1. Earthenware

Jomon Earthenware

The history of Japanese ceramics begins with Jomon earthenware, said to be the world’s oldest earthenware. The name "Jomon" is based on the term "cord-marked pottery" which was used by E.S. Morse, known for the excavation of the Omori Kaizuka shell mound. According to radiocarbon dating, the oldest examples are about 12000 years old. Jomon earthenware was produced over a 10000-year period, which is divided into six chronological categories (the Incipient, Initial, Early, Middle, Late and Final periods) according to changes in the forms of the ware. It is also divided in detail by region, and so when we speak of "Jomon earthenware," we are actually describing a wide variety of pottery. Representative examples are the pots with applied bean-like motifs and ridges from the Incipient period, flame-shaped earthenware from the Middle period, Kamegaoka style earthenware from the Later period and the clay figures which were made from the Middle period through the Final period. Jomon earthenware was generally formed by coiling and fired to 800-900 degrees in the open without using kilns.

Yayoi Earthenware

Yayoi earthenware followed Jomon earthenware, and it is thought to have been first made in around northern Kyushu in the third century B.C. The name 'Yayoi" comes from a shell mound discovered in 1884 in Mukogaoka, Yayoi-cho, Hongo, Tokyo. One of the reasons for the rise of Yayoi earthenware was the shift from hunting and gathering to an agricultural existence, and vessels appropriate to agricultural life began to appear. Storage jars, cooking pots, and eating and drinking vessels such as stemmed cups are basic examples of Yayoi earthenware. In some places, the forms and decorations follow Jomon traditions. Yayoi earthenware is divided in to three periods, the Early, Middle, and Late periods. The Early period Ongagawa type earthenware and Middle period Sugu type earthenware are representative of Yayoi ware.

Haji Ware

Following Yayoi earthenware came Haji ware of the Kofun period. The name Hajiki (Haji ware) actually comes from written records such as Wamyoruijusho and Engishiki of the Heian period, but the name is a general term for primitive unglazed earthenware made in the Kofun period and later. Like Jomon and Yayoi earthenware, Haji ware was formed by coiling and fired in oxidation at a low temperature, the forms following after those of the Yayoi period. Haji ware is broadly divided into ritual vessels and daily utensils, but the development of Sue ware had a great influence on function. Basically, Sue ware was used as storage vessels, and Haji ware was used for cooking.

Sue Ware

Sue ware traces its roots to the high-fired stoneware of the Korean peninsula, and the Korean influence is strong in early Sue ware forms. The appearance of Sue ware marks the first major technological advance in the history of Japanese ceramics. Innovations included the use of the wheel to produce large numbers of pots, and the introduction of the anagama (hill-side kiln) which made it possible to fire at high temperatures in reduction. The new pottery techniques which were transmitted to Japan from the Korean peninsula originated in the gray ware of Shang dynasty China. A well known area where Sue ware was produced is the group of ancient kiln sites in Suemura in the hilly area of southern Osaka. Pottery activity is thought to have begun there in the Kofun period in the early 5th century, after which the new technology spread to the rest of the country. Vessel forms changed greatly in the 7th century, when potters began to make vessels modeled on metal ware from China and Korea. Sue ware began to decline in the late Nara period with the development of pottery glazed with ash and other glazes; the technology of Sue ware, however, formed the foundation of the medieval pottery which was to come. Along with medieval wood-fired ware with natural glaze, this ware can be classified as one kind of stoneware.

Earthenware in Medieval and Modern Times

From around the 6th century, black earthenware, which can be considered a branch of Haji ware, appeared in eastern Japan, and it was also produced in the west of the Kinai region beginning in the 8th century, following the decline of Sue ware. From the 11th century, especially in western Japan, gaki bowls and plates, considered the successor to black ware, were produced in large amounts. In medieval times, Haji ware was used mainly for small offering plates and cooking pots. Haji wares continued to be produced as offering vessels and roasting utensils through the modern age until the present.

2. Stoneware

Early Stoneware

Stoneware originated in Japan with the development of green-glazed ware and other glazed pottery in the second half of the 7th century. Influenced by Chinese and Korean wares, Japanese glazed ware was not an original innovation. However, viewing the development of glazed stoneware in the early ages of ancient Japan, we can imagine the admiration for Chinese and Korean culture as well as the vigor to assimilate advanced culture.

