but also to increase durability by coating it with glass and to make it more resistant to water and dirt absorption.
Materials vary according to the type of glaze, but a typical example is ash glaze (haiyu). This is a mixture of grass ashes and crushed earth and stones, such as feldspar, dissolved in water.
Glazes in liquid form are called wet glazes, while those in powder form are called dry glazes. Other types include blue-green celadon glaze with iron added. A glaze with low iron will produce a lighter color.
Kannyu is a crack pattern in the glaze that occurs during cooling after firing due to the difference in shrinkage between the glaze and the base material, and is different from a crack or scratch that occurs when the piece breaks.
Ordinary ceramics are glazed on the base material and then fired at 800 to 1,200 degrees Celsius, depending on the type of glaze.
During firing, the glaze melts and forms a glass-like layer over the pottery.
After firing, the temperature of the pottery itself decreases, but the degree of shrinkage at that time differs between the base of the body of the pottery and the glaze, and if this difference is large, the glaze hardens in a crack-like state.
For those who like these Kannyu, the way the pattern is formed by the Kannyu and the way it changes as it is used are said to be irresistible.
The first step in caring for a ceramic with Kannyu when you buy it is to soak it in water overnight.
This avoids the problem of tea stains, coffee, and other pigments getting into the dry ware and staining it all at once.
For the first six months of use, rinse and wet it quickly and then wipe it off before use. The color of the ceramic will slowly become a nice color as Kannyu is gradually stained.
If you use ceramic with the feeling of "nurturing the appearance of the ceramic" as the pattern of the Kannyu changes with daily use, the ceramic will grow to become something you are particularly attached to.
Some potters soak the astringent skin of acorns with the ceramic to darken the color of the Kannyu from the beginning, and others dye Kannyu by dipping the ceramic in sumi (Japanese ink).
If you like the initial state and want to avoid coloration, it is said to be best to boil the ceramic in rice water before use.
This method is also said to increase the strength of the ceramic.
Gosu is a blue pigment that has long been used in porcelain, such as Sometsuke (blue and white porcelain).
It is believed to have been brought to Arita from China in the early Edo period, and today it is widely used in ceramics, not limited to a specific region. Unlike other paints, Gosu is colored in its unglazed state, so its color does not fade.
We hope you now have a better understanding of the overview and appeal of pottery and ceramics in various parts of Japan.
Both ceramics and porcelain have their own charms and various characteristics, depending on the producing region. Japanese ceramics never bore us, and they add color to our daily dining table and make our food taste even better.
We sell Kutani ware, one of the most popular Japanese ceramics in the world, with its beautifully painted patterns, to people all over the world at the most reasonable prices. Please visit our online store.