THE GUIDE TO FASCINATING JAPANESE POTTERY
In this guide we will bring you closer to the exciting world of Japanese pottery, what styles and types there are, its history, what characteristics it has and much more about one of the most popular and ancient art forms in Japan.
You will be able to see works of different styles, many of them by contemporary artists who fortunately are heirs to the tradition and art of the Japanese masters.
TYPES OF JAPANESE POTTERY
Here we are going to explain some of the different and most popular types of beautiful Japanese pottery.
Japanese potters have been active for centuries, and many regions were dedicated to making different types of tableware. Some objects were made for tea ceremonies, others for different purposes. During the Edo period, there were several companies operating throughout the country. Some companies, such as Hichozan Shinpo-sei, were dedicated exclusively to the production of tea ceremony wares.
If you like Japanese ceramics, you can visit the city of Mashiko in Tochigi Prefecture, the country’s most important pottery center. The city has a long history as the home of the modern style of pottery, founded by Keizaburo Otsuka in the early 19th century. Keizaburo saw the high quality of the local red clay and decided to build a kiln in the city. Today, some 300 potters continue to produce beautiful pieces of Mashiko-style pottery. In addition, the town is home to many stores and galleries.
Here you will learn about the most popular styles and brands of Japanese ceramics. It will help you to differentiate them and to be able to choose the right piece. It is important to know which types of ceramics are the most popular among hobbyists, and how to recognize them.
The most popular is known as Raku pottery, and its most famous item is the Raku chawan. It is a style of Japanese pottery that dates back to the 16th century. The artist behind this tradition is Raku Chojiro, who is considered the founder of this style. He was an influential figure in the tea ceremony in Japan. His work included both ceramics and porcelain.
Raku ceramic Chawan bowl made by Wild Clay Works
Shigaraki style ware is one of the oldest types of Japanese pottery. It is made in Koka, Shiga Prefecture, and is known for its large, bulky pieces. It is made of a rough material that resists heat. This makes it perfect for making large pieces. Historically, this type of pottery was used to make utensils and tea vessels.
Shigaraki Yaki Tokkuri ceramics de Stoneware Treasury
Arita ware is another type of Japanese pottery. Its color and shape differentiate it from Imari ware, which is usually white and unglazed. It is made from local raw materials and uses techniques to create distinctive patterns. Some pieces are painted, while others are left unglazed, giving them a unique look.
Japanese potters have been active for centuries, and many regions were dedicated to making different types of tableware. Some objects were made for tea ceremonies. During the Edo period, there were several companies operating throughout the country. Some companies, such as Hichozan Shinpo-sei, were dedicated exclusively to the production of tea ceremony wares.
Arita porcelain plate. Edo period. From Deco Fantasque.
The city of Seto, in central Japan, is home to one of the world’s most important ceramics production areas. The region is surrounded by low hills covered by a layer of clay, making it ideal for producing porcelain and earthenware. The city has contributed greatly to the culture of Japanese ceramics.
The era of modern ceramics in Seto began with potter Tamikichi Kato, who left home in 1807 to learn real porcelain making in Arita. He mastered kiln technology and clay preparation and returned to his hometown to pass on the craft. His work paved the way for the development of the Japanese ceramic industry, and today he is revered as the founder of the Seto porcelain industry.
Seto ware is considered a national treasure in Japan. It is believed to have been first produced in the Jian-yao kilns of Fujian during the Song dynasty.
Seto ceramic Chawan tea bowl. From Stoneware Treasury.
Akazu ware has been around for a long time, said to have developed in the city of Seto during the Kofun period (300-538), also based on the Sue ware that existed in the Nara period. This style of pottery added kaolin to the clay that was often used in Japanese tea ceremony ware. It also features a unique glaze, called Kyusetsujiro. The process of creating this pottery is quite unique and combines a traditional style with a more modern style.
This type of pottery was used for tea bowls and was created in the early Kamakura era. It used a red clay and a glaze containing iron. It is usually decorated with flower designs and patterns, a technique that is unique to this tradition.