Pottery of the Nara and Heian periods (538-1185) can be divided into two types: low-fired lead-glazed ware such as three-color-glazed or green-glazed ware, and high-fired ash-glazed ware. The former, evolved under the influence of three-color ware of Chinese Tang and green-glazed pottery from the Korean peninsula, includes the Nara three-color ware, a notable example of which being the Shosoin three-color ware. According to historical records, they were called shi, shiki, or aoshi at the time. Production of the latter type, high-fired ash-glazed pottery, known as shirashi at the time began in a large scale in the second half of the 8th century in Sanage kilns, Aichi Prefecture. These two types of ware represent the first Japanese pottery to be using man-made glazes.

(1)Low-Fired Pottery with Colored Glazes

Low-fired colored pottery is ware glazed with lead-based glazes which use copper, iron or white stone as colorants to achieve green, yellow or white colors. Archaeological excavations conducted up until now tell us that production of green-glazed ware began in Japan in the 7th century, preceding the production of three-color ware. The production technique of green-glazed ware was imported from the Korean peninsula, in which the technique was acquired from China by the 5th century.

Chinese Tang three-color ware, after which Nara three-color ware was modeled, has been excavated mainly from ruins of temples across Japan, indicating that although in China such ware was used mainly for mortuary purposes, in Japan, Tang three-color ware was used widely in Buddhist rituals. Nara three-color ware, known for its wide variety of forms and functions, has been excavated in large quantities from sites related to religious rituals, giving us an idea of the specific ways in which it was used. The well known Shosoin three-color ware was originally used at Todaiji Temple as religious utensils; there are records that mention such ware being used in the consecration ceremony of the Great Buddha at Todaiji in 752. There are also many excavated examples of this type of ware which were used as funerary urns to hold bones after cremation. These urns are of a unique shape and are known as yakko. This Nara three-colored ware is believed to have been fired at an official kiln in the capital.

Nara three-color ware disappeared by the latter half of the 8th century to be replaced by two-color and green-glazed pottery, gradually declining in quality. At the beginning of the Heian period (794~1185) in the 9th century, monochrome green-glazed ware was popular. Green-glazed ware is known to have been fired during the Heian period at the Sanage and Bihoku kilns in Aichi Prefecture and the Nagato kilns in Yamaguchi Prefecture. There are many examples of Heian period green-glazed ware which were imitations of metal ware as well as imitations of Chinese Yue celadon, which was beginning to be imported to Japan at the time. Among the reasons for the popularity of green-glazed ware were the fascination of metal vessels and Chinese celadon, and the desire to produce vessels as substitutions for them. Green-glazed ware in the Heian period, however, disappeared by the first half of the eleventh century.

(2)Ash-Glazed Pottery

Ash-glazed pottery is vitrified stoneware covered with glaze made from the ash of plants and fired to a high temperature. It was first produced in the second half of the 8th century at the Sanage kilns in Aichi Prefecture, based on the production techniques of Sue ware. Although ash-glazed ware already existed among Sue ware, it was the coincidental result of fly ash inside the wood-burning kiln being deposited on the surface of the pots. Based on knowledge gained from experience, the potters gradually began to load pots in the kiln conscious of the natural ash effects. Pottery fired at this stage is called primitive ash-glazed ware, and it occupies a position between natural ash-glazed ware and man-made ash-glazed ware, but the delineation between the two types is not always clear.

The production of ash-glazed ware began at the Sanage kilns, and spread from northwestern Aichi Prefecture and southern Gifu Prefecture to the Tokai region. The first ash-glazed pottery was based on Sue ware forms, and there are examples of long-necked bottles, ewer, and short-necked jars. The kilns also fired imitations of Chinese Yue-type celadon. Around the end of the 11th century, the Sanage kilns ceased firing ash-glazed ware and shifted to mass production of the “yama-chawan” or unglazed daily functional ware. Ash-glazed ware disappeared from the Tokai region by the 12th century.

