Mashiko ware (Tochigi Pref.)
A major producer of folk pottery
Mashiko ware came into being thanks to Keisaburo Otsuka, who was born near Kasama during the late Edo period (1603-1868). Otsuka learned his craft at Kunogama kiln in Kasama, before setting up a kiln where he produced kitchenware such as storage pots, mortars, and earthenware teapots. This was the birth of Mashiko ware. With Tokyo so close by, the demand for general merchandise produced in Mashiko at first skyrocketed. Later, however, the widespread popularization of metal goods during the second half of the Meiji period (1868-1912) caused Mashiko’s business to decline. It was Shoji Hamada, one of the founders of Japan’s mingei folk-art movement, who came to Mashiko’s rescue. Hamada argued for a re-evaluation of handmade daily life goods for use by common folk, goods which tended to be looked down upon as being low quality. In fact, Mashiko ware is so indebted to Hamada’s philosophy that it could just as easily be called Hamada ware. In such a way, Mashiko emerged as the home of folk pottery.
Kasama ware (Ibaraki Pref.)
A multiplicity of individual styles all in the one place
Kasama stands on par with Mashiko in terms of ceramics centers in the Kanto region and has enjoyed a reputation as a production area for storage pots and mortars since the Edo period (1603-1868). Kasama ware is often compared to Mashiko ware for its warm quality, which comes from being handmade. Indeed, the roots of Mashiko ware are found in Kasama. While Kasama was a major producer of storage pots until the early Showa period (1926–1989), with the blossoming of the mingei folk-art movement that took root in Mashiko, Kasama also started to produce pottery in the genre of handicraft. In such a sense, Kasama was not pedantic about tradition, and thus came to attract ceramicists from all over the country who were in search of freedom. This may explain Kasama ware’s distinctive characteristic of having a wide variety of individual styles that feature originality or design innovation.
Tamba–Tachikui ware (Hyogo Pref.)
The appealing depth of natural glazes
Tamba–Tachikui ware is distinctive for its unruly and rustic appearance. These days, Tamba–tachikui produces not only wares featuring hai-kaburi, where the ash from firewood falls onto the pieces to create a natural glaze that can result in various colors and unexpected patterns, but also many shiro-Tanba (white glazed Tamba ware) and painted items also. Originally, everyday goods such as pots, storage pots, mortars, and liquor bottles, all finished in a natural glaze, comprised the bulk of Tamba–Tachikui production. Gradually, this shifted to tea bowls produced according to the taste of tea master Kobori Masakazu, which are finished in ash or akadobeyu glaze (lit. red-clay glaze). The soil used to produce these wares is a red clay that is rich in iron, sourced in the area around Tachikui. However, with the appearance of shiro-Tamba ware, which is covered in white glaze, Tamba–Tachikui ware is now much more diverse and makes use of techniques such as itchin (slip trailing), kushime (combed slip decoration), shinogi (hand carving), and suminagashi[ (marbling print). Pieces produced using haritsuke-mon, a decorative technique that is typically found in ko-Tamba (old Tamba ware) are also full of character.
Bizen ware (Okayama Pref.)
Japan’s oldest form of yakishime pottery
As befits a pottery town, the Bizenyaki Traditional Industries Hall is located in the same building as Imbe Station on the JR Ako Line in Bizen. Visitors are immediately invited into the world of Bizen ware as they exit the platform. The facility is complete with a tourist information center, a resource center that introduces various local potters, and areas exhibiting and selling Bizen ware, which is Japan’s oldest type of yakishime (high-fired, unglazed) stoneware. The Industries Hall is the perfect spot to read up a little before looking around town or to review before heading home. Bizen has a large number of famous potteries and artists, some of which provide opportunities for study tours or pottery-making. As each of Bizen’s potteries both exhibits and sells its own wares, visitors can enjoy shopping as they tour from place to place. A regular sightseeing bus service is also available, facilitating visits to historic sites and potteries around Bizen and the surrounding areas. This is an enjoyable day trip even for visitors who are not great pottery fans.
Hagi ware (Yamaguchi Pref.)
The lingering traces of Korai chawan (Korean teacups)
Often called the Little Kyoto of the San’in region, Hagi is a picturesque city on the Sea of Japan. Even now, the atmospheric streets of the city still retain pronounced reminders of its days as a thriving castle town under the Mori clan. The city’s atmospheric scenes of samurai residences, together with whitewashed and earthen walls give it a subdued appearance. Hagi was also the hometown of three notable figures in Japanese history who were highly active from the last decades of the Edo period (1603–1868) through the start of the Meji period (1868–1912): Yoshida Shoin, Takasugi Shinsaku, and Itō Hirobumi. Historic sites related to these men can be found all over the city.
