Japanese pottery and porcelain

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"Fujisan" white raku chawan by Honami Kōetsu, Edo period (National Treasure)
Nabeshima ware dish in Kakiemon style, ca. 1690-1710

Japanese pottery and porcelain (陶磁器, Jp. tojiki; also 焼きもの, Jp. yakimono; 陶芸, Jp. tōgei), is one of the country's oldest art forms, dates back to the Neolithic period. Kilns have produced earthenware, pottery, stoneware, glazed pottery, glazed stoneware, porcelain, and blue-and-white ware.

Japanese ceramic history records distinguished many potter names, and some were artist-potters, e.g. Honami Koetsu, Ogata Kenzan, and Aoki Mokubei.[1] Japanese anagama kilns also have flourished through the ages, and their influence weighs with that of the potters. Another characteristically Japanese aspect of the art is the continuing popularity of unglazed high-fired stoneware even after porcelain became popular.[2] Since the 4th century, Japanese ceramics have often been influenced by Chinese and Korean pottery. Japan transformed and translated the Chinese and Korean prototypes into a uniquely Japanese creation, and the result was distinctly Japanese in character. Since the mid-17th century when Japan started to industrialize,[3] high-quality standard wares produced in factories became popular exports to Europe. In the 20th century, a modern ceramics industry (e.g., Noritake and Toto Ltd.) grew up.


Jōmon period[edit]

Jomon pottery flame-style (火焔土器, kaen doki) vessel, 3000-2000 BCE, attributed provenance Umataka, Nagaoka, Niigata

In the Neolithic period (ca. 11th millennium BC), the earliest soft earthenware was made.

During the early Jōmon period in the 6th millennium BCE typical coil-made ware appeared, decorated with hand-impressed rope patterns. Jōmon pottery developed a flamboyant style at its height and was simplified in the later Jōmon period. The pottery was formed by coiling clay ropes and fired in an open fire.

Yayoi period[edit]

In about 4th–3rd century BCE Yayoi period, Yayoi pottery appeared which was another style of earthenware characterised by a simple pattern or no pattern. Jōmon, Yayoi, and later Haji ware shared the firing process but had different styles of design.

Kofun period[edit]

Haniwa warrior in keiko armor, Kofun period, 6th century (National Treasure)

In the 3rd to 4th centuries AD, the anagama kiln, a roofed-tunnel kiln on a hillside, and the potter's wheel appeared, brought to Kyushu island from the Korean peninsula.[4] The anagama kiln could produce a stoneware, Sue ware, fired at high temperatures of over 1000℃, sometimes embellished with accidents produced when introducing plant material to the kiln during the reduced-oxygen phase of firing.

Contemporary Haji ware and Haniwa funerary objects were earthenware like Yayoi.

Heian period[edit]

Although a three-color lead glaze technique was introduced to Japan from the Tang Dynasty of China in the 8th century, official kilns produced only simple green lead glaze for temples in the Heian period, around 800–1200 AD.

Kamui ware appeared in this time.

Kamakura period[edit]

Until the 17th century, unglazed stoneware was popular for the heavy-duty daily requirements of a largely agrarian society; funerary jars, storage jars, and a variety of kitchen pots typify the bulk of the production. Some of the kilns improved their technology and are called the “Six Old Kilns”: Shigaraki (Shigaraki ware), Tamba, Bizen, Tokoname, Echizen, and Seto.

Among these, the Seto kiln in Owari Province (present day Aichi Prefecture) had a glaze technique. According to legend, Katō Shirozaemon Kagemasa (also known as Tōshirō) studied ceramic techniques in China and brought high-fired glazed ceramic to Seto in 1223. The Seto kiln primarily imitated Chinese ceramics as a substitute for the Chinese product. It developed various glazes: ash brown, iron black, feldspar white, and copper green. The wares were so widely used that Seto-mono ("product of Seto") became the generic term for ceramics in Japan. Seto kiln also produced unglazed stoneware. In the late 16th century, many Seto potters fleeing the civil wars moved to Mino province in the Gifu Prefecture, where they produced glazed pottery: Yellow Seto (Ki-Seto), Shino, Black Seto (Seto-Guro), and Oribe ware.