Pottery of the Medieval Era

The medieval era in Japan lasted from the end of the Heian period through the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. While continuing the traditions established by ancient kilns, this period also saw the establishment of a new system of pottery production. Haji-type earthenware continued to be fired, along with the following two kinds of stoneware: Sue-type ware and shiki-type ware.

(1)Sue-type Stoneware

Medieval pottery fired in the Heian period based on Sue ware can be classified into two types: gray-black ware which was fired in reduction, as Sue ware was, and red-brown ware which began to appear later by switching the firing condition into oxidation. The former was fired at several kilns with the Suzu kiln (Ishikawa Prefecture) being the first on the list, followed by the Uozumi kiln (Hyogo Prefecture) and Kameyama kiln (Okayama Prefecture). Bizen ware (Okayama Prefecture) is representative of the latter type. The form of both types centered on vessels such as storage jars and mortars, and the products of these kilns together with Haji-type ware formed the basic set of daily utensils. The Suzu kiln developed a unique style of gray-black vessels decorated by combing or paddling, while Bizen ware was characterized by its substantialness and a unique reddish earth color. While both of these wares were Sue-type pottery, they developed completely different styles, each with its own individual appeal. The two wares were to meet with different fates, however. In the early Kamakura period, the Bizen kilns succeeded in switching from reduction firing to oxidation firing, establishing a tradition which was continued into modern times. On the other hand, the reduction firing Suzu kilns, under pressure from Echizen ware, disappeared in the medieval era. These Sue-type wares are fired at high temperatures and along with Sue ware, are often classified as types of stoneware.

(2)Shiki-type pottery

(a)Pottery of the yama-chawan type

While ash-glazed pottery disappeared by the end of the 11th century, its place was taken by the coarse unglazed stoneware known as yama-chawan ware (shirashi-type pottery). This ware was produced across the Tokai region. Yama-chawan ware, also popularly known as Gyoki ware or Toshiro ware, was unglazed ware produced in large quantities for daily use. At first, the forms centered on bowls and plates, but as imitations of imported Chinese porcelain gradually increased, forms such as four-handled jars began to appear. Over 2000 sites of kilns which produced this ware are known today in Aichi, Gifu, Mie and Shizuoka Prefectures. The ware continued to be fired through the middle of the 15th century.

(b)Yakishime stoneware

From the end of the Heian period into the late 11th and 12th centuries, the production of yakishime (high-fired) unglazed stoneware such as jars and mortars began in locations from the Tokai region to the Hokuriku region, the Tohoku region and in western Japan. Notable kilns firing yakishime stoneware were located in Tokoname, Atsumi (Aichi Prefecture), Echizen (Fukui Prefecture), Shigaraki (Shiga Prefecture), Tamba (Hyogo Prefecture) and Kaga (Ishikawa Prefecture). While the techniques followed in the path of early ash-glazed ware, stoneware was fired at high temperatures in oxidation. Although the works were unglazed, they were covered with deposits of natural ash from the wood firing, an effect which became one of the attractions of these pots. We can observe that at the time, glaze was already recognized for its decorative effects. At the same time, many jars known as kokumonko (jar with incised decoration) with a variety of designs reflecting the aesthetics of yamato-e were also being produced. There are also large numbers of sutra outer containers and urns used to contain bones after cremation which have been excavated.

(c)Glazed Pottery

The Seto-Mino area was a center of pottery production in medieval times, and it is noteworthy that this was the only area where glazed pottery was fired at that time. It is thought that stoneware was first fired in Seto at the end of the 12th century, based on the Sanage and yama-chawan kilns. Iron glazes and brown glazes were added to the already-developed ash glazes, and using decorative techniques such as impression, incision and appliqué, imitations of Chinese ceramic wares including celadon of the Northern Song, Yuan and Ming (Longquan type), porcelain and qingbai ware (Jingdezhen type) were made in large quantities. The Seto kilns fired a wide variety of wares from daily utensils to Buddhist ritual vessels, and from the 13th century, high-grade items such as four-handled jars, vases, and ewers were also produced. Together with Chinese imports, these wares were made to satisfy the demand of the ruling class. Also, with the sudden rise in popularity of the tea ceremony from the late Kamakura to the Muromachi period and the artistic preference on karamono or “Chinese things”, tenmoku tea bowls and tea caddies imitating Chinese ceramic wares were produced in the 14th century. In the 15th century, the center of production of Seto-type glazed pottery shifted to the east Mino area in Gifu Prefecture.

