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The most popular Japanese ceramic styles

In the following article, we will start a summary of the popular Japanese ceramic styles. Due to the extent of the topic, we have already split the summary into two parts and plan to write a separate article on each of them in the future. As in our country, so in Japan there are countless different styles. There are numerous reasons for these differences. There were simple practical reasons, like what kind of ceramic material was available in the area, or what colouring material was suitable for that particular area. At the same time, there were historical reasons too, for example, a foreign master brought with him a particular style or technique, technology, which then was nicely incorporated into the ceramic art of the given area. Each style was typically named after the area from which it originated and was completed with a yaki ending. Yaki means burnt and refers to burnt ceramics. It also means, that the term yaki does not distinguish between clay, ceramics or porcelain. I’m writing about the differences between them in this article.

Since it is not our place to classify the different styles in any way, and we would like to avoid offending anyone, we will discuss the following 32 styles in alphabetical order.

1. Agano-yaki

This style originates from the city of Fukuchi and has its roots as far back as 1602. It was then that the lord of Kokura province brought the Korean pottery master Sonkai Joseon to build a special kiln into the side of Mount Agano. The kiln served local potters for generations afterwards.

The most famous product of the Agano-yaki is the chawan (tea bowl) used in tea ceremonies. This style is most characterised by the blue colour produced with copper oxide and the reddish-brown colour produced with enamels.

2. Akazu-yaki

It is one of the oldest Japanese ceramic styles dating back to the Kofun period (300-538 AD) in the area around Akazuchon, which is now located in the eastern part of Seto City. It is one of the six ancient Japanese kilns. Seto is still one of Japan's largest ceramics centres, with 60 traditional kilns still in operation today.

This is the area where glazes were first used for ceramics. Of course, during this time, the technology has changed a lot and many different types of glazes have been used. It was with the spread of tea ceremony that the glazed ceramics made here, gained real appreciation. During the Edo period, seven types of glazes and decoration techniques were developed, perhaps the most important of which were the flower printing and the relief carving.

3. Aizu-Hongo-yaki

This style dates back nearly four centuries, when the ruler of Aizu province embraced and promoted local ceramics. In this area, not only ceramics but also porcelain was often made in the same kiln. Local white porcelain production is one of the oldest in northeastern Japan.

One of the special features of the ceramics produced here is that they combine traditional Japanese decorative techniques, such as the blue ore called asbolite with Western dyes. The objects made here are also characterised by the intention of practicality.

4. Amakusa-yaki

Amakasu was under the authority of shoguns during the Edo age. According to accounting records as early as the 1670s, high quality porcelain objects were produced in large quantities in the area. Today, 11 workshops are producing Amakusa ceramics and porcelain and keeping this tradition alive. In 2003, Amakusa ceramics were declared a national traditional handicraft product.

The porcelain made here is known for its pure white colour. Several workshops here also decorate their ceramics with blue.

5. Bizen-yaki

The history of pottery production in the Bizen area dates back to the Heian period and is one of the 6 ancient Japanese kilns. Initially, they fired objects for everyday use and roof tiles.

The ceramics made here are typically reddish brown in colour. The hyyose clay used here is difficult to glaze, so the objects made here are not glazed.

6. Echizen-yaki

Echien ceramics is also one of the 6 ancient ceramics workshops. Over the centuries, ceramics made here have spread throughout Japan. Its heyday came to an end with the modernisation of the Meiji period, which led to a decline in demand for ceramics.

Ceramics made here are fired without decoration or enamelling. Firewood ash is used as a glaze. The ceramics made here form a transition between ceramics and porcelain, known in Japanese as yakishime, or semi-porcelain.

7. Hagi-yaki

In the town of Hagi, porcelain objects are made. The history of this style dates back to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1600), when Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered his vassals to bring Korean potters to Japan to teach. The porcelains made here became the popular ceramics for tea ceremonies in the Taisho period. In 1957, Hagi-yaki was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage and in 2002, it was declared a traditional handicraft product.

Ceramics made here are rarely decorated. What makes them special is that the clay is deeply cracked under the enamel during firing and the colour of the enamel changes unpredictably. The latter is known as nanabake, the camouflage of the seven.

8. Hasami-yaki

The history of the Hasami style began in 1598, when Omura Yoshiaki, the ruler of Omura Province, brought potters from Korea. Initially they made objects from clay in a raised kiln dug into the hillside, but from 1602 this was replaced by the use of celadon porcelain. In the second half of the Edo period, Hasami was already the largest porcelain production area in Japan.

The beauty of the porcelain made here is the contrast between the white porcelain and the blue gosu enamels. Porcelain made here is widely used in many Japanese households thanks to the durable kurawanka bowls.

9. Iga-yaki

The history of ceramics production in Iga dates back to the Nara period (710-794). However, its use did not begin until nearly 800 years later in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1600), in parallel with the spread of the tea ceremony. Many tea ceremony masters appreciated the vessels made here.

Igai ceramics were often decorated with wavy patterns. They are characterised by a high degree of resistance to fire and a smooth surface painted a strong red. It is also common to use a glaze called vidro glaze, which gives the ceramics a glassy surface and a green colour. Ceramics made in this way are often heavier than average and are therefore often glazed.

10. Imari-Arita-yaki

Porcelain pots have been made around the town of Arita since 1616. It was then that Korean pottery master Sam Pyeong Yi discovered a kaolin deposit on Mount Izumi, which became the basis for local porcelain production. (Kaolin is an important raw material for porcelain production.) Several ceramic styles have developed in the area. Initially, simple thick-walled objects were made here with blue gosu enamel. The Kakiemon family began using glaze over glazes in 1647 and developed a style named after them, dominated by red patterns. Around 1688, another local style of kinrade appeared, using red and gold patterns. In 1870, the present Gosu porcelain was created, with cobalt as one of the raw materials.

Although it is often referred to as Imari-yaki and Arita-yaki separately, they are effectively two styles with identical roots, often named simply according to the port in which they were shipped or the place where they were fired.

11. Iwami-yaki

Iwami ceramics are an exception to the previous pattern, because they are made around the city of Gotsu. The history of ceramics production here dates back to around 1600 when the Japanese invaders of Korea brought with them a Korean potter Roroushi. Porcelain production started in 1765, when a potter from Iwakuni province taught the necessary techniques to local potters. Another significant event in local pottery making was the invitation of potters from Bizen in the 1780s, which marked the beginning of the production of large water jugs, known as hando in Japanese. The reason for using these jugs was that running water was difficult to come by at the time and the family water supply was stored in these jugs. The size of these jugs is well illustrated by the fact that a child could easily hide in them.

The special feature of iwami pots is that they have a low water absorption capacity and are resistant to salt, acidification and alkalisation. The style is characterised by a deep dark reddish-brown colour, which is achieved by the use of kimachi enamel with iron content.

12. Izushi-yaki

The history of ceramics in the city of Izushi dates back to 1764, when Izuya Yazaemon founded a ceramics workshop. Later, a local potter was sent to Arita to study porcelain making and returned with a potter from Arita who settled here and became a specialist in the production of deglazed clay pottery.

In the second half of the Edo period, the Izushi estate attempted to control the pottery industry and a centralised elite organisation of Arita potters was established. After the discovery of the site where the porcelain raw material was found, the ceramics industry continued to develop. The white porcelain produced here won the gold prize at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and became world famous.

13. Karatsu-yaki

This type of pottery has been produced in Saga and Nagasaki Prefectures since the 16th century. During the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1600), tea pots from this area were highly prized. In the Edo period, the workshops in Saga Prefecture were destroyed and ceramics production was concentrated in Arita. In the Meiji period, the number of Karatsu ceramics continued to decline, but thanks to the sacrificial work of potter Nakazato Muan, the traditional craft was preserved for posterity.

The birds, flowers and trees drawn on Karatsu pots are called Karatsu images. Iron glaze and white straw ash glaze are often used to decorate the pottery here.

14. Kasama-yaki

Pottery making also began around Kasama town in the Edo period, when a potter named Choemon taught the head of Hakoda village pottery making. Local pottery production then developed under the auspices of the Kasama estate, producing bottles, jugs and tableware. After the war, the Ibaraki Prefecture Ceramics School was established to train new potters.

Kasama ceramics are resistant to contamination and are therefore suitable for everyday use. The local unglazed pots contain iron, which turns brown after firing. Today, Kasama ceramics are mostly used as household decorations and flower vases.

15. Koishiwara-yaki

These ceramics are produced in the Asakure district of Fukuoka Prefecture. The production of ceramics in this area was fundamentally determined by the discovery of a new type of clay in 1669 by the potter Takatori Hachinojo, who then started working with that. In 1682, the head of the province invited a master potter from Imari to work with Hachinojo to make porcelain. A few years later, local pottery production ceased and was revived in 1927. At that time, vases, sake and tea pots were produced. After World War II, the demand for Koishiwara ceramics increased. In 1975, Koishiwara-yaki was the first porcelain to be recognised as a traditional handicraft product by the International Ministry of Trade and Industry.

The uniqueness of the ceramics made here is due to the patterns made while spinning on a potter's wheel. The most common glazing techniques are nagashikake, where the glaze is applied at regular intervals, uchikake, where the glaze is slowly dripped, and ponkaki, where the glaze is dispensed from a bamboo vessel onto the pottery spinning on the wheel.

16. Kutani-yaki

These ceramics have been made around the town of Kaga since the early 17th century. It takes its name from the village where these ceramics were originally made. The lord of Kutani sent a potter to Arita to further his training in pottery making. On his return, he established his workshop, which operated for about 50 years. The pottery made during this period is known as ko-Kutani / old Kutani and was characterised by bright colours and distinctive patterns. Ceramics production in the area resumed in the 19th century.

Several styles of local pottery developed, distinguished by their use of colour. All of them are true to the use of painting over glazes, which allowed the use of bright colours.


As you can see from the above, ceramic art has developed in very specific ways in each area. We hope you enjoyed it and will be back soon with more. In the meantime, if you're curious to see what style I create, take a look around our webshop.


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