Muromachi period[edit]

Azuchi-Momoyama period[edit]

From the middle of the 11th century to the 16th century, Japan imported much Chinese celadon greenware, white porcelain, and blue-and-white ware. Japan also imported Chinese pottery as well as Korean and Vietnamese ceramics. Such Chinese ceramics(Tenmoku) were regarded as sophisticated items, which the upper classes used in the tea ceremony. The Japanese also ordered custom-designed ceramics from Chinese kilns.

Highly priced imports also came from the Luzon and was called Rusun-yaki or "Luzon ware", as well as Annan from Annam, northern Vietnam.[5]

Sengoku period[edit]

With the rise of Buddhism in the late 16th century, leading tea masters introduced a change of style and favored humble Korean tea bowls and domestic ware over sophisticated Chinese porcelain. Patronized by the tea master Sen no Rikyū, the Raku family supplied brown-glazed earthenware tea bowls. Mino, Bizen, Shigaraki (Shigaraki ware), Iga (similar to Shigaraki), and other domestic kilns also supplied tea utensils. Artist-potter Honami Kōetsu made several tea bowls now considered masterpieces. During the Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 1592 invasion of Korea, Japanese forces brought Korean potters as slaves to Japan.[6] These potters established the Satsuma, Hagi, Karatsu, Takatori, Agano and Arita kilns. One of the kidnapped, Yi Sam-pyeong, discovered a pure white raw material needed for porcelain near Arita and was able to produce the first Japanese porcelain.

Edo period[edit]

Tea-leaf jar with a design of wisteria by Nonomura Ninsei, Edo period (National Treasure)
Kutani ware porcelain four colours Aote type plate with flower design in enamel, late 17th century, Edo period

In the 1640s, rebellions in China and wars between the Ming dynasty and the Manchus damaged many kilns, and in 1656–1684 the new Qing Dynasty government stopped trade by closing its ports. Chinese potter refugees were able to introduce refined porcelain techniques and enamel glazes to the Arita kilns. From 1658, the Dutch East India Company looked to Japan for blue-and-white porcelain to sell in Europe. [7] At that time, the Arita kilns like the Kakiemon kiln could not yet supply enough quality porcelain to the Dutch East India Company, but they quickly expanded their capacity. From 1659–1757, the Arita kilns were able to export enormous quantities of porcelain to Europe and Asia. From about 1720 Chinese and European kilns began to imitate the Arita enameled style, and took over a substantial market segment through drastically lower prices.[8] The Arita kilns also supplied domestic utensils such as the so-called Ko-Kutani enamelware.[9]

In 1675, the local Nabeshima family who ruled Arita established an official kiln to make top-quality enamelware porcelain for the upper classes in Japan, which came to be called Nabeshima ware. Because Imari was the shipping port, the porcelain, for both export and domestic use, was called Ko-Imari (old Imari). In 1759 the dark red enamel pigment known as 'bengara' became industrially available, leading to a reddish revival of the orange 1720 Ko-Imari style.

During the 17th century, in Kyoto, then Japan's imperial capital, kilns produced only clear lead-glazed pottery that resembled the pottery of southern China. Among them, potter Nonomura Ninsei invented an opaque overglaze enamel and with temple patronage was able to refine many Japanese-style designs. His disciple Ogata Kenzan invented an idiosyncratic arts-and-crafts style and took Kyōyaki (Kyoto ceramics) to new heights. Their works were the models for later Kyōyaki. Although porcelain bodies were introduced to Kyōyaki by Okuda Eisen, overglazed pottery still flourished. Aoki Mokubei, Ninami Dōhachi ( both disciples of Okuda Eisen) and Eiraku Hozen expanded the repertory of Kyōyaki.

In the late 18th to early 19th century, white porcelain clay was discovered in other areas of Japan (e.g., Amakusa) and was traded domestically, and potters were allowed to move more freely. Local lords and merchants established many new kilns (e.g., Kameyama kiln and Tobe kiln) for economic profit, and old kilns such as Seto restarted as porcelain kilns. These many kilns are called “New Kilns” and they popularized porcelain in the style of the Arita kilns among the common folk.