Pottery of the Modern Age

(1)Pottery of the Muromachi and Momoyama Periods– Flourishing Production of the Tea Ware

(a)Seto-Type Glazed Pottery - Seto and Mino Ware


In the latter half of the Muromachi period, the Mino kilns began to fire works which were completely different from the Chinese imitations. Representative of this new type of ware were Setoguro (black Seto) and Kiseto (yellow Seto). Setoguro ware is generally a cylindrical tea bowl covered with a deep black glaze known as hikidashi-guro. Kiseto is a type of ware glazed with a yellow glaze and green accents known as tanpan which has a unique texture and a well-balanced form. These new wares were born as the result of rising demand for utensils that meet the artistic taste for the tea ceremony, which was shifting from the favor of Chinese wares to the preference for “wabi-suki (wabi-cha)” or the concept of more restrained and rustic beauty among the townspeople in Kyoto and Sakai. After this, from the end of the Muromachi throughout the Momoyama period, the status of Japanese pottery (as opposed to karamono) in the tea ceremony improved dramatically, which led to an increase in production of Japanese style tea utensils. At the same time, Korean ceramics, especially tea bowls known as Korai-jawan became immensely popular, providing great influence on the style of Japanese tea bowls and utensils.

The Seto and Mino kilns underwent a technical revolution at the end of the Muromachi period, as semi-underground anagama kilns were replaced by ogama, or large above-ground kilns, making it possible to fire large quantities of pots at high temperatures. As a result, from the Tensho era (1573-92) through the Bunroku and Keicho era (1592-1600) the variety of the wares, mainly for the tea ceremony, fired at the Mino kilns increased further, making Mino the largest center of Momoyama pottery. New techniques included Shino ware, which was a type of pottery with iron decoration covered with a feldspathic glaze, the first white glaze developed in Japan. In the middle of the Keicho era (1596-1614), a kiln with greater thermal efficiency, the multi-chambered climbing kiln, was introduced from Karatsu and built at the Motoyashiki kiln in Toki, Gifu prefecture. This enabled an even greater number of ware to be fired in response to increased demand. Taking advantage of the kilns' improved thermal efficiency, Oribe ware began to be produced in greater quantities. Oribe ware was characterized by the combination of a vivid green glaze and iron painted decoration applied to unconventional forms emphasizing the beauty of the irregular. Oribe ware broadened the possibilities of pottery by creating a style of its own, incorporating the latest trends of the day, such as Western tastes and Tsujigahana, a design usually adopted in kimono. Oribe ware is named after FURUTA Oribe (1543-1615), a warrior and tea master. This signifies the tremendous cultural influence of tea masters during this period.

(b)Porous Lead-Glazed Pottery - Raku Ware

Raku tea bowls were first made by Chojiro (?-1589) in Kyoto under the direction of SEN no Rikyu (1522-91), the beginning of the Raku family who have been dedicating their lives to creating tea bowls through successive generations even now. "Soeki-nari" and "ima-yaki" teabowls first appear in records of tea ceremonies in Tensho 14 (1586); these notes are now believed to refer to Raku teabowls made by Chojiro. The originator of Raku ware, Chojiro I, was originally a maker of roof files. It is fascinating to note the stark contrast between the extraordinary craftsmanship of one of his early works "Ridgepole tile in the shape of lion" (dated 1574) and his unpretentious tea bowls. Raku ware is a low-fired lead-glazed ware which has a soft and porous body. One unique feature is that it is hand built rather than thrown on the wheel. Raku ware is mainly composed of two types of tea bowls: black raku and red raku. Some Raku ware is two-colored or three-colored, implying the influence from the production techniques of Chinese three-color ware which were being imported from southern China at the time. Kyoto's Tamamizu ware and Kanazawa's Ohi ware are descended from Raku ware. In the Edo period, HONAMI Koetsu (1558-1637), known for his genius for painting and crafts, learned Raku techniques from Jokei, Chojiro's successor. His rich sense of artistry and free, refined style gave new possibilities to the creation of tea bowls. Koetsu's tea bowls are highly appraised even today.