Piece from the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Ceramics.
Kutani ware is a type of Japanese pottery that is usually decorated with overglaze painting. Like Imari ware, it is made from a clay that is dried before firing. A special type of glaze is used to create the rich pictorial ornamentation and vivid lines that characterize this style.
The history of kutani pottery dates back to 1655, when the first pottery kiln was opened in Kaga, Ishikawa. This was during the Meiji period, when Japan was finally able to open its borders and begin to make contact with the rest of the world. Kutani ware was one of the first pottery styles to be exported outside Japan.
Kutani pottery is classified according to its age. The early period, called the Ko-Kutani era, is extremely rare. However, the later Saiko-Kutani period, which began in the 19th century, was a period of revival of this art. At this time, Western-style pigments were introduced while the ancient style of Kutani ware was revived.
Japanese Kutani teapot from Niffle Ltd.
This type of pottery originated in the city of Hasami, which is located in the north-central region of Nagasaki Prefecture. The city has a population of about 15,000, and between 20% and 30% of the residents are engaged in pottery making. The city has been producing Hasami-yaki for about 400 years, and it now accounts for one-sixth of the country’s crockery production. For many years it was sold under the name Arita-yaki, but in 2000, Hasami ware began to be identified as a style of its own.
In the beginning they produced a type of glazed earthenware, but with time they started to create porcelain, which became more and more famous.
Although hundreds of years ago, during the Edo period, porcelain was considered a luxury product, in Hasami kurawanka bowls were produced in large quantities, making them quite affordable.
Hasami porcelain bowl. From Robertsfindings.
Obori-Soma ware is a type of Japanese pottery that often features scenes of horseback riding in its decoration. These pieces are part of a Shinto ritual known as “Soma Nomaoi”. The tradition dates back more than a thousand years and continues today. It is named after the Obori blue stone found in the Fukushima region. Some pieces also come in white or ash-colored glaze.
Obori-Soma ware is manufactured in Fukushima Prefecture and has been produced in Namie since the 17th century. In the early 19th century, it became the largest production center in the Tohoku region. Although production declined during the Meiji period, the creative spirit of the local kilns lives on.
Originally, the Nakamura domain sponsored the production of Obori-Soma ware. However, with the introduction of prefectures and the emergence of the modern economy, Nakamura patronage ceased. This led to a decline in the number of pottery companies in the region. Today, there are about twenty-five pottery companies still producing Obori-Soma ware.
Tazas Obori Somayaki de Curious Tiger.
THE FAMOUS IMARI POTTERY
Imari ware is a type of Japanese pottery with a rich history. Its style has remained almost unchanged for many centuries. Many collectors prefer early Imari pieces.
Early Imari were probably inspired by the blue glazed porcelain of southern China. This type of porcelain has flowing blue brushstrokes and was exported to Japan in the early 17th century. This variety differs from the more structured patterns of the Jingdezhen kiln types exported to the West. Later, some English potteries copied the Imari style and made their own versions.
The first Imari ware was made in Arita, Kyushu, where a Korean potter named Risampei was brought by the Takeo clan. He began producing the blue and white ware in 1616. Risampei was influenced by Chinese pottery of the Ming dynasty, but also incorporated Korean design elements. Early Imari wares featured landscape scenes and Chinese motifs painted with a bright blue glaze. In later years, the designs became more abstract.
Hand painted Imari porcelain plate. From Akiba Dream.
Otani ware (Otani-Yaki) was developed more than 250 years ago in Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture, located east of Shikoku). It has a very simple and somewhat crude appearance, but the beautiful luster that these pieces produce when they are shone on by the light is something that has captivated fans of these pieces.
Otani pieces are usually large in size and are baked in a type of oven called “noborigama”, which is said to be the largest in all of Japan.
Otani-yaki is made from clay containing a large amount of iron. The clay is crushed and mixed, and the glaze is applied by dipping. This process requires traditional tools, such as a firing kiln called a Nerokuro.