Meiji era[edit]

During the Meiji era, a lot of the traditional arts and crafts came under threat with the increasing westernization. Traditional patrons such as the daimyo class broke away and many of the artisans lost their source of income.

Satsuma ware became a leading export items to the west.

Taishō era[edit]

Japanese pottery strongly influenced British studio potter Bernard Leach (1887–1979), who is regarded as the "Father of British studio pottery".[10] He lived in Japan from 1909–1920 during the Taishō era and became the leading western interpreter of Japanese pottery and in turn influenced a number of artists.[11]

Shōwa era[edit]

Water scoop or mill (kara-usu), used for the preparation of the clay for Onta ware, an Intangible Cultural Property

During the early Shōwa era the folk art movement Mingei (民芸?) developed in the late 1920s and 1930s. Its founding father was Yanagi Sōetsu (1889–1961). He rescued lowly pots used by commoners in the Edo and Meiji period that were disappearing in rapidly urbanizing Japan. Shōji Hamada (1894–1978) was a potter who was a major figure of the mingei movement, establishing the town of Mashiko as a renowned centre for Mashiko ware. Another influential potter in this movement was Kawai Kanjiro (1890–1966) and Tatsuzō Shimaoka (1919–2007). These artists studied traditional glazing techniques to preserve native wares in danger of disappearing.

One of the most critical moments was during the Pacific War when all resources went towards the war efforts, and production and development became severely hampered and the markets suffered.

Heisei era to present[edit]

A number of institutions came under the aegis of the Cultural Properties Protection Division.

The kilns at Tamba, overlooking Kobe, continued to produce the daily wares used in the Tokugawa period, while adding modern shapes. Most of the village wares were made anonymously by local potters for utilitarian purposes. Local styles, whether native or imported, tended to be continued without alteration into the present. In Kyūshū, kilns set up by Korean potters in the 16th century, such as at Koishiwara, Fukuoka and its offshoot at Onta ware, perpetuated 16th-century Korean peasant wares. In Okinawa, the production of village ware continued under several leading masters, with Kinjo Jiro honored as a ningen kokuho (人間国宝, literally meaning 'living cultural treasures', officially a Preserver of Important Intangible Cultural Properties).

The modern potters operate in Shiga, Iga, Karatsu, Hagi, and Bizen. Yamamoto Masao (Toushuu) of Bizen and Miwa Kyusetsu of Hagi were designated ningen kokuho. Only a half-dozen potters had been so honored by 1989, either as representatives of famous kiln wares or as creators of superlative techniques in glazing or decoration; two groups were designated for preserving the wares of distinguished ancient kilns.

In the old capital of Kyoto, the Raku family continued to produce the rough tea bowls that had so delighted Hideyoshi. At Mino, potters continued to reconstruct the classic formulas of Momoyama period Seto-type tea wares of Mino, such as the Oribe ware copper-green glaze and Shino ware's prized milky glaze. Artist potters experimented at the Kyoto and Tokyo arts universities to recreate traditional porcelain and its decorations under such ceramic teachers as Fujimoto Yoshimichi, a ningen kokuho. Ancient porcelain kilns around Arita in Kyūshū were still maintained by the lineage of Sakaida Kakiemon XIV and Imaizumi Imaemon XIII, hereditary porcelain makers to the Nabeshima clan; both were heads of groups designated mukei bunkazai (無形文化財; see Kakiemon and Imari porcelain).

British artist Lucie Rie (1902–1995) was influenced by Japanese pottery and Bernard Leach, and was also appreciated in Japan with a number of exhibitions. British artist Edmund de Waal (b. 1964) studied Leach and spent a number of years in Japan studying mingei style.[12]

In contrast, by the end of the 1980s, many master potters no longer worked at major or ancient kilns but were making classic wares in various parts of Japan. In Tokyo, a notable example is Tsuji Seimei, who brought his clay from Shiga but potted in the Tokyo area. A number of artists were engaged in reconstructing Chinese styles of decoration or glazes, especially the blue-green celadon and the watery-green qingbai. One of the most beloved Chinese glazes in Japan is the chocolate-brown tenmoku glaze that covered the peasant tea bowls brought back from southern Song China (in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries) by Zen monks. With the development of japanese art gallery in Japan and around the world, Japanese artists tend to work with them more frequently. For their Japanese users, these chocolate-brown wares embodied the Zen aesthetic of wabi (rustic simplicity). In the United States, a notable example of the use of tenmoku glazes may be found in the innovative crystalline pots thrown by Japanese-born artist Hideaki Miyamura.