(c)Unglazed Stoneware - Bizen, Shigaraki, and lga Wares

Unglazed yakishime ware, which had centered on the production of jars and mortars since medieval times, began to receive more attention as the rustic wabi-cha style of tea became more popular. Shigaraki and Bizen ware were introduced to the tea ceremony from early on among the Japanese-style ware, and there are references to a Shigaraki Mizusashi (shigaraki water jar) and Mizusashi Hisen-mono (water jar of Bizen ware) in records of tea gatherings. In many cases, utensils made for everyday use were adopted in the tea ceremony, such as a domestic vessel known as an onioke (cylindrical jar) which was used as a water jar in the tea ceremony. There are many fine examples of water jars and flower vases of Bizen ware, which has been prized for a reddish tinge in the body color, earthy texture of the surface and the solid, dynamic form. Water jars and flower vases of lga ware, made in the area around Ueno and Ayama in Mie Prefecture, also drew people’s attention. They were valued for their bold style, the exact opposite of uniformity, and were one representative of the preference for the "beauty of irregularity." The natural ash glaze known as biidoro (derived from the Portuguese term vidro for glass) and burnt reddish black color of fired Iga clay is especially appealing.

(d)Korean-Style Glazed Pottery - Karatsu Ware

Karatsu ware is believed to have originated in the Tensho era (1573-92), from a jar dated 1592 and archaeological excavations at various sites. Karatsu ware began to be fired in earnest in the Bunroku and Keicho eras (1592-1614) when Korean potters were brought to work in the Hizen region in Saga and Nagasaki Prefectures. The first kilns were located in the Kishidake Mountains; here, large-scale climbing kilns known as noborigama were introduced. In the middle of the Keicho era (1596-1614), the introduction of efficient Korean-style multi-chamber climbing kilns made mass production possible. This type of kiln, which was not native to Japan, soon spread to Mino and other parts of the country. With the ability to fire large quantities of pottery in the multi-chambered climbing kilns, Karatsu potters produced a variety of ware, which was distributed across the country, and Karatsu ware soon became well-known as a new center for production of glazed pottery. The Karatsu style developed under the influence of Korean and Mino pottery, and many fine tea ceremony utensils were produced there, such as imitations of Korai-jawan, along with water jars, flower vases, and mukozuke bowls. In addition, common tableware was produced in large quantities, so that the output of Karatsu kilns eventually overtook those of Mino in national market share. Representative of Karatsu ware is E-Garatsu, which is ware decorated with underglaze iron and covered with a feldspathic glaze. Karatsu potters used many techniques imported from the Korean peninsula, including the paddling technique, the use of kick wheels, and inlaid decoration techniques. In western Japan, the term Karatsu-mono (wares from Karatsu) became a term meaning pottery in general.

In addition to Karatsu, other kilns were established in various regions of western Japan producing Korean-style glazed pottery including Takatori (Fukuoka Prefecture), Satsuma (Kagoshima Prefecture), Yatsushiro (Kumamoto Prefecture), Agano (Fukuoka Prefecture), Hagi (Yamaguchi Prefecture) and Imbe (Okayama Prefecture). These kilns made important contributions to the development of Japanese ceramics.

(2)Pottery of the Edo Period - Kyoto Ware

From the end of the Keicho era through the Genna era (1615-23), in Kyoto, Awataguchi ware and Kiyomizu ware were produced in addition to Raku ware. In 1647 NONOMURA Ninsei (dates unknown) began firing ware at Omuro kiln in front of Ninnaji temple, and from around 1656 pottery with overglaze enamel decoration began to be fired, signifying a new type of Edo-period pottery. The idea of decorating stoneware with overglaze enamels is thought to have been inspired by the overglaze enamel-decorated porcelain which was already being made in Hizen at the time. The ware is also thought to have been influenced by the colored glaze technology of Kochi-type ware (a Japanese term for three-color glazed ware from southern China produced in between the late Ming and early Qing), which was already being imported. The technique of decorating stoneware with overglaze enamels is not found even in China, an indication of Ninsei's originality.