Otan-Yaki ceramic pieces of large size. From JTCO
This Japanese style originated in the city of Tobe, in western Japan. The most traditional pieces are often decorated in blue and white. Today, these pieces of Japanese art are admired all over the world. Tobe ware is also known as sometsuke ware. In addition to its beauty and durability, this pottery is incredibly versatile.
In the 18th century, Tobe potters discovered a high quality clay, which they used to produce whiter porcelain. Prior to this discovery, Tobe pottery was grayish white. After this discovery, this pottery became very popular. However, Tobe production suffered a decline during the Taisho period, from 1910 to 1920, which was overcome after World War II, when people began to appreciate this unique type of handmade production.
In 1976, the Japanese government recognized Tobe pottery as a traditional Japanese craft.
Tobe ceramic vase. Aichi Prefectural Museum.
Nabeshima ware originated in the city of Arita, Saga Prefecture, Kyushu. They are known for their rich ornamental colors and pictorial elements on the surface. Their designs and colors are a fusion of European and Japanese tastes such as early Imari, an important style of Nabeshima ware, dating from the 1640s.
The most common type of Nabeshima ware is ironabeshima. It is characterized by an indigo ground glaze, followed by up to three different colors. The result is a vivid finish on the finished piece. Although the colors of Nabeshima ware are not as intense as traditional white porcelain, they are still delicate and elegant. They were made in three basic sizes and decorated with a variety of techniques. These included underglaze blue and brush-applied white or colored glazes. Some designs were simple, while others were highly detailed and elaborate.
Late Edo-period Nabeshima ware piece from Nakayacacan (那加屋花冠).
JAPANESE SATSUMA CERAMICS
This type of pottery takes its name from the province where it was produced, located in southern Japan.
Satsuma pottery is very popular and beautiful, with a wide range of styles. Its fame reached the West when Japan opened up to foreigners in the early 19th century. By the end of the century, it had evolved into pieces with more sober designs. Today, the Satsuma style remains a benchmark among Japan’s potters, and the production of quality pieces continues.
Many types of Satsuma ware have markings that make it easy for non-Japanese speakers to recognize. Most markings are hand-painted or incised on the surface. They may bear inscriptions such as “made”, “artist” or “Shimazu”. This ware can also be identified by the Shimazu family crest, which is a ubiquitous feature.
Another example of a satsuma mark is Fuku (nominally Fu), which is the Chinese word for happiness. Despite the popularity of this mark, sometimes, if there is no further information, it is not easy to determine who created the piece.
Satsuma ware bowl (Meiji period). From Birney Creek.
WHAT IS JAPANESE BROKEN CERAMICS
The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery has become increasingly popular in recent years. The famous Kintsugi technique is a great example of this. This method consists of repairing broken ceramics by applying gold powder (nowadays some people use gold epoxy). It is an ancient technique that shows the beauty of damage and represents the philosophy of wabi-sabi, or beauty in imperfection. On the other hand, it is an excellent way to repair damaged ceramics and create a new object as beautiful as the original.
This Japanese art of fixing broken pottery is a centuries-old tradition and, unlike other forms of repair, this technique makes the repair through the application of gold, conveys beauty in itself.
Bowl repaired according to the Kintsugui technique. By Broken Bowl Project.
TRADITIONAL JAPANESE CERAMICS
A traditional method of starting to work the pieces was to first roll the clay. This process continued even after the invention of the potter’s wheel. Rengetsu ware was the first to be made using this technique. Later, more rolling methods were developed to produce haniwa clay figures.
It is often claimed that the potter’s wheel was introduced to Japan with Sue pottery in the 5th century.