Hundreds of different wares and styles have existed throughout its history. The most historic and well-known ones have received recognition from the government. For more information see the list of Japanese ceramics sites.

Name Kanji Notes Example image
Agano ware 上野焼 traditionally made in Fukuchi, Tagawa District, Fukuoka Agano ware sake bottle (tokkuri), Edo period, mid-19th century (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Aizuhongō ware 会津本郷焼 Aizuhongō ware sake bottle (tokkuri), Edo period, mid-19th century (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Akahada ware 赤膚焼 Akahada ware double-spouted sake decanter, Edo period, early 19th century (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Akazu ware 赤津焼
Amakusa pottery 天草陶磁器
Arita ware 有田焼 Produced in Saga. Introduced by Korean potters at the beginning of the Edo Period. Includes Imari ware and Nabeshima ware, and most early pieces in the Kakiemon style of decoration. The main source of Japanese export wares. Arita ware incense burner (kōro) with domestic scenes, late Edo period/early Meiji era, 19th century (Walters Art Museum)
Asahi ware 朝日焼
Banko ware 萬古焼 Produced in Mie. Most are teacups, teapots, flower vases, and sake vessels. Believed to have originated in the 19th century. Banko ware Okame female figurine, Edo period, 19th century (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Bizen ware 備前焼 Produced in Okayama. Also called Inbe ware. A reddish-brown pottery, which is believed to have originated in the 6th century. Bizen ware flower vase tabimakura (portable pillow), Edo period, 17th century (Tokyo National Museum)
Echizen ware 越前焼 Echizen ware sake bottle (tokkuri), Momoyama period, late 16th century (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Hagi ware 萩焼 Produced in Yamaguchi. Since it is burned at a relatively low temperature, it is fragile and transmits the warmth of its contents quickly. Hagi ware tea bowl (chawan), Edo period, 18th-19th century (Freer Gallery of Art)
Hasami ware 波佐見焼
Iga ware 伊賀焼 Iga ware flower vase with katamimi handles, 17th century, Edo period (Tokyo National Museum)
Iwami ware 石見焼
Izushi ware 出石焼
Karatsu ware 唐津焼 Produced in Saga. The most produced pottery in western Japan. Believed to have started in the 16th century.
Kasama ware 笠間焼
Kiyomizu ware 清水焼
Koishiwara ware 小石原焼 Produced in Fukuoka. Most are teacups, teapots, flower vases, and sake vessels, and as a result of the Folk Art Movement, practical items for everyday household use. Originated by a Korean potter in the 16th century.
Kosobe ware 古曽部焼
Kutani ware 九谷焼 Produced in Ishikawa Ko-Kutani (old Kutani) five colours Iroe type sake ewer with bird and flower design in overglaze enamel, Edo period, 17th century (Tokyo National Museum)
Kyō ware 京焼
Mashiko ware 益子焼 Ko-Mashiko stoneware teapot mado-e dobin ("Window Picture"), ca. 1915-35, Taisho/Showa era (Brooklyn Museum)
Mikawachi ware 三川内焼 Mikawachi ware brush rest in the form of boys with a snowball, porcelain with underglaze blue, 1800-1830 (Walters Art Museum)
Mino ware 美濃焼 Produced in Gifu. Includes Shino ware, Oribe ware, Setoguro ware, and Ki-Seto ware. Mino ware cornered bowl in Oribe type, Edo period, 17th century (Tokyo National Museum)
Mumyōi ware 無名異焼
Ōborisōma ware 大堀相馬焼 Produced in Fukushima. Image of a horse (uma or koma), which is very popular in this area, is the main pattern. Therefore, it is sometimes called Sōmakoma ware.