Under the patronage of KANAMORI Sowa (1584-1656), Ninsei developed consummate skill in forming his vessels along with a delicate painting technique, perfecting a refined, elegant style favored by the ruling dynasty. The name Ninsei is a combination of the first characters in the Ninnaji temple's name and Ninsei's real name, Seiemon. The fact that he signed his pots himself with the "Ninsei" name is an indication of his pride as a potter. Ninsei's apprentice, OGATA Kenzan (1663-1743), established a kiln in (1699) at Narutaki lzumidani. Since this location was to the northwest of Kyoto, he took the character “inui" (northwest) for his name and called himself Kenzan. Kenzan developed a unique pictorial style using white slip and underglaze pigments. His work was influenced greatly by his older brother and representative painter of the Rinpa school, OGATA Korin (1658-1716). There are many examples of collaborations between the two, where Korin painted designs on Kenzan' s pottery. Like Ninsei, Kenzan signed his name on his works in a unique calligraphic style, and this came to have value as a kind of "brand name." Kenzan compiled the techniques he learned from Ninsei into the manual Toko Hitsuyo, which became a sort of bible of Kyoto ware pottery. At the end of the Edo period, porcelain was first fired in Kyoto by OKUDA Eisen (1753-1811), under whose tutelage the literary figure AOKI Mokubei (1767-1833) began to make pottery according to the Qing Chinese text on pottery Tao Shuo. In addition, renowned craftsmen such as NIN’AMI Dohachi (1783-1855), who made ware in a wide variety of styles, and EIRAKU Hozen (1795-1854), who incorporated Chinese decorative techniques such as kinrande, Kochi-style design and underglaze decoration into tea utensils also made contributions to the development of the Kyoto ware tradition, which continues even today.

3. Porcelain

The Beginning of Porcelain

Archaeological excavations since the 1970s have supported the theory that porcelain was first fired in Japan in the Karatsu pottery kilns in the 1610s. In 1637, the Nabeshima clan, who were aware of the commercial value of porcelain, reorganized and consolidated the Arita kilns. After this, the kilns' output switched to porcelain, and with the Nabeshima clan's aggressive support and protection, Arita porcelain developed rapidly. While the influence of ware from the Korean peninsula on early Arita porcelain has been pointed out, large quantities of porcelain from private kilns of late Ming dynasty China were being imported to Japan as well, which also seem to have provided great influence on Arita. In fact, the production of Arita blue-and-white ware began at quite an early stage. The first porcelain fired at Arita until 1649 is known as Early Imari ware. Its style is simple, free and powerful, the quality highly esteemed. The name Imari (ware) comes from the fact that the porcelain fired around the Arita region was chiefly shipped out of the port at Imari. Recently, however, it has been advocated that this ware should be called "Hizen porcelain," attaching importance to the area of its production, the Hizen region which includes Arita. Archaeological excavations of kiln sites and sites of the commercial area in which the ceramics were marketed and consumed are shedding more light on how it was produced and distributed.

The Birth of Overglaze Enamel Decoration

At the end of the Kanei era and beginning of the Shoho era (1640s), production of porcelain decorated with overglaze enamels became possible at the Arita kilns. While many details remain unclear about the origin of overglaze enamel decoration, records of the SAKAIDA Kakiemon family indicate that the techniques were learned from the Chinese craftsmen living in Japan. At the same time, the influence of the enamel-decorated ware from Jingdezhen private kilns and the Swatow ware from Zhangzhou kilns which was being imported to Japan in large quantities at the time should not be ignored. The appearance of overglaze decoration in Arita led to the development of the Ko-Kutani, Kakiemon. Ko-Imari, and Nabeshima styles, led to the flourishing age of elaborate and colorful porcelain. Excavations began from the 1970s of old kiln sites and sites of the commercial area in which the ceramics were marketed and consumed have supported the theory that Ko-Kutani style ware was in fact made in Arita, and researchers are in the process of attempting to incorporate the Ko-Kutani style ware chronologically into the ceramic history of Arita.

