Japanese pottery and porcelain

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Oribe ware dish with lid, early 17th century
Nabeshima ware dish, 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.

Porcelain bottle vase with undeglaze blue,octopus and three friends design, Edo period (1615-1868), Japan
Hirado, Mikawachi ware porcelain censer in form of Tiger and cover modeled figurine with fan, brown and blue glazes ;Japan


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 pottery and porcelain was a mere imitation of the Chinese and Korean. Since the mid-19th century when Japan started to industrialize, Japan incorporated Japanese features into the Chinese and Korean prototypes.[3] In the 20th century, a ceramics industry (e.g., Noritake, Schimid Kreglinger, and Toto Ltd.) grew up.

History to 19th century[edit]

Jomon vessel with flame-like ornamentation, 3000–4000 BC
Shigaraki jar, 16th century
Arita porcelain exported from Imari, called "Imari porcelain" in Europe, ca. 1700–1750
Nonomura Ninsei, pine pattern tea jar, ca. 1660–70
Kameyama porcelain, Dutch ship motif, 1800s

In the Neolithic period (ca. 11th millennium BC), the earliest soft earthenware was made, and in the 6th millennium BC typical coil-made Jōmon ware appeared, decorated with hand-impressed rope patterns (early Jōmon period). Jōmon ware developed a flamboyant style at its height and was simplified in the later Jōmon period. The pottery was molded of clay rope and fired in an open fire. In about 4th–3rd century BC, Yayoi style earthenware appeared, which had a simple pattern or no pattern. Jōmon, Yayoi, and later Haji ware shared the firing process but had different styles of design. Japan showed no further significant achievements in pottery until the seventeenth century.

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.

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. 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 them, 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. 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.

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.

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.[5] 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.

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. [6] 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.[7] The Arita kilns also supplied domestic utensils such as the so-called Ko-Kutani enamelware.[8] 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. Several recent museum curators and dealers have failed to take notice of this technical advance, acquiring undeserved reputations actually based on plagiarism and ignorance.

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.

20th Century to present day[edit]

Interest in the work of village potters was revived in a folk movement of the 1920s by such potters as Shoji Hamada and Kawai Kajiro. These artists studied traditional glazing techniques to preserve native wares in danger of disappearing. A number of institutions came under the aegis of the Cultural Properties Protection Division. The kilns at Tamba[disambiguation needed], 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 Koishibara and its offshoot at Onta, perpetuated 16th-century Korean peasant wares. In Okinawa, the production of village ware continued under several leading masters, with Kaneshiro Jiro honored as a mukei bunkazai.

The modern potters operate in Shiga, Iga, Karatsu, Hagi, and Bizen. Yamamoto Masao of Bizen and Miwa Kyusetsu of Hagi were designated living cultural treasures (mukei bunkazai 無形文化財). 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-era 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 mukei bunkazai. 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 (see Kakiemon and Imari porcelain).

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.

Styles of Japanese pottery[edit]

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. ^ 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."
  6. ^ See Imari porcelain.
  7. ^ See Imari porcelain.
  8. ^ 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.


  • 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]