Onta ware 小鹿田焼 Produced in Kyūshū. Produced by families and passed on only to their own children. The outstanding fact is that they still produce it without electricity. Onta ware sake bottle (tokkuri), 19th century (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Ōtani ware 大谷焼 A large type of pottery produced in Naruto, Tokushima.
Raku ware 楽焼 Produced in Kyoto. There is a proverb of the hierarchy of ceramic styles used for tea ceremony: 'First Raku, second Hagi, third Karatsu.' Black Raku ware chawan tea bowl, Azuchi-Momoyama period, 16th century (Tokyo National Museum)
Satsuma ware 薩摩焼 Produced in Kyūshū and other areas. Started by Korean potters about four hundred years ago and became very popular in the west in starting in the later half of the 19th century. Satsuma ware octagonal covered jar, Hotoda workshop, undated (Chazen Museum of Art)
Seto ware 瀬戸焼 Produced in Aichi. The most produced Japanese pottery in Japan. Sometimes, the term Seto-yaki (or Seto-mono) stands for all Japanese pottery. Includes Ofukei ware. Seto stoneware tea caddy with wood-ash and iron glazes, early 19th century, Edo period (Walters Art Museum)
Shigaraki ware 信楽焼 Produced in Shiga. One of the oldest styles in Japan. Famous for tanuki pottery pieces. Shigaraki ware small jar, 15th century, Muromachi period, (Tokyo National Museum)
Shitoro ware 志戸呂焼
Shōdai ware 小代焼
Takatori ware 高取焼
Tamba ware 丹波立杭焼 Produced in Hyōgo. Also called Tatekui ware. One of the six oldest kinds in Japan.
Tobe ware 砥部焼 Produced in Shikoku. Most are thick porcelain table ware with blue cobalt paintings.
Tokoname ware 常滑焼 Produced in Aichi. Most are flower vases, rice bowls, teacup. Tokoname stoneware coil-built with ash glaze, 14th century, Kamakura period (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Tsuboya ware 壺屋焼 Produced in Shikoku. Most are thick porcelain table ware with blue cobalt paintings. Tsuboya ware wine bottle with spout, Second Sho Dynasty, Ryukyu Kingdom, 19th century (Tokyo National Museum)
Zeze ware 膳所焼 Produced in Shikoku. Most are thick porcelain table ware with blue cobalt paintings.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henry Trubner 1972, p. 18.
  2. ^ Henry Trubner 1972, p. 18.
  3. ^ Henry Trubner 1972, pp. 17-18
  4. ^ The Metropolitan Museum of Art [1] "Although the roots of Sueki reach back to ancient China, its direct precursor is the grayware of the Three Kingdoms period in Korea."
  5. ^ http://sambali.blogspot.com/2006/09/luzon-jars-glossary.html
  6. ^ Purple Tigress (August 11, 2005). "Review: Brighter than Gold - A Japanese Ceramic Tradition Formed by Foreign Aesthetics". BC Culture. Retrieved 2008-01-10.  "After Toyotomi's death in 1598, the Japanese forces returned to Japan, taking with them some Korea potters."
  7. ^ See Imari porcelain.
  8. ^ See Imari porcelain.
  9. ^ Some claim that such porcelain was also produced at Kutani. See Kutani ware. Sadao and Wada 2003 p. 238 regards them as a product of Arita kilns.
  10. ^ http://collection.britishcouncil.org/collection/artists/leach-bernard-1887
  11. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/12/edmund-waal-life-profile-interview
  12. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/12/edmund-waal-life-profile-interview


  • Henry Trubner, Japanese Ceramics: A Brief History, in "Ceramic Art of Japan", Seattle, USA, Seattle Art Museum,1972,Library ofCongress Catalogue No.74-189738
  • Tsuneko S. Sadao and Stephanie Wada, Discovering the Arts of Japan: A historical Overview, Tokyo-NewYork-London, KODANSYA INTERNATIONAL,2003, ISBN 4-7700-2939-X

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]