(1)Ko-Kutani Style

This ware is called Ko-Kutani because it was once thought to have been fired at the Kutani kiln (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture) of the Daishoji clan. Recent archaeological excavations, however, have discovered pieces of pots to be decorated in Ko-Kutani style at the Yanbeta kiln site (Arita), and shards of decorated Ko-Kutani ware from the site of a factory specializing in overglaze decoration in Akaemachi (Arita). These excavated pieces have been determined to have been made between 1640 and 1650. Therefore, the prevailing theory at present is that Ko-Kutani style ware was early decorated porcelain produced in Arita, Hizen. The porcelain body at this point was not a very refined one, but the bold forms and innovative decorations offset the imperfection. It was popular at the time to use large plates with overglaze decoration at parties, and a large number of superb plates were produced. The designs on these wares were quick to incorporate popular motifs of the time, such as kosode (type of kimono) designs published in Ohiinagata (samples of motifs) (1667) or the motifs of Chinese-style paintings depicted in Hasshu Gafu (picture book on eight types of motifs). In some cases geometric patterns such as lozenge or tortoise shell designs are used skillfully that render innovative and even modern effects. Another important feature of Ko-Kutani ware is that no two examples have the same design. The value of these pieces as limited edition ware must surely have satisfied the demand of the wealthy class. In recent years, examples of Ko-Kutani ware have been unearthed in sites in Southeast Asia, indicating the need for a reevaluation of its distribution, though it was produced mainly for the domestic market. Excavations of kiln sites in Kutani, Ishikawa Prefecture, have revealed that porcelain was already being produced in Kutani in 1655. Further research is needed regarding the relationship between Kutani and Ko-Kutani ware.

(2)Kakiemon Style

Kakiemon style ware is named after SAKAIDA Kakiemon I (?-1666) who contributed to the development of decorated porcelain in Japan. The term, though, is also used to generally describe high-quality porcelain decorated with overglaze enamels and made in Arita for export. With the development of the technique of overglaze enamel decoration, the quality of porcelain clay bodies also improved, which resulted in the creation of a milky white porcelain clay body known as nigoshi-de. Recent archaeological excavations tell us that this development occurred in the 1670s in the Enpo era (1673-80). While making effective use of the white nigoshi-de body, bright red designs of flowers and animals were painted with a delicate, elegant touch. This led to the perfection of the so-called Kakiemon style. The forms were created mainly using jigger wheels, which made it possible to produce thin pieces without warping, for a sharp, delicate effect. From excavations in Akae-cho ruins, it is clear that the development of Kakiemon porcelain was based on Ko-Kutani ware. However, the Kakiemon style developed within the framework of Chinese Qing dynasty wucai ware and overglaze decorated Jingdezhen ware of the Kangxi era (1662-1722). At first Kakiemon style ware was in demand as a substitute for such Chinese porcelain, and its stylistic feature is quite different from Ko-Kutani, which was produced mainly for the domestic market. From the second half of the 17th century, molded figurines were also produced. Molds for such pieces have been excavated from the Akae-cho ruins.

Kakiemon ware was exported to Europe by the Dutch V.O.C. (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie). Around 1710 the German Meissen factory was the first in Europe to successfully produce porcelain, and imitations of Kakiemon ware were produced there, along with other porcelain factories such as Sevres in France and Chelsea in England.

(3)Ko-Imari Style

Among the Edo-period porcelain produced in the Hizen region, there is ware known as early Imari, which is blue-and-white ware produced until the 1640s. On the other hand, porcelain decorated with overglaze enamels and influenced by wucai and kinrande of China's Jingdezhen began to be produced during the 1690s. This type of ware is known as Ko-Imari style.

In 1659, as exports from Jingdezhen were halted, Arita kilns received large orders of ware for export to Southeast Asia and Europe. Incorporating the wucai ware of the late Ming dynasty as well as the baroque taste which was popular in Europe at the time, Arita kilns developed the elaborately decorated ware known as somenishiki-de, which became the major export item. In the Genroku era (1688-1704), imitating the kinrande ware from Jingdezhen ware of the Jiajing (1522-66) and Wanli (1573-1619) periods, gold decoration was applied to somenishiki-de ware, creating its unique kinrande style. This was to replace Kakiemon style ware in responding to domestic demand, and as the flower of export porcelain, also satisfied demand in Europe.

(4)Nabeshima Style

As porcelain production was established and developed, its commercial value increased. The ruling Nabeshima clan whose fief included Arita strengthened its control over porcelain production, and in 1647 the clan assigned a magistrate to Sarayama. The clan established a directly operated kiln, a kind of official kiln, at Iwayakawachi in Arita in the Kanei era (1624-44) to produce especially high grade porcelain for use by the clan itself, as well as for contributions to the Shogun and gifts to various daimyo or lords. It was at this kiln that the Nabeshima style was originated. In the Kanbun era (1661-73) the clan kiln was moved to Nangawara in Arita, and moved again in 1675 to Okawachi Mountain in Imari. Under strict standardization and quality control, along with complete division of labor patterned after Jingdezhen, highly skilled craftsmen produced superb wares of stylized beauty. The kiln entered its golden age in the Genroku era (1688-1704) at Okawachi. Representative of the Nabeshima style is called iro-Nabeshima or porcelain with overglaze polychrome enamel, which has sophisticated Japanese-style designs executed by highly accomplished artisans, and has a superior character appropriate to the ware of an official kiln. Typical form of Nabeshima ware is a deep dish with a tall foot known as mokuhai-gata (a wooden wine-cup shape). Sizes are rigidly standardized into one shaku, seven sun, five sun, or three sun (one sun =3.03 cm/ten sun = one shaku).

The Spread of Porcelain

From 1640 to 1650, the production system in Arita underwent a large-scale transformation from traditional system based on Korean techniques to a Chinese-style system. It has been pointed out that one of the reasons for this was the outflow of pottery technology from southern China due to the internal confusion resulting from the change of dynasty from the Ming to the Qing. In 1661, the prohibition on overseas contacts for the Chinese caused trade in Jingdezhen porcelain to come to a complete halt, and as a replacement Arita became the focus of attention which could meet the demand of both domestic and overseas. The Arita kilns introduced the latest Chinese porcelain production technology, and from 1659 the Dutch V.O.C. placed orders for large amounts of porcelain with Arita factories. As a result, Arita ware was able to raise the standard of its ware to a level competitive with Jingdezhen. This marked the beginning of the age of vast exports of Hizen porcelain. From the 1650-1660s, imitations of Chinese fuyode (kraak ware) type large dishes blue-and-white large dishes were produced for export in great quantities. The porcelain decorated with overglaze enamels which developed as a result of the technological innovations also gained popularity as export ware, especially in Europe.

In 1684, the prohibition on overseas contacts for the Chinese was rescinded, and export of Jingdezhen ware was resumed. This caused demand for Hizen porcelain to decrease dramatically, and production shifted to blue-and-white tableware targeting the domestic market. Prices became cheaper and the ware simpler and more standardized, with the result that the use of porcelain spread to the common people. The production of porcelain began in Arita in the 1610s, but even in the 17th century, the only kilns known to have produced porcelain outside of Arita are Kutani (Ishikawa prefecture) and Himetani (Hiroshima prefecture). This is because the Nabeshima clan, aware of the commercial value of porcelain, strictly controlled the porcelain kilns, guarding against the spread of the technology to other clans. The outflow of technology could not be halted completely, however, and by the 18th century porcelain production had begun in other areas of Kyushu. In the Tenmei era (1781-88) kilns in Kyoto began to fire porcelain. In the second half of the 18th century, porcelain kilns were established around the country, such as Tobe ware (Ehime Prefecture), Sue ware, (Fukuoka Prefecture), Komine ware (Miyazaki Prefecture), and Ito ware (Shimane Prefecture). In the Bunka era (1804~l8), blue-and-white porcelain was successfully fired in Seto, after which production expanded dramatically. Eventually, the porcelain production in Seto overtook that of its Japanese birthplace, Arita, and in eastern Japan the term Seto-mono (wares from Seto) came to mean pottery as a whole.

(Chief Curator, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka)
Copyright © 2009-All Rights Reserved by The Museum of Oriental Ceramics,Osaka

Art Gallery  ~ Home Page
Email to Shibui Swords