There are many famous master potters in Japan, such as Makuzu Kōzan (1842- 1916), Eiraku Wazen, etc. The list is endless, if you are interested in seeing a complete list of most of the potters since the nineteenth century you have in this website in English a complete and useful list with their marks of author. Some of them did not work in the main kilns, but created classic objects in many parts of the country. The Tsuji family, for example, brought clay from Shiga province and began making pottery in the Tokyo area. In addition, several potters replicated Chinese glazes. Some of these glazes are blue-green celadon and green-aqueous qingbai. Among these glazes, the Tenmoku glaze is perhaps the most popular and loved by Japanese potters.
It is important to note the importance of traditional Kasama-yaki pottery, which dates back to the 16th century, when the lord of the Satsuma domain brought 80 Korean potters to his domain, who contributed to the development of the style in this area. Boku Heii’s descendants developed the overglaze technique used on Satsuma porcelain. Kasama ware became highly sought after in Europe during the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods.
1890. Glazed white porcelain decorated in red. Work of Makuzu Kozan.
BLUE AND WHITE CERAMICS
The blue and white pattern of Japanese ceramics has a long history and is reminiscent of nature. This style of pottery dates back to the middle of the Edo period (1603 – 1867), and is made from porcelain and stoneware. This type of pottery is usually made in small quantities, and is considered more expensive than its larger counterparts.
The price of Japanese blue and white pottery varies greatly, depending on its quality and characteristics. Today there are potters (Japanese and Western) who maintain the centuries-old techniques that were used to achieve these pieces, so they can be purchased from contemporary potters without going to antique stores.
Japanese blue and white porcelain from Arita. Edo period. From BKK Picker.
HISTORY OF JAPANESE POTTERY
The history of Japanese pottery goes back thousands of years, it is one of the oldest. Earthenware from the Jomon period (10,500-300 B.C.) has been found.
In the 6th century, Japan began to be influenced by other places, especially Korea.
The country is known for its beautiful objects, among them pieces made in Arita, which is considered the cradle of the porcelain tradition. This type of ceramic is incredibly durable and has a white color reminiscent of white gold. Its smooth surface makes it ideal for painting.
A characteristic of Japanese ceramics is that, despite the polarity of porcelain, it continued to create unglazed stoneware pieces.
Another has been the religious influence, especially of Zen Buddhism in the elaboration of pieces destined for ceremonies such as tea.
The kilns of the Nabeshima clan produced works for the shogunate for more than two hundred years. The kiln was hidden high on a mountain in Okawachi, and the pieces produced were of superior quality. Their designs incorporated traditional Japanese themes.
The techniques used to make Arita ware spread to other cities, such as Kyoto, Kutani and Seto. These cities were populated by patrons who promoted the spread of Japanese culture. Among these were Yanagi Soetsu, a collector of the tea ceremony, and Hamada Shoji, a silk merchant.
With the advent of industrialization and the opening to the West, Japanese ceramics grew in popularity outside its borders and its exports began to grow at a faster pace.
In recent times, the British critic Bernard Leach (1887-1979) promoted the Mingei movement, which was born to highlight the beauty of everyday objects created by anonymous craftsmen. This movement gained momentum and became very popular in Japan.
Porcelain dish with polychrome underglaze blue glaze (Hizen ware, Nabeshima style)
JAPANESE POTTERY MARKS
They are used to identify and date the pieces, by means of color or incision, generally on the base of the pieces.
For example, the Kaga no Kuni mark, which means “from Kutani”, is typical of pieces made in that region. This mark was first used in the early 20th century. It reflects the Kutani influence on the objects produced in the area, and is associated with a particular type of pottery. Other marks are generic, containing two or more characters, but do not identify a potter.
Another type of mark is the Satsuma ceramic mark. Often the pieces bear ideograms (kanji) meaning “made in Japan” and “of Japanese origin”. The mark is often used to identify pottery made in the Meiji period. For example, a piece with the mark “Shimazu” means “Yoshi”, “Kimo” or “Otsuke”, i.e., “of the Shimazu family.”
You can see a list in English with the main marks of Japanese porcelain.
Common marks in Japanese pottery Kutani. © kutani.org
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