Tobe ware (Ehime Pref.)
Porcelain with all the rustic charm of pottery
Tobe ware was developed during the reign of the Ozu clan through repeated trial and error, although it did no have a high-quality glaze. Now it is Shikoku’s premier pottery style. Tobe ware has a characteristically thick, stout, and somewhat chunky look—the result of the abundant supplies of pottery stone in the local area. Thanks to this, Tobe potters were able to concentrate on their production without having to worry about access to raw materials. Another characteristic of Tobe ware is its warm underglaze that is painted onto the white porcelain base in deep blue cobalt oxide. The warmth of this hand-painted style gained great attention during the folk crafts boom of the 1960s, with Tobe ware later coming to be designated a traditional handicraft of Japan.
Koishiwara ware (Fukuoka Pref.)
Renowned folk pottery from Kyushu
While it appears that pottery was already being made in Koishiwara to offer to Hikosan Jingu Shrine, the origins of Koishiwara ware are considered to date back to 1682, when the third-generation head of the Kuroda Domain, Kuroda Mitsuyuki, invited a potter from Imari and established the first kiln in the Chikuho area of present-day Fukuoka Prefecture. In the old days, it was common to spend half one’s time farming and half producing pottery. Koishiwara’s nine kilns had a hereditary system, with the second and third sons of the family working as potters, firing large items such as pots and storage pots in two jointly-used climbing kilns. Koishiwara switched production to tableware when Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada of Japan’s mingei folk-art movement visited the area and praised Koishiwara ware’s unpretentious functional beauty. Koishiwara ware uses a range of special techniques: tobikanna (“chattering,” or creating regular marks to form a pattern), hakeme (brush marking), kushigaki (combed lines), yubikaki (finger marking), and nagashigake and uchigake, two different techniques for applying glazes or decorative slips. Koishiwara ware has been designated a traditional handicraft of Japan, and has received high acclaim in international exhibitions.
Agano ware (Fukuoka Pref.)
Wabi* tea bowls deeply influenced by Karatsu ware
The home of Agano ware is Akaike, Tagawa County, which is right about the center of Fukuoka Prefecture. Agano ware focussed on the development of tea bowls. Kin Sonkai was a Korean potter who accompanied the feudal lord Kato Kiyomasa back to Japan from the Korean peninsula and set up business in Karatsu. The name Agano ware comes from Sonkai’s Japanese name: Agano Kizo Takakuni. Some time later, Hosokawa Tadaoki, lord of the Kokura Domain, invited Sonkai to the Kokura castle area to produce vessels for the tea ceremony. These pieces were especially magnificent, even for works produced in Kyushu. Influenced by Kobori Enshu and other great tea masters of the period, Hosokawa Tadaoki focussed his attention on the development of tea bowls in the taste of Enshu, in particular. When compared to other kinds of ceramics produced in Kyushu, these pieces are thin and light to hold. Expanding out from tea bowls, Agano also came to produce tea ceremony utensils and ornamental items and became one of Enshu’s seven favored kilns.
* From the expression wabi-sabi, and here meaning a simple and quiet sensibility.
Tsuboya ware (Okinawa Pref.)
Ryukyu pottery in vivid tropical colors
Tsuboya ware is an emblematic Okinawan ceramics style. With a history of some 300 years, it is charcterized by a tropical, cheerful color palette and is symbolized by Okinawa’s shiisaa (lion-dog decorations that ward off evil). Tsuboya ware’s origins are said to be in the latter half of the 17th century, when the Ryukyu royal government directed the Kingdom’s Shuri, Chihana, and Wakuta kilns to consolidate in the one area—Tsuboya. Joyachi (glazed Tsuboya ware, pronounced “joyaki” in standard Japanese), which is now the main style of Tsuboya ware, arrived in Okinawa from Korea and China via the Satsuma Domain. It interacted intimately with Okinawa’s lifestyle and environment to form a unique kind of Okinawan pottery. Tsuboya ware uses many characteristic glazes such as Ryukyu celadon, zaffer, kokuyu (black glaze), ameyu (amber glaze), and hakuyu (transparent glaze over white clay). Uniquely Okinawan is the use of hakuyu-moto (source of hakuyu) which is produced from coral limestone and